In the space of a month, two brand new platforms launched amidst a wave of hype came to an abrupt and dignified end. Tudum, the Netflix site dedicated to delivering editorial content to its vast library of viewing material, has shut down five months after its launch. CNN+, a streaming service spun off from the news network, shut down after less than five weeks. Even by the standards of our industry, where layoffs, acquisitions, and operating bullshit are depressing, it was a grim thing.
It was reported that CNN had spent over $300 million in development costs and around 500 employees had been assigned to the CNN+ building. They had recruited stars such as chef Alison Roman and former Fox anchor Chris Wallace to headline its programming, which was intended to appeal to younger audiences than the typical cable news audience. Obviously, it didn’t work. In an age of streaming service overload, where even undisputed giants like Netflix are showing signs of struggling, CNN+ couldn’t convince enough people to pay a monthly fee for a news-only platform. , especially when their options for free equivalent content were so plentiful. As a result, dozens of new employees and talent lured by the promise of creative freedom and big bucks will soon be out of work.
Tudum’s brief arc seems equally tense. Netflix announced the arrival of Tudum, an official companion website, in December 2021. They promised news, exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes info, and op-eds from some of the best writers in the field. Tudum promised solid financial benefits, which are as rare as white rhinos in our industry, so no one could blame these employees for jumping at the chance to have a secure income. According to Deadline, 25 positions at Tudum have just been eliminated, which constitutes the bulk of the site’s workforce. A Netflix spokesperson said Deadline that “Tudum is an important priority for the company,” but it’s hard to believe when its writers are now on social media, revealing how quickly they were dumped by their employers.
None of these platforms seemed to have been built on solid foundations. No one seemed to be calling for a paid subscription service for CNN and Netflix programming having an in-house promotional department, while a simple and reasonable concept never seemed to take off. The latter seemed curiously absent from the internet. I work in this field and have rarely seen Tudum posts shared online. They lacked a social media presence and it didn’t seem like even their main account, which has 17.7 million followers, was letting their audience know. Questions have certainly arisen about the journalistic merit of writing glowing articles for a company’s own content, but the idea of a tech company doing so isn’t all that unusual. The scale of Netflix’s operation, however, was. They threw a huge amount of money at Tudum and actively recruited well-known writers for the perspective, most of whom were women of color.
Meanwhile, CNN+ has also gone overboard in the spending department, eager to follow in the footsteps of everyone else in the streaming world. A report of The New York Times alleges that less than 10,000 viewers watched CNN+ at some point in his month of life. The programming did not seem substantial enough to warrant paying extra and other channels and news networks put their content on free apps and platforms. CNN President Jeff Zucker – also known as the guy who screwed up Conan O’Brien and signed Donald Trump for The apprentice — was a streaming platform’s biggest evangelist. It was his latest failing spree until he resigned from CNN after failing to disclose a relationship he had with a colleague during the Chris Cuomo investigation. He has also been accused of violating the network’s reporting standards, which he denies.
If I wrote an article every time a website or publication screwed up its employees, I wouldn’t have time to cover anything else. It’s as if we could tune our watches to this predictable trend. Still, seeing this happen so quickly, in a way that makes Quibi a decades-old institution, is hard to stomach. We’re used to the excruciatingly prolonged dismantling of beloved rigs, where death by a thousand cuts leads to a painful but predictable climax. The audiovisual club was slowly pushed apart by its Silicon Valley owners until its unionized staff was all but forced out in favor of cheaper clickbait hires. Female dog just announced its closure. So there is Contour, dead spin, The hairpin, Grantland, Dissolve itand too many others to name.
What CNN+ and Tudum have in common is the hubris that only comes from big bucks and yes men, coupled with a well-honed habit of ignoring workers’ rights. The former was an impending failure, an unwanted addition to an oversaturated market that is already teetering on the brink. The latter seemed barely visible even to die-hard fans of the company and ignored their staff’s questions about strategy and identity. Former employees said The daily beast that they were promised “dream working conditions like an astronomical salary and no history or traffic quotas”, only to undermine the entrepreneurs and their manager. Writers were discouraged from throwing reviews and told to avoid topics like one of the stars of Applaud faces child pornography charges. Whenever Tudum’s crew asks about inconsistencies in their goals, they say they were told everything was fine, a lot compared to non-Netflix drama. Breakup.
Both CNN and Netflix have obscene amounts of money at their disposal, or at least they have spent a very long time creating the illusion for the public that their purses are bottomless. The people who suffer the most when these random experiments fail are not the ones above the line. It’s always the workers, and it’s especially believed that so many writers are suffering yet again after receiving so many promises from two mega-corporations. Writers are usually the first to be pushed to the chopping block when things go wrong. Netflix wanted the glow that comes with being seen to support bright, underrepresented writers of color, only to drop them like a hot potato after FOUR MONTHS.
So many writers are tested in the process of maybe earning enough to pay the bills. They move to new cities, work overtime to meet ridiculously inflated content quotas, and adhere to nonsensical style guides that place the influence of SEO on basic grammar and punctuation. They see their colleagues being fired one by one and the assignments start to dry up. New bosses come and go. Sites are acquired by tech morons with no understanding of how the industry works. The very identity that made their post so beloved is watered down until they’re just another clickbait site, so they have the audacity to wonder why no one reads them anymore. I don’t know many full-time writers in my world who haven’t experienced this embarrassment at least once. You can’t quite recover from having to sit silently on a Zoom call with all your friends and colleagues while a manager talks about how you’re effectively released immediately, while having a half-finished room waiting in another tab. It makes you very nervous about all the other jobs you show up for. So, for a platform with all this money to take advantage of the professional and financial insecurities of its staff, to let them go with a simple fortnight’s severance package? It’s fucking bad.
The cycle, alas, will continue. What we can hope for is that the organizing efforts will succeed and that workers of all kinds, not just in the writing world, can be guaranteed a modicum of protection. The speed and scale of this recent media disintegration seems unique, but it’s all part of the same crumbling ecosystem. We used to joke that the fate of our industry seemed to hinge on whether or not publications were bought by a “good” billionaire or a bad one, not that there was any difference between the two. Yet even the big spenders refuse to pay their writers what they are worth. Capitalism is proceeding as expected in this regard. All we can do is keep writing and hope someone finds value in it. And will pay us.
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