In Depth

NBC Universal Cuts Staff in Sales

NBC Universal has begun cutting staff amid a faltering economy, people familiar with the matter said.

So far, approximately 30 staffers in the advertising sales department have been told they are losing their jobs, said the sources, who requested anonymity. The affected workers were described by the sources as support staff who didn’t interface with clients. Staffers involved in ad sales research also were let go.

Sales people for the company’s successful cable networks were largely unaffected. Workers located in NBC Universal’s New York headquarters, as well as staffers in Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit lost jobs, the sources said.

An NBC spokeswoman declined to comment.

The layoffs are part of a $500 million cost-cutting plan spelled out by NBCU President and CEO Jeff Zucker in an October memo. While NBC Universal parent General Electric Co. pointed to its cable-TV businesses as a bright spot it its third-quarter earnings report, the broadcast network has suffered declining prime-time ratings along with its competitors. As of Nov. 16, NBC's prime-time ratings among 18- to 49-year-old viewers have declined 14 percent from last year, putting it in tie for third place season to date.

In the October memo, Mr. Zucker tasked executives with reducing costs by 3% by cutting promotion expenses, discretionary spending and the use of consultants—as well as staff costs.

“This kind of message is never easy, but it is the right step to make, and the right time to make it,” Mr. Zucker said in the memo. “We have no choice but to respond quickly to the external economic forces that are affecting the entire world economy.”

Given the tough economic times, NBCU is unlikely to be the only television company laying off staff as the year draws to a close. Walt Disney Co. is among the companies that have already cut costs by ending unnecessary travel and magazine subscriptions, and canceling Christmas parties.

The news comes as Viacom also announced job cuts.

(Editor: Baumann. Updates fifth paragraph to add ratings data.)