Netflix promised good jobs at Tudum. Now, one of its teams has been laid off

Netflix has laid off some of its staff, many of them recently hired women of color. They were working on the streaming service’s new fan-focused website, Tudum, named for the sound of the Netflix logo.

Tudum launched in December to take fans “behind the”streams,” with articles about shows and films streamed on Netflix. For example, the site recently featured a story on the toddlers in the Japanese reality show Old Enough! There was a story with a “scoop” about the final episodes of Frankie and Grace, and a rundown of who’s crushing on whom in the teen series Heartstopper. Tudum also included a story about the history of the food in Bridgerton Season 2, and another highlighting the show’s slow-burn romantic moments.

Some fans are just learning now about Tudum, complaining Netflix didn’t do much to promote the website. And some of the writers and editors who lost their jobs were told the layoffs were part of Netflix’s plan to restructure its marketing department. The news comes shortly after announcements that the streamer has lost subscribers, and that its stocks took a nosedive.

When asked about the layoff, a spokesperson for Netflix wrote, “Our fan website Tudum is an important priority for the company.”

The site is still up, but one team of 10-12 writers and editors were laid off. They worked on the culture and trend section of Tudum. They are experienced journalists who previously worked for Vulture, Vice, Teen Vogue and The New York Times. Some were book authors or had their own pop culture podcasts. Most, if not all of the team were Black, Latinx or Asian women.

“They went very out of their way to hire high level journalists of color who have quite a bit of name recognition and a lot of experience and talent. In some ways, they were just buying clout to lend credibility to their gambit,” one member of the team told NPR, just hours after being let go. The member said they had signed a non-disclosure agreement when hired and so did not want their name used.

Everyone on the team had been recruited by Netflix with promises of editorial independence, exclusive interviews with Netflix talent, and secure, well-paying jobs.

It seemed like a dream job at first, they said, working with a diverse staff for good pay and loads of resources and opportunities.

“We were courted pretty aggressively. They sold us on the most amazing thing that you could want as a culture journalist or entertainment journalist. They just sold something that seemed impossible anywhere else,” they said. “But the biggest selling point was the pay.”

But in the short time the website has been around, they said the vision and the strategy changed. “They started tightening up little by little. And then just it became clear. It’s a content marketing job, essentially. That would have been fine if from the get-go they made that clear.”

Instead of being able to write about anything they wanted concerning Netflix content, they were told not to say anything deemed controversial, even if it was the subject of a documentary, for example. And any mention of films that aren’t in the Netflix library were deleted from the site.

“They created a very jargony corporate environment in which everything is extremely positive. So instead of saying, ‘No, don’t do that,’ they say, ‘Do you think that’s something we should be doing?’ ” they said. “Still, I’m really proud of a lot of the stories that were done under even those sort of tight parameters that were set and that constantly moved. A lot of great work was done because they hired extremely talented people. And so this more than anything reads as a lack of investment into a project that they didn’t properly plan for or properly set up.”

The writers and editors were full time or part time, on contract or on staff, and say they had no notice before losing their jobs. They were offered just two weeks of severance pay.

“People upended their lives for this,” the ex-Tudum worker says, noting that just last month, many had been given promotions.

Now they’re scrambling to find new jobs, sending out tweets asking for employment.

This isn’t the first streamer to lay people off in the past week; something similar happened with CNN+, though in that case, it wasn’t just one team, but the entire new streaming service.

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Transcript :

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Yesterday, Netflix laid off some of its staff, many of them recently hired women of color. They were working on its new fan-focused website. NPR culture correspondent Mandalit del Barco is here to talk us through the news. Hey, Mandalit.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Hello.

SCHMITZ: Tell us about this website, Tudum.

DEL BARCO: Tudum. Well, first you should know it was named for the sound of the Netflix logo.

(SOUNDBITE OF NETFLIX STARTUP SOUND)

DEL BARCO: Tudum – it’s an onomatopoeia. And that website just launched in December to take fans behind the streams, as they put it, with articles about shows and films on Netflix. On Tudum today…

SCHMITZ: (Laughter).

DEL BARCO: …Is a feature on the toddlers in the Japanese reality show “Old Enough.” And there’s a scoop on the final episodes of “Frankie And Grace” (ph), a rundown of who’s crushing on whom in the teen series “Heartstopper.” There’s a feature about the history of the food in “Bridgerton” Season 2 and another highlighting the show’s slow-burn romantic moments.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “BRIDGERTON”)

JONATHAN BAILEY: (As Anthony Bridgerton) You are the bane of my existence and the object of all my desires. Night and day, I dream of you.

DEL BARCO: Swoon.

(LAUGHTER)

DEL BARCO: A lot of people say they didn’t even know that Tudum existed until now and that Netflix hasn’t really promoted the site very much.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t know what Tudum was, either. And now that you’ve told me, I cannot get that Tudum sound out of my head. Did Netflix say why they laid off the workers at Tudum?

DEL BARCO: Well, apparently the writers and editors were told that the layoffs were part of Netflix’s restructuring of its marketing department. And, you know, this comes just days after news that the streamer has lost subscribers and that its stocks took a nosedive. When I asked Netflix for comment about the layoffs, a spokesperson sent a message saying that Tudum is, quote, “an important priority for the company.” You know, the site is still up, but it was just one team of writers and editors that got let go.

SCHMITZ: So Mandalit, tell us more about this team and what they did.

DEL BARCO: So it was 10 or 12 writers and editors who worked on the culture and trends section of the site, and they were all very experienced journalists who had previously worked for Vice, Teen Vogue, Vulture, The New York Times. Some were book authors, or they had their own pop culture podcasts. And most of them, if not all of the team, were Black, Latinx and Asian American women of color.

I had a long talk last night with one of the team members who was let go. They said they signed a non-disclosure agreement when they were hired, so we’re not using their name. But off the record, they said that they’d all been hired – they’d all been recruited, that is – recruited heavily by Netflix with promises of editorial independence, exclusive interviews with Netflix talent – the actors, the filmmakers and so on – and, very importantly, secure jobs that paid very well. The person I spoke to said at first it seemed like a dream job, but it quickly devolved into little more than a marketing gig for Netflix.

SCHMITZ: So what do we know about their situation right now?

DEL BARCO: Well, these writers and editors were on contract or on staff, and they said they had no notice before they lost their jobs. And they were offered just two weeks of severance pay. The person I talked to said many of them had upended their lives to work for Netflix just a few months ago, and now they’re scrambling to find new jobs. You can see their tweets about looking for work. But, you know, this isn’t the first streamer to lay people off just in the last week alone. Something similar happened with CNN+.

SCHMITZ: Right.

DEL BARCO: But in that case, it wasn’t just one team but the entire streaming service.

SCHMITZ: That’s NPR’s Mandalit del Barco. Mandalit, thanks so much.

DEL BARCO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.