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HomeBollywoodHollywood Job Losses Hit Executives: "A Full-Scale Depression"

Hollywood Job Losses Hit Executives: “A Full-Scale Depression”


Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in the Deadline series Hollywood Contraction, which examines the toll the job losses caused by the ongoing industrywide cost-cutting has had on different sections of the entertainment community.

LinkedIn is usually used by professionals for networking with people in their field, posting updates when they get a new job or congratulating friends on their promotions.

These days, as one former industry type put it, “it’s become a therapy site for unemployed entertainment executives” who share their frustrations over the lack of opportunities in Hollywood amid a major contraction.

“I’ve seen lots of downturns, lots of job losses but I’ve never seen anything like this,” one veteran top TV executive said. “This is a full-scale depression for the entertainment industry.”

Over the past year, there have been waves of layoffs at Disney, Warner Bros Discovery, Paramount, NBCUniversal, Amazon MGM Studios, Lionsgate (which acquired eOne), Netflix, Sony, Fifth Season and most talent agencies including CAA and UTA.

The dire situation, “bordering on worst-case scenario,” the seasoned TV executive said, was created by a perfect storm of Covid, strikes and “poor management decisions coming home to roost” driven by short-sighted moves by media companies aimed at goosing their quarterly reports to appease Wall Street.

Those venting about their experiences on LinkedIn say that they have sent hundreds of job applications and never got a response to the majority of them, not even from HR. Some have been on the sidelines for more than a year while trying to pick up consulting and other part-time gigs to pay the bills.

The more senior executives turn to headhunters.

“I have certainly an influx of executives that reach out and say, they’re looking for their next [job],” said top Hollywood executive recruiter Jamie Waldron, Senior Partner, Global Head of Sports, Media + Entertainment, at Modern Executive Solutions. His “conservative estimate” is that “a good 20%” of the VP-and-above executive workforce in media and entertainment is out of work from a year ago.

Based on his observations, legal and marketing executives have been heavily impacted, followed closely by development execs.

“There is no doubt a contraction,” Waldron added. “It just makes it tough in the short term I feel like, with a lot of good executives. I can’t meet everybody that wants to meet to talk about that they’re about to be unemployed or this layoffs now happening.”

For many newly unemployed execs it’s been a major adjustment, losing a lofty salary with bonuses and stock but also perks such as company cars and expense accounts.

Most of those that have met with Waldron have put on a brave face, saying they feel great about taking a break and are happy to spend time with their kids. “And some are honest, ‘No, I’m scared,’ ” he said.

During the strikes, Waldron, whose father, 91, is a former writer and still a WGA member, said he was “looking at the fear and listening to all the stories of the writers and actors that are losing their houses.”

“What was kind of lost in the story was executives were doing the same thing, executives that were laid off were losing their houses and the private school tuition for their kids, and those jobs didn’t come back because either the contraction of the industry, or they’re waiting for them to come back,” he said.

Impact on salaries and morale

The lack of jobs and fear among out-of-work executives who have to provide for their families is pushing down salaries.

“The upper upper-level executives will be fine,” the former top TV executive said. “Presidents used to make $4 million-$6 million a year, now they will make $2.5 million-$3 million. Middle-level executives were making $250,000-$750,000. All will now be reduced. With fewer jobs and more demand, the companies can get away with that. An executive who made $500,000 in their last job would now be willing to take a $350,000 offer. That’s what the contraction is doing.”

Added the ex-executive, The opportunities that once existed — exorbitant salaries, bonuses, stock grabs — will all go away.”

The constant string of layoffs also is affecting the entertainment executives who have kept their jobs and often have to take on more work as a result of the staff cuts.

“The morale is low,” another former TV executive said. “People feel overworked and under-appreciated and those who were there for the hayday of the industry feel like the glory days, the fun and glamor of showbiz, are no longer there.”

Employment in post-Peak TV era

There have been mass layoff events following major mergers over the past few years, including the Disney acquisition of Fox assets in 2019 and the Discovery-WarnerMedia linkup in 2022, and jobs also were lost during the pandemic. But for across-the-industry deep payroll cuts of the current magnitude, observers point back to around 2009, the period of the Great Recession, which also included a WGA strike.

Things bounced back then. People are divided whether the same would happen this time.

“It’s not even remotely coming back,” a veteran TV executive said.

Another seasoned TV exec is a little more optimistic, but with a big caveat.

“After larger layoffs and austerity measures, it always goes back. Historically at every company, two years later, they are larger than they were going in,” the person said, underscoring that up until now, the volume of TV content had steadily increased, fueled by the expansion of original programming in cable and then streaming. “Studios go back to being bigger than they were before the layoffs in 2-3 years because it’s been a growth industry.”

That may no longer be the case.

FX topper John Landgraf in February declared Peak TV over as the number of original English-language scripted series fell 12% to 516 from the all-time high of 600 in 2022; he projected a further slide to 400-450 series within the next few years. The year 2022 was pivotal, with the industry shifting gears to kick off the current contraction.

Part of an overall correction in the media business amid cost-cutting efforts in search of profitability, the shift has affected employment in the industry that nearly matched its 2016 peak in August 2022 at almost 160,000 people but has shrunk by 26% since then, including a 17% drop from April to October 2023, according to the Otis College of Art and Design’s “The Day After Tomorrow” study released last December.

“The bigger picture reveals that Peak TV, rather than the strikes, represents the more enduring threat to employment in the Industry,” the study said. An arms race among streaming platforms heralded a surge in production between 2016 and 2022, as platforms pursued subscriber growth at all costs. As this business model has transitioned into one that emphasizes profitability and sustainability, we have likely reached the highwater mark in production.”

Entertainment companies’ production cost-cutting has impacted a favorite avenue for former development executives, becoming non-writing executive producers with a first-look or overall deal. The number of such pacts has been greatly reduced over the last couple of years, putting even more execs on the sidelines.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Waldron tries to stay upbeat.

“I feel like sometimes I’m too optimistic, but I feel optimistic about every time we have a contraction in our business, it takes a beat, and there’s there’s employment again,” he said. “Good talent does get hired. I feel like there’s good talent on the sidelines only for a certain amount of time and then they are working again.”

Waldron believes we would see the first signs of improvement in the entertainment executive job market soon.

“I think it will be this year,” he said. “I think that, at least what I’m hearing and seeing in talking with different clients is, Q1 — and we’re almost in Q2 — is kind of absorbing what just happened with the strikes and implications, the contraction of things. I think by Q3 and Q4, we’ll start to see a more aggressive approach into hiring execs again.”

There is an asterisk with that projection: potential mergers. As rumors continue to swirl about Paramount’s future as a stand-alone company, there may be more media consolidation in the next year or so, with Warner Bros Discovery also a target of merger speculation.

One difference from 2009 is the influx of private equity money as, backed by investment, entertainment companies like Legendary and Peter Chernin’s North Road have been hiring. Private equity spending cooled in Q3 and Q4 of 2023, but Waldron expects it to pick up.

“I think there’s still plenty of money to be invested into companies to buy them and make them bigger, stronger, better,” he said, adding, “I think what’s going to happen is that it may not be the traditional studios that are hiring back again in Q3 and Q4, it may take longer, may take into next year, but I think hiring a really good senior executive in other areas, that sort of thing can happen.”

One of those areas is in sports, where a number of entertainment executives have transitioned, especially in the marketing, business and PR areas.

For instance, Vicky Free Sistrunk, who spent 14 years as a marketing executive at Turner, Chief Marketing Officer for BET and SVP Marketing for Disney/ABC Studios, became Head of Global Marketing for sportswear giant Adidas in 2000 and is currently Chief Impact Officer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Still, the pull of Hollywood is strong despite it being a 24/7, stress-heavy environment, which probably explains why so many unemployed entertainment executives have put up the #OpenToWork green banner on their LinkedIn profiles.

“I honestly think entertainment is one of the greatest industries to work in,” a former TV executive said. “You get to work with creative, broad range of skill-based individuals; you get to use cutting-edge technology to improve the experience; there is growth opportunities, and you get very well paid compared to other fields.”

For those trying to go back, Waldron has advice.

“I think they should continue to network and hang in there because it will get better,” he said. “Meet whoever tells you that you should meet this person or that person, network outside of your comfort zone. Don’t just talk to your circle of friends and your few agents, reach out introduce yourself to other agents in other parts of the business.”

Exit Only, No Re-Entry for some

Even with the right strategy and under the best of circumstances, not all unemployed executives would be able to return to the entertainment industry.

“Out of the 20%, I would think 15% would. I think you’re going to lose 5% who are going to call it a day,” Waldron said. “I think at a certain point they do feel like, I’m not going to get that next job. Part of it is, if you’re a middle-age white man, you’re feeling really struggling to see if you’re going to be hired again.”

One such development executive with 25 years of experience lost his job about a decade ago. After looking unsuccessfully for about four years, he went into the insurance business, and he’s still struggling to get back into entertainment.

There are others like him from various areas of entertainment and demographics. Insurance and real estate are two areas where dozens of entertainment executives and agents and managers have transitioned, while marketing and PR executives have been targeting gaming, tech, sports and other fields. Some have left Los Angeles for a lower cost of living and better quality of life. Some have pursued a longtime passion, like becoming a therapist, life coach or meditation business owner.

This will likely happen to a number of the entertainment executives currently out of work. So for the film and TV writers out there, next time you need a realtor, insurance broker, a therapist of a life coach, they also may be able to give you notes on your script.



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