Employee headcount: The rise and fall of job numbers at ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC

FierceBroadcasting sifted through annual filings for Walt Disney/ABC, CBS, 21st Century Fox, and Comcast/NBCUniversal in order to get a better understanding how headcounts have fluctuated at each company during the past five years.

Tracking the ups and downs of employee numbers for the four major broadcasters can provide another measurement for the overall performance of the companies.

FierceBroadcasting sifted through annual filings for Walt Disney/ABC, CBS, 21st Century Fox, and Comcast/NBCUniversal in order to get a better understanding how headcounts have fluctuated at each company during the past five years.

Though all four companies represent the core of the broadcast television industry in the U.S., it’s important to point out how much larger and more diversified Comcast/NBCUniversal and Disney/ABC are than CBS and 21st Century Fox. Although all four companies own and operate film and television studios, Walt Disney and Comcast/NBCUniversal, own and operate multiple theme parks, hotels and other hospitality businesses. Comcast is also one of the largest cable providers in the U.S.

So while direct comparisons between all four companies may be difficult, it’s still worth looking at how all four stack up in terms of headcount and look at how those numbers have changed.

ABC/Walt Disney Company

Walt Disney/ABC is the clear leader of the pack in terms of workforce size with 195,000 employees but, as mentioned previously, much of that can be attributed to Disney’s massive theme parks and hospitality business.

Since 2012, Disney has made cuts to its consumer products and digital media division, at ESPN and at Maker Studios. Disney hasn’t made a truly transformative acquisition since late 2012 when it bought Lucasfilm and the Star Wars universe for $4 billion, likely the last time Disney experienced a large influx of employees inorganically.

But ABC/Disney has continued to steadily grow over the past few years, up 29,000 from the end of 2012. On average, Disney has added about 7,250 employees per year over that time period.

ABC/Disney could be due for another big bump in employee headcount should Disney pursue a merger with Netflix or other content and distribution companies to which it’s been linked. But a tie-up between Verizon and Disney doesn’t seem likely—despite reports—given Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam’s unequivocal “No” when asked recently about a potential merger.

CBS Corporation

At the end of 2016, CBS had about 21,270 employees. That represents the lowest headcount CBS has had in the past five years, and the company has been steadily decreasing headcount over the past five years, down from 25,930 in 2012.

Of CBS’s 21,270 full- and part-time employees, approximately 5,720 of those are project-based staff. Earlier this year, CBS agreed to merge CBS Radio to Entercom, meaning CBS Radio is now listed as a discontinued operation on CBS’s quarterly and annual results.

21st Century Fox

21st Century Fox finished 2016 with 21,500 employees, not far off from where CBS’s headcount sat at the end of last year. Unlike the other broadcasters on this list, Fox’s employee headcounts have seen two rather precipitous drops in the past five years. Of course, both of those reductions come with rational explanations.

The drop from 48,000 employees in 2012 to 25,600 in 2013 can be attributed to Fox’s split of its company. Following the split, 21st Century Fox comprised of film and TV studios as well as broadcast and cable TV networks, while the newly created News Corp. housed the newspaper and publishing businesses. Another big drop in employees in 2015 can likely be attributed to Fox selling its 100% and 57% ownership stakes in Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland AG, respectively, to British Sky Broadcasting Group.

Now, Fox could soon be due for another big headcount swing in the other direction as the company is currently pursuing a deal to buy Sky outright.

NBCUniversal/Comcast

NBCUniversal/Comcast ended 2016 with 159,000 employees, capping off five years of following a headcount growth trajectory similar to Disney’s. Comcast also grew by 30,000 employees over that time, adding an average of 7,500 employees per year.

Although NBCUniversal/Comcast has a much higher total employee headcount than CBS or Fox, it’s important to note that the majority of employees work for Comcast, the cable giant which successfully acquired NBCU in 2011.

At the end of 2016, of Comcast’s total employee headcount, about 58,000 worked for NBCUniversal. At the end of 2015, that number was 53,000; at the end of 2014, it was 43,000; and at the end of 2013, it was 40,000.