Hollywood Reporter, Variety Staff ‘Freaked Out’ Over Penske-MRC Media Merger (Exclusive)

The consolidation of Hollywood’s longtime, competing trade publications — Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard — has left editorial staff “freaked out” from the sudden move and questioning what a larger Penske Media empire could mean for critical industry coverage and layoffs, insiders told TheWrap on Wednesday.

“The staff is freaked out,” said an insider who got the news during a 7 a.m. Billboard editorial meeting in a vague email from MRC co-CEOs Modi Wiczyk and Asif Satchu. “People are really upset. It’s how [MRC] constantly handles everything.”

TheWrap spoke to multiple employees at Penske and MRC publications who expressed shock and uncertainty over the merger of the longtime competitors and the possible implications to pursuing coverage. The THR newsroom was already in turmoil over ethical issues involving interference in reporting on movie and television projects backed by MRC’s production arm, as TheWrap has reported.

The email from MRC leadership noted: “We’re really excited to share the breaking news below about partnering with PMC across media and long form content, which gives us an incredible opportunity to expand and evolve the brands and their influence. We appreciate this will cause some anxiety as well as some excitement. We look forward to sharing more information in the coming week at our upcoming town hall.”

The merger, announced on Wednesday as a “joint venture” branded as PMRC, consolidates Hollywood’s oldest competing trades — PMC’s Variety and MRC’s The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard — under the control of PMC, which already owns another Hollywood trade, Deadline.

Also Read: Variety Parent Penske Media to Take Over Hollywood Reporter, Billboard in Joint Venture With MRC

MRC — which owns Dick Clark Productions, the production company behind awards shows like the Golden Globes, and MRC Television, the studio behind “Ozark” — will oversee the entertainment-focused aspect of the partnership and will develop film, TV and other projects based on content and intellectual property produced by the newly branded combined venture.

Editorial staff at the affected publications told TheWrap they were particularly upset that representatives for PMC and MRC have publicly and internally denied the prospect of an acquisition in recent weeks.

“We were all given assurances that MRC was in this for the long haul,” a Billboard insider said, adding that Wiczyk himself had denied that MRC was in talks with Variety during a town hall last month.

TheWrap is a direct competitor of Variety and THR.

The insider also added that anxiety was high about the possibility of layoffs at the publications — a typical consequence of media mergers and consolidations — and top editors appeared blindsided by the news. “They’re cruel through negligent stupidity,” the insider said.

Also Read: 'Bloodbath': The Hollywood Reporter Ends a 10-Year, Heady Run at Reinvention

Over at The Hollywood Reporter, a source told TheWrap that staffers there are “angry and disgusted” and also felt betrayed by Wiczyk for denying being in talks with Penske. The staff, according to the insider, is still reeling from widespread layoffs back in April, “which were vicious, just brutal.”

“There’s so much uncertainty,” the insider added.

Variety staffers, who were called to a Wednesday meeting led by interim editor-in-chief Cynthia Littleton shortly after the announcement, were also “very concerned and freaked out,” according to an individual with knowledge of the meeting. They questioned what the consolidation would mean for editorial coverage — especially after former THR editorial director Matt Belloni was abruptly fired in April due to clashes with MRC leadership over editorial issues.

Staff was told MRC would have no input on editorial content and that Variety and THR would operate separately, according to the individual, but there was no clarity on if it would be OK to write a tough story about MRC and its entertainment brands.

It is also not currently clear if THR and Billboard will eventually move into Variety’s offices when remote work ends, and there was no immediate answer for staffers who asked whether Claudia Eller, who took a leave in June and has not yet reassumed her position, will return as Variety’s editor in chief.

Representative for PMC and MRC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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