Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

When news broke of layoffs at the Tudum fan site last week, the first thing that came to mind was that it sucked for the workers affected. What is Tudum?

Tudum was launched less than six months ago and was supposed to be a home for bonus content related to popular titles, like interviews with stars, news about renewals and trailers, and also bigger, meatier stories that could contextualize shows and films. A writer who lost their job last week compared Tudum to DVD special features and investments that other companies have made into supplementary material.

The former staffer says that it builds on an already existing culture of fandom around the shows.

Tudum is the latest example of how not to nurture those fandoms. The company has a history of shutting down shows if they don't quickly reach internal goals, and it seems to have treated Tudum the same way, cutting off a large chunk of its staff after it didn't immediately produce a sizable return on investment. Interviews with current and former employees suggest that the company changed its mind about what it wanted from the journalists it brought. The marketing department was unresponsive to writer and editor feedback.

It was unclear to everyone involved how the goals would be achieved. One former writer joked in an interview that they still don't know how to pronounce the site's name.

A writer who asked not to be identified because they are still employed at the company said that Tudum would be the place to drop exclusive content before other media could. The current and former writers say that was a problem at Tudum. Tudum staffers were supposed to have exclusive access to the stars, but other outlets were interviewing them.

When we have less access than other places, what is the point of acting like we have exclusive access?

Even topics that Netflix shows address head-on, like Cheer star Jerry Harris’ arrest for child pornography charges, were off-limits

Over time, there was a tension between what kind of work writers were allowed to produce and what kind of content fans wanted to see. Another writer who was laid off said that writers knew the job wouldn't be journalism. They were assured during the interview process that they would be able to write about the titles.

Writers found that wasn't the case.

Current and former staff say that writers are given lists of topics to avoid when discussing controversial topics in interviews with stars of shows. Tudum was not allowed to discuss topics like Jerry Harris' arrest for child pornography charges, which the show dedicated an entire episode to, according to multiple people. Tudum's operations were not responded to by the company and they did not comment on this policy.

These are things that you have to address if you want to create a site and a brand that has credibility. The second former writer says that these are things that you have to write about. The writer says that the staff thought that Tudum was good for PR but that they wanted stories and a space for joy.

Tudum is just one of many pieces of a seemingly ever-expanding push by Netflix to build fandoms around its content. The site is named after a giant virtual fan event held by the company. There are live Bridgerton events held around the country where fans do their best Regency-era cosplay under twinkling chandeliers, with footage going viral on TikTok the next day. Geeked is dedicated to sci-fi, fantasy and other fans and is one of the social media handles the company runs.

We don't have the legacy of 40 years of established I.P.

The company sometimes cut off those fandoms before they could grow. The Babysitter's Club, canceled after just a couple seasons, is one of the fan favorites that have fallen victim to internal metrics. It took a long time for the service to greenlight a finale after Sense8 was canceled.

Building new fandoms can be a lot more than just press releases or a website staffed by culture and entertainment writers. Promoting Tudum to a site built from scratch would not be enough for the premise that it could be the place to read about your favorite show.

“People can be smart in many different ways, but they are absolute idiots at this.”

Tudum wasn't meant to be a direct competitor with independent entertainment publications, but the company seemed to lack an awareness of what Tudum would need to succeed as a go-to source for the obsessed. The staff asked why Tudum didn't have its own social media presence to build readership or let people know it existed. The title card was crammed in at the end of Tudum's episodes, far from prime real estate.

The people who are doing it have no idea how to achieve this goal.

The second former writer says that when writers and editors asked about the strategy and goals of the fansite, higher-ups responded vaguely. Content strategy was constantly changed based on what bosses said audiences were responding to.

The former writer says that marketing and strategy heads were trying to figure it out.

That is in line with where the layoffs were focused. Tudum's culture and trends team and at least one person focused on content strategy were among the 25 people who lost their jobs. The team had a lower output than news, so staff can only guess why culture and trends were targeted. Even though deeper pieces are often what capture the attention and intrigue of a fanbase, some think that the streaming service didn't want anything that could be too fiery.

It makes sense that they are trying to figure it out. A former staffer says what makes this worthwhile is not the investment that they needed.

It makes no sense for the company to only cover its shows on its in-house fan blog, and not in The New York Times. Tudum's own stars were not given access to the streaming service. Bozoma Saint John left the company a few months after Tudum went live.

The culture and trends team has been gutted and Tudum staffers are fighting for some stability. The two affected writers told The Verge that a group of workers have asked for an increase in the two weeks of severance pay offered by the company. The former staff are talking to the company.

Some workers lost their jobs because of the company panic. The company lost subscribers for the first time in over a decade last quarter and expects to lose more this quarter.

One of Tudum's former writers has a suggestion for how to stop the losses. They are doing everything else but that.