Plum TV, the lifestyle cable television network targeting the Island and seven other upscale vacation communities, abruptly laid off much of its workforce this week including the entire Vineyard staff in what is being called a major restructuring of the company.
Tina Miller, general manager for Plum TV on the Vineyard, said company chairman and founder Tom Scott called her Monday night to advise her that she and two other full-time Vineyard employees would be out of work the next day and directing her to close the Vineyard Haven office. At least 50 Plum employees, including the Vineyard staff, were formally let go in a conference call Tuesday morning. The network employed about 85 people before the layoffs.
“It was incredibly brief,” Ms. Miller said. “He said to everyone, ‘You don’t have a job.’”
Staff members cleaned out their Mansion House office on Tuesday. By Wednesday afternoon, the locks had been changed.
The effect on the local Plum station, Channel 76, and its Web site will not be immediately obvious to viewers since program scheduling is done from New York and the station ordinarily stops updating it regularly with local content after Labor Day. Augmented by a team of interns and freelancers this summer, the channel produced a rich catalog of local video features and interviews that are replayed in a loop.
How many people actually watch Plum TV on the Vineyard is unclear. About 10,000 homes have access to the channel through Comcast, and many of its programs are available on demand through its Web site.
On the air since 2004, the Vineyard station’s workforce had declined from a high of eight full-time staffers to the three who were laid off Tuesday. This summer, Plum also employed three program hosts and another producer in addition to interns and freelancers, but their seasonal employment had already ended when the layoffs occurred, Ms. Miller said.
A spokesman for the company, Robbie Vorhaus, called the move a “major restructuring.” He said he could not confirm the exact number of layoffs nationally or what precipitated them, but they came a day after the company’s Miami-based chief executive officer, Jerry Powers, resigned amid questions about its finances. On Wednesday, Plum President Robert Gregory announced he was leaving to become president of Newsweek Daily Beast Co. Mr. Scott has stepped back in as acting chief executive officer.
“Right now, everyone is working to right the ship,” said Mr. Vorhaus, a public relations consultant who provides services to Plum. “The intention is to keep Plum on air in all of its markets, reduce payroll and keep it viable.”
Plum TV was founded in 2002 by Mr. Scott, who made his fortune (along with cofounder Tom First) from Nantucket Nectars, selling a majority interest in the juice company to Ocean Spray in 1997 for a reported $70 million. The company was later acquired by Cadbury-Schweppes.
Mr. Scott’s idea for Plum was to create a collection of local cable television stations in high-end vacation destinations that could attract premium advertising. The first stations were on Nantucket and the Vineyard, in the Hamptons and three Colorado ski resort towns: Telluride, Vail and Aspen. In 2007, with an infusion of $20 million in new capital, he added stations in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Miami Beach.
The flagship program in each market is a locally-hosted morning talk show, combining breezy feature stories and interviews with community leaders and visiting celebrities with less geographically-specific lifestyle segments from other Plum stations. Programming is repeated throughout the day. For the last two summers the Vineyard Gazette has had an informal collaboration with Plum, supplying some news headlines weekly in the summer for the station to use.
The pitch to advertisers is based on the affluence of the local market rather than on who is actually watching.
Its Web site notes: “In 1980, 10 per cent of American families in terms of net worth, represented over a third of the nation’s wealth. In 2011 that top 10 per cent accounts for over half of total wealth. Assets of the top one per cent have quadrupled over that time. The Plum network offers a unique opportunity to reach this audience when they are deeply engaged with the activities, the people and the places they are passionate about.”
Last year, the company began an effort to expand beyond television into other media. Mr. Powers, who founded Ocean Drive, a luxury lifestyle magazine in Miami, was brought in to spur that transition.
Plum Miami Magazine, an oversized glossy magazine thick with ads and features on luxury consumer goods, debuted in March and published three more issues. A similar magazine, Plum Hamptons, published three summer issues as planned. Mr. Vorhaus said the September issue of the Miami magazine had been “put on hold,” but that the company is moving forward on a planned November launch of Plum Aspen.
Ms. Miller, who has been general manager since 2007, said she had no further information about plans for the Vineyard.
“It’s all incredibly disappointing,” she said.