Nine days after Netflix rendered a devastatingly bad first-quarter earnings report, word leaked via Twitter Thursday that the streaming company was laying off editorial staffers for Tudum, a new fan site just launched by Netflix in December.
A source familiar with the site's staffing told Next TV that the layoffs affected 25 workers and were confined to Tudum's "culture and trends" team.
"This makes sense for the platform since those articles weren’t trending well," the source said. "But the site is doing well with news and titles."
Meanwhile, Netflix reps have told several tech blogs that Tudum remains “an important priority for the company.”
Examining the decision from the perspective of corporate communications strategy, the "optics," as they call them, aren't great.
On Friday morning, virtually every major tech blog -- Protocol, The Verge, Tech Crunch, you name it -- had stories headlined to the effect, "Netflix Lays Off Journalist Just a Few Months After Launching New Fan Site."
Perhaps more damning, The Drudge Report ran the banner headline, "Layoffs Begin at Netflix," right under another banner hed suggesting Amazon's own bad Q1 report had just bursts the tech bubble for good.
Named after that "tu-dum" sound the Netflix app makes every time you fire it up on your smart TV, the brand emerged late last year as both a term to describe a new fan festival and a new fan site.
On the site's "about" page, Netflix describes Tudum as, "the official Netflix site to help find and fuel your fandom for the shows and movies you love. Read the stories behind our stories. Watch behind-the-scenes videos and meet your favorite cast and characters."
As reported by Next TV back in November, Netflix spent the back half of 2021 actively ramping up editorial operations designed to cut out the middle man of entertainment journalism, and tell stories about its shows and their talent itself.
Well known media, entertainment and culture writers were promised good pay, stability ... and apparently, editorial independence.
Business Insider reporter Elaine Low, who interviewed several laid off Tudum writers, tweeted, "Netflix had an unclear strategic vision, no clear metrics for success and a veneer of editorial independence that devolved into 'glorified content marketing.' The execs in corporate seemed to be 'throwing spaghetti at the wall,' said one staffer."
Low added, "Despite being promised editorial freedom, certain topics — anything that courts controversy — were off limits for Tudum writers, such as the arrest of Cheer S1 star Jerry Harris, who pled guilty to sex crimes involving minors."
Editor's note: I actually interviewed in September for one of these Tudum jobs. I don't recall the work ever being described in non-marketing terms. I thought it was pretty clear that the job was focused on promoting Netflix shows and talent.
Netflix, of course, shocked the world last week when it revealed that it lost 200,000 subscribers in Q1 -- its first retrenchment in over a decade -- and that it also forecasts a loss of 2.5 million subscribers in the second quarter. Revenue growth continues to fall, dropping into the single digits.
Are these layoffs a signal to the investment community that Netflix is serious about cutting costs amid a dour sales outlook? Or is this just all simply clumsy handling of journalists' careers and bad PR?
Maybe both. Stay tuned.
Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!
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