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Disney Pink-Slips 80 Employees Across Maker Studios, Digital Media Division

Variety logo Variety 2/23/2017 Todd Spangler
© Provided by Variety

Maker Studios is shrinking: Parent company Disney is laying off 80 staffers in a restructuring of its publishing and digital media division, which includes Maker.

Disney declined to reveal what portion of the group’s headcount that represents. Back in 2014, Maker Studios had about 380 employees after the Mouse House closed the deal for the company, ultimately paying $675 million. Word that Disney was preparing layoffs at Maker surfaced last week.

Maker last week dropped PewDiePie, the biggest star on YouTube, after a series of jokes on his channel revolving around anti-Semitic language and Nazi imagery. But multiple sources said the layoffs are entirely separate from the situation with PewDiePie (the Swedish-born vlogger whose real name is Felix Kjellberg) and had been the works well before Maker cut its ties to Kjellberg.

The latest cutbacks comes after Maker Studios was moved under the Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media (DCPI) group. Last December, Andrew Sugerman, executive VP of DCPI’s publishing and digital media unit, assumed oversight of Maker. At the time Courtney Holt, who had previously been running Maker, moved into a role at Disney corporate as executive VP of media and strategy.

Asked for comment, Disney provided a statement from Sugerman that did not directly address the layoffs. “We’re building a digital media network of Disney and non-Disney content for kids and millennials on the platforms they use every day,” Sugerman said in the statement. “For advertisers, this network offers mobile, video, short-form content, micro-content and influencers, all at scale.”

With the layoffs, a key strategic shift for Maker will be to pare back the number of individual creators it works with, according to sources familiar with the company. Under its multichannel network model, Maker once touted partnerships with 60,000 creators. Now, it’s going to drop that to less than 1,000 in order to focus efforts around the most popular talent, a source close to Maker said.

PewDiePie — with more than 53 million YouTube subscribers — had been No. 1 with a bullet for Maker, which maintained a team dedicated to his channel. Other top creators in Maker’s network include Bratayley, CaptainSparklez, Epic Rap Battles of History, EvanTubeHD, Game Grumps, Shay Carl, Strawburry17, the Gregory Brothers and Timothy DeLaGhetto.

The reorg also is part of Disney’s strategy to more tightly integrate its digital operations. Maker had previously operated largely as a standalone entity in Culver City, and some of the Maker layoffs were because of overlapping roles with DCPI’s publishing and digital media group in Glendale, Calif. However, Maker will continue to maintain office and studio space in Culver City.

Last summer, Maker laid off about 30 employees in what it called at the time a “strategic adjustment” of resources.

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