When 120 Sports, a Chicago-based online media company launched in June 2014, the two-minute video clip was a key part of its model and the inspiration for its name. Just over 18 months later, the company is abandoning its commitment to 120-second content as part of a set of changes that included laying off 28 production employees.
“What we are going to do is relax the rigidity of the rule of everything being 120 seconds,” executive vice president Matt Carstens said, “to create some stuff that’s shorter, when it makes sense, and some stuff that’s longer when it makes sense.”
The lay-offs in production, which Carstens referred to as a “programming adjustment,” result from the company’s decision to cut back from 12 hours of live content a day to seven, eliminating its mid-day show. 120 Sports produces a live highlight show, with former ESPN anchor Michael Kim the network’s signature on-air talent. Carstens said around 120 Sports’ 18-month anniversary, the company conducted a thorough review and concluded its content was not performing well during certain times of the day, hence the cuts.
Whether because viewership was low or, as Carstens says, simply because the network needed restructuring, 120 Sports decided to shrink its staff and acted immediately.
Last Wednesday, president Jason Coyle called a mandatory staff meeting and separated 120 Sports’ employees into two rooms. Employees in one room were told of the changes, while those in the other room were laid off, according to two sources close to the company, including one who was among those let go.
“This was not talked about at all,” said a production assistant who lost his job last week. “We were just put into two separate rooms, and they just told us that due to low viewership they were letting us go.”
The future is unclear for 120 Sports, whose equity partners including Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the PGA Tour, Nascar, Sports Illustrated and Silver Chalice. Carstens stressed the importance of adapting with the industry and said in spite of the lay-offs, “there’s no pessimism at all” among the staff and stakeholders.
According to multiple sources, 120 Sports at one point hoped to build a studio connected to the United Center in downtown Chicago, but the company would not comment on the status of that plan.
The online-only-highlights model 120 Sports has pioneered seems to fit the natural direction of a world that relies less and less on its televisions every day. The persisting question relates to the form such content will take, whether a market exists for live video or whether on-demand clips will rule the day. And as companies like 120 Sports seek that balance, founding principles like the 120-rule are sacrificed and days like last Wednesday are inevitable.
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