LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co said it was revamping ABC News in a move aimed at reducing more than 20 percent or 300 to 400 jobs, according to a source familiar with the division's biggest cutback in years.
The restructuring at ABC News is the latest to occur among major broadcast news divisions who have had to face declining viewership, challenges from the Internet and the recession.
In a memo to staff, ABC News President David Westin said on Tuesday the operation needed to re-think how it carried out its role and anticipate change rather than just respond to it.
He said ABC would dramatically expand its use of new technology, digital journalists and reporters capable of shooting and editing their own material.
Westin said ABC would offer voluntary separation packages to all full-time, U.S.-based, non-union, non-contract employees, Westin said.
The response to the voluntary program will determine the extent to which ABC will need to make further cuts, he said.
The source, who was not authorized to speak officially about any of ABC's actions, said ABC News hoped to reduce staff by 300 to 400 people. ABC News employs about 1,500 people.
"When we are finished, many job descriptions will be different, different skill sets may be required, and, yes, we will likely have substantially fewer people on staff at ABC News," Westin said in the memo.
Westin also said ABC will combine its weekday and weekend operations for both Good Morning America and World News and eliminate redundancies wherever possible.
"This is all about the transition from television to digital," said Dave Smith, chief executive officer of SmithGeiger, a television research and strategy firm.
"While ABC is competitively in good shape, all ratings for national news on broadcast continue to see a slippage of their audience particularly in the key 18-49 year old and the 25-54 year old demographic groups," he said.
When asked in late November at Reuters Media Summit, whether ABC's news budgets would keep shrinking, ABC chief Anne Sweeney said:
"The budgets are going to keep changing. You can no more predict when the next great national emergency is going to happen, and you're going to have to deploy those resources because people are counting on you."
CBS Corp and General Electric's NBC have both cut news divisions as weak demand for advertising impacted operations.
ABC's parent Disney has also been aggressively restructuring its other divisions. Rich Ross, the new chairman of the company's film studio is leading the charge on reformatting the studio to address changes in the delivery of content in the digital era, while a year ago the company announced a broad restructuring of its parks and resorts operations.
Editing by Bernard Orr