When news of the layoffs on Netflix fan site Tudum broke last week, the responses tended to fall into two parts: First, of course, was that it sucked for the workers concerned. But also, What is Tudum??
Launched less than six months ago, Tudum was envisioned as a home for bonus content related to popular Netflix titles, like star interviews, news about renewals and trailers, as well as bigger stories and meatier ones that could contextualize the shows and movies. A former writer who lost his job last week compared Tudum to special DVD features and the investments other companies have made in additional hardware – “a Criterion collection for normal people”, as they put it. .
“It kind of builds on an already existing culture of fandom around Netflix shows and it’s just something that acts as a companion,” the former staffer said. “[Tudum was] where Netflix owned its own content.
But Tudum quickly became the latest example of Netflix’s failure to nurture those fandoms. The company has a history of shutting down shows if they don’t quickly meet internal targets, and it seems to have treated Tudum the same way, cutting much of its staff after he didn’t immediately produce a significant return on investment. . Interviews with current and former employees suggest that Netflix changed its mind about what it really wanted from the multitude of journalists it recruited. Staff encountered moving goals and a marketing department that did not feel responsive to feedback from editors and publishers.
Netflix’s goals just weren’t clear to everyone involved. In an interview with The edge, a former writer joked that he still doesn’t quite know how to pronounce the site’s name.
On the one hand, staff have been told that Tudum will be the place to drop off exclusive content before other outlets can, said a writer who asked not to be identified as he is still employed in the ‘business. But even that was a problem in Tudum, current and former writers say. Tudum employees watched other outlets land interviews with stars that even Tudum couldn’t get or get time with talent they were supposed to have exclusive access to.
“What’s the point of acting like we have exclusive access when we have less access than other places? said the former staff member.
Another tension that grew over time was the type of work writers were allowed to produce and the type of content fans wanted to see. The writers knew the job wouldn’t be “capital J journalism,” says another former writer who was also fired. Still, they were assured during the interview process that they would be able to write about Netflix titles with a critical eye.
But the writers soon discovered that was not the case.
Netflix PR reps often attend interviews with show stars, and writers are given lists of topics to avoid discussing that have been deemed controversial, according to current and former staff. According to several people, even the subjects that Netflix shows tackle head-on, like Applaud The arrest of star Jerry Harris on child pornography charges, to which the show devoted an entire episode, was forbidden for Tudum. Netflix declined to comment on this policy and did not respond to further questions from The edge on Tudum’s operations.
“If you’re trying to build a site and a brand that has any sort of credibility in this landscape, those are things you have to sort out. These are things you have to write about,” says the second former writer. Instead, the writer says, the feeling the staff got was that Netflix wanted “beautiful” stories and Tudum to be a “space of joy” titles.
Tudum is just one piece of a seemingly ever-growing push by Netflix to build fandoms around its content. The site shares a name with a giant virtual fan event Netflix held last fall. there is live Bridgerton events held across the country where fans do their best Regency-era cosplay under glittering chandeliers, with pictures going viral on TikTok the next day. The company runs a range of curated social media handles for different audience segments and content, including Geekdedicated to fans of science fiction, fantasy and others.
“We don’t have this 40-year legacy of established intellectual property. We’re creating these new stories, new worlds and new fandoms,” said Max Mills, Netflix’s editorial and publishing director. Protocol in 2020. “We are able to examine it: what is this next generation of geekdom, the next generation of fandom?”
But the company sometimes cut these fandoms before they could grow. Fan favorites like the OA or The Babysitters Club, canceled after just a few seasons, fell victim to internal measures that viewers — and even show creators — aren’t aware of. When the service was canceled Sense8it took a prolonged fan reaction for the service to greenlight a finale.
Building new fandoms can be heavy work that requires more than just press releases or even a full-fledged marketing website staffed by culture and entertainment writers. But the premise that Tudum might be the a place to read about your favorite show would require a real investment – why limit promotion to a site built from scratch?
Although the writers say Tudum wasn’t meant to be a direct competitor to independent entertainment publications, the company seemed unsure what Tudum would need to succeed as the go-to source for Netflix obsessives. On several occasions, staff asked Netflix management why Tudum didn’t have its own social media presence to grow its readership or even let people know it existed. When Tudum finally secured space on Netflix itself, a title card was crammed in at the end of episodes – far from prime real estate.
“People who do this have no idea how to achieve this goal,” said a former writer. “People can be smart in different ways, but they’re absolute jerks about it.”
When writers and editors asked about the fansite’s strategy and goals, superiors responded vaguely about always figuring things out, the second former writer said. Content strategy changed regularly based on what bosses said audiences were reacting to, leaving writers and editors scrambling to deliver what they were told fans wanted.
“They were trying to figure it out themselves,” the former writer said of the marketing and strategy executives. “They put the cart before the horse.” The feeling they got, in the absence of clear answers from Netflix, was that SEO content marketing was what writers wanted.
This corresponds to where the layoffs were concentrated. About 25 people in marketing have lost their jobs, including eight people from Tudum’s culture and trends team, as well as at least one person focused on content strategy, according to former employees. As to why culture and trends were specifically targeted, staff can only guess: the team underperformed news, for example. Some assume Netflix didn’t want anything too fiery, though deeper elements often capture the attention and intrigue of a fanbase.
“It makes sense in terms of what [Netflix is] to try to understand. What makes this business worth it? said a former staff member. “We’re just not the investment they needed.”
It doesn’t make sense for Netflix to limit coverage of its shows to its internal fan blog – why wouldn’t the company want a feature in the New York Times? — nor is it a good thing for cultural criticism to be limited to what a streamer’s marketing department approves of. But whatever levers have to be pulled to give Tudum access to Netflix’s own stars have clearly not been refined, the writers say. Just months after the site went live, Bozoma Saint John, the executive who launched Tudum, left the company.
The laid-off Tudum employees are now fighting for some stability following the culture and trends team’s sudden gutting. Two affected writers said The edge that a group of workers asked Netflix to increase the two weeks of severance pay offered by the company to four months. Former staff members are currently negotiating with Netflix.
Some workers who have lost their jobs are seeing the fallout from Netflix’s corporate-level panic. The company lost subscribers for the first time in more than a decade last quarter and estimates it will lose even more this quarter.
One of Tudum’s former writers has his own prescription for how Netflix can stop the losses. “Stop canceling shows people love, stop greenlighting so many ridiculous shows no one will watch, and stop raising prices,” they say. “That’s what makes people get rid of their subscriptions. And they do everything else except that.