Plum TV Dying on the Vine

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Plum TV appears to be dying on the vine — and on the Vineyard, as the lifestyle channel geared at America’s playgrounds of the wealthy is in the pits of despair.

Luxury-lifestyle maven Jerry Powers just resigned as CEO of the company, citing mismanagement that hemorrhaged “millions” of dollars being the final straw.

“You’ve got a board with billionaires looking over employees whose checks might not clear,” he commented to the Miami Herald, adding that “after I started, the board gave us $4 million. But they didn’t tell me about the $6.7 million in unpaid bills. The board put in another $5 million this year, and that ran out two weeks ago. On Thursday (Sept. 1), the board refused more funding.”

Powers took over the reins at Plum 10 months ago, the company’s third CEO since Plum co-founder Tom Scott, who parlayed his fortune as the founder of Nantucket Nectars beverage brand into starting the Plum media company aimed at America’s idle rich.[more]

Launched in 2002 by Scott (whose wife, Emily Woods Scott, founded J. Crew), producer Cary Woods (Emily’s ex-husband) and TV exec Chris Glowacki, the locally-produced programming targeted affluent residents and tourists in eight playgrounds for the rich; Aspen, Nantucket, the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, Telluride, Sun Valley, Vail, and Miami Beach.

In 2004, Tom Scott commented about Plum’s lofty goals in a New York Times profile, “we want to be the Sundance of television.”

Before joining the company, Powers launched Miami Beach glossy Ocean Drive magazine which he sold in 2007 for $33 million. At Plum, he followed suit with glossy Plum print magazines in the Hamptons and Miami, aiming to build the brand into a “triple convergence” business that utilized “TV, print and digital” as well as social “events” that would lure high-end advertisers and sponsors. 

The strategy floundered, and despite a “strategic partnership” announced in February with Cristina Cuomo, is sinking fast. “I think that the company and the concept was a good one and could have made money, but by the time I got there, they had already gone through $64 million,” Powers stated, adding, “my flaw was that I didn’t do enough due diligence,” claiming the company was “$6 million in the hole the day he arrived.”

Massive company lay-offs are now on its programming schedule, according to Plum spokesman Robbie Vorhaus, who told the Aspen Times, he didn’t know exact numbers but noted it as ‘significant’ to the total of 85 employees. The number appears to be 50, with a massive reorganization this week: Plum’s Martha’s Vineyard TV station has been closed, all but two positions were eliminated in Aspen (although it will stay on the air in Vail), and its entire Sun Valley, Idaho operation closed. The magazines have also ceased publication.

“It came to a point where Plum realized something had to change to preserve the brand,” Vorhaus told the Aspen Times. Given the recession, and expenses outweighing income, “unfortunately, this meant some drastic cuts to staff.” 

“If we were going to fold, we would have just closed the doors now, right? Our intention is to take a step back and then begin rebuilding.”

Scott has now taken over the reins of the company, but faces an additional challenge: Plum TV is being investigated by the New York State Department of Labor with a subpoena issued to surrender its accounting books for the last three years.

Plum TV president Rob Gregory, meanwhile, last week joined Tina Brown’s Newsweek Daily Beast empire as its president, overseeing the publishing side of the U.S. and international editions of the magazine as well as The Daily Beast. 

His previous employer, the high-rolling, high-end brand with the tagline, The Best Things in Life are Plum, is plum broke. For many others, the idea of a media brand aimed at the ultra-rich when so many Americans are working poor (or just out of work) is plum crazy.

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