Netflix terminated an unidentified staffer who shared “commercially sensitive information” with someone outside the company that was included in a Bloomberg news report, violating the streamer’s policies.
The data included Netflix financial figures for Dave Chappelle’s “The Closer” stand-up special, which has stirred a major backlash both inside and outside the company over the comedian’s transphobic material.
“We have let go an employee for sharing confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement to Variety. “We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company.”
A source familiar with the situation told Variety that the confidential information in question was cited in a Bloomberg article about the Netflix employee protests about Chappelle’s special. The company’s internal system logs showed that there was only one employee who had accessed financial data on the four titles that later appeared in the Bloomberg report. When confronted, the Netflix staffer admitted that they had downloaded and shared the confidential information externally.
Per the Bloomberg report, Netflix paid $24.1 million for the “The Closer” and $23.6 million for Chappelle’s “Sticks & Stones” 2019 special. That’s well more than the company paid for Bo Burnham’s “Inside” special ($3.9 million) and even more than it shelled out ($21.4 million) for global smash hit “Squid Game,” which the company is to date the most-watched Netflix original title over its initial release.
Netflix estimated an “impact value” for “Sticks & Stones” of $19.4 million, per the internal documents cited by Bloomberg. That gave “Sticks & Stones” an “efficiency” ratio of 0.8 (cost vs. impact value) compared with 2.8 for Burnham’s “Inside,” according to the report.
The leak of the confidential data to Bloomberg seems to have been intended to embarrass Netflix — to point out that the company has paid more for Chappelle’s controversial content than better-performing programming. Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos claimed in a memo to senior employees last week that Chappelle’s “Sticks & Stones” is the streamer’s “most-watched, stickiest and most award-winning stand-up special to date.”
Netflix famously operates a corporate culture in which it openly shares information with employees. However, according to its employment policies, Netflix staff members are not allowed to share private info outside the company with the understanding that they may be fired for doing so.
The firestorm over Chappelle’s transphobic and homophobic commentary in “The Closer” has grown more intense since Netflix released it on Oct. 5. Hundreds of company employees are planning to stage a walkout on Oct. 20 in protest of Sarandos’ comments defending the Chappelle special. That included his statement in an Oct. 11 memo that “we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,” as first reported by Variety.
On Friday, Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby — who has two stand-up specials on Netflix — took aim at Sarandos over his mention of Gadsby in the second memo as part of the company’s efforts to improve representation of “marginalized communities.”
“Hey Ted Sarandos! Just a quick note to let you know I would prefer it if you didn’t drag my name into your mess,” Gadsby wrote on Instagram. “You didn’t pay me nearly enough to deal with the real world consequences of the hate speech dog whistling you refuse to acknowledge, Ted. Fuck you and your amoral algorithm cult.”
Meanwhile, Netflix earlier this month suspended three employees — including a transgender employee who had spoken out against Chappelle’s “The Closer” on Twitter — for attending Netflix’s quarterly business review for senior managers without permission. A few days later, the company reinstated those employees after concluding they did not have malicious intentions.