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Amid online viewing and dwindling cable bundles, ESPN pulling plug on about 300 workers

AP

Disney’s ESPN is cutting about 300 jobs, or 4 percent of its staff, amid signs that the traditional cable bundle is less far-reaching than it once was.

ESPN spokeswoman Amy Phillips confirmed the number of job losses Wednesday.

The sports channel is one of the linchpins of the traditional cable bundle of hundreds of channels, which is under pressure from viewers migrating online. A few are choosing to bypass paying for a cable subscription entirely, opting instead for a growing number of choices of online TV alternatives.

The job cuts are a “necessary part of our continued strategic evolution to ensure ESPN remains the leader in sports as well as the premier sports destination on any platform,” said ESPN CEO John Skipper in a memo to employees that was posted online.

Disney in August trimmed its TV profit outlook because of a loss of ESPN subscribers. ESPN gets money from cable and satellite companies that carry its channels, and it’s the most expensive of the basic pay TV channels. Data provider SNL Kagan has estimated that ESPN costs cable and satellite TV companies $6.61 per monthly subscriber.

So ESPN comes under pressure as people skip the cable bundle or choose cheaper TV packages with fewer channels.

The company has said that it doesn’t expect big declines in traditional TV subscribers over the next few years. But CEO Bob Iger said in August that if the business declines, Disney would consider selling ESPN straight to viewers.

There are already big media brands doing that, like HBO, CBS and Showtime.

For affected ESPN employees: Skipper said they would get a minimum of 60 days’ notice, severance packages and job search assistance.

Shares of Burbank, California-based The Walt Disney Co. rose $1.50, or 1.4 percent, to $111.34 in midday trading Wednesday.