Participant Media Scales Back TakePart Website, Layoffs Expected (EXCLUSIVE)

James Rainey
Variety

Participant Media is scaling back and rebranding its TakePart division in a bid to re-orient its strategy with the changing digital landscape. Several layoffs are expected at the TakePart division as a result.

The revamp will fold TakePart into the Participant Media brand and focus more resources on original video as well as new forms of storytelling, such as virtual reality.

Participant CEO David Linde said, “This is a continuation of Participant’s strategy to focus on content and social impact, based on the belief that a good story well told can change the world. This decision is not a reflection on the work done by the exceptional TakePart team, but rather a strategic move to shift away from running a standalone site. We are incredibly proud of the TakePart team and its body of work over the past seven years, which has inspired significant engagement and countless individual actions on causes ranging from environmental protection to social justice.”

TakePart focused on content revolving around the environment, food, and social justice, as well as supporting Participant’s films and, previously, programs on its Pivot television station.

With so many niche sites jostling for position, TakePart had an uphill battle to make a name for itself as a popular news and advocacy site. But the site did make a mark in the social justice area, winning a Shorty social good award for best Facebook presence as well as Telly, L.A. Press Club, and other awards for coverage of issues such as fracking, food sustainability, Syrian refugees, and more. Its social media sites have close to 4 million members across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others.

The changes continue a reconfiguration of the company that began a year ago when Linde took over as CEO. He has been trying to remake Participant to respond to the quickly-changing media landscape. The company acquired Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake in October to increase video programming.

That meant that in August, Linde shut down the multimedia company’s struggling television outlet, Pivot, which failed in three and a half years to gain a substantial profile or audience, despite an investment by owner Jeff Skoll of $200 million-plus.

TakePart’s audience reached as high as 7.8 million unique visitors in February of 2015 and dipped as low as 2.8 million in May of this year, according to ComScore. The site drew more than 4 million visitors last month.

The alterations of the digital venture are less dramatic than the Pivot shutdown. In that case, Participant walked away from an operation that had hosted a full slate of programs, including the Arctic outpost drama “Fortitude,” the Australian relationship dramedy “Please Like Me,” and the public affairs program “TakePart Live.”

The television audience has fragmented so severely, in the multi-channel and streaming universe, that niche channels like Pivot struggle to find and hold audiences. The stations struggle to hold on to their MVPD carriage deals. With no buyer on the horizon, Participant simply let Pivot go dark.

Past social action campaigns on TakePart encouraged the audience to support water conservation on the Colorado River, demand better working conditions for farm workers, and to write Congress on a variety of causes.

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