Netflix Ex-Insiders Explain Those Bare-Bones Blurbs, AKA I Was Right

Turns out the reason the streamer’s once snappy descriptors are now so crappy is because the people who used to write them got fired last summer

the silence film blurb netflix
Netflix's bare-bones blurb for "The Silence."

Ben Svetkey

Benjamin Svetkey

Veteran entertainment journalist Benjamin Svetkey shoots the breeze, raises a brow and sometimes wags a finger in his ruminations on the latest Hollywood news and controversies.

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Hey Netflix lovers, I’m generally not the sort of person who likes to say, “I told you so,” but… 

I told you so.

Wednesday, I posted a column noting how Netflix’s descriptors — the one- or two-sentence blurbs that are supposed to help subscribers decide whether or not they might want to watch a particular piece of entertainment — have lately become something considerably less than descriptive.

I complained about how they no longer revealed much of anything that was all that useful in deciding whether to hit play on a specific movie or show — you know, like, maybe something about the plot — but instead lamely just listed the actors and director. 

Like, for example, a film called “The Silence,” which is described thus: “This 2019 horror film featuring Stanley Tucci and Kiernan Shipka was directed by John R. Leonetti.”

Seriously, that’s all the information I got. Same for “The Midnight Sky”: “This 2020 dystopian drama based on the book by Lily Brooks-Dalton is directed by and stars George Clooney.” It would’ve been nice to have some inkling of a plot.

netflix blurb midnight sky
Netflix’s bare-bones blurb for “The Midnight Sky.”

In Wednesday’s column, I speculated that these new and un-improved synopses might have something to do with the fact that last summer Netflix laid off some 400 workers. I ventured a guess that among those fired people were some of the very scribes who used to write Netflix’s once not-so-bad blurbs. And guess what? I turned out to be right.

Since that story posted, I’ve heard from a number of former Netflix employees who confirm that the synopsis team was “decimated” by last summer’s layoffs. 

“Svetkey’s hypothesis is correct,” former Netflix writer Lorena O’Neil posted on Twitter. “And I will say they were among the most talented, creative, kind coworkers I’ve had to this day. We were a very tight-knit team and were devastated as we got cut down round after round of layoffs.” 

Another ex-employee on the synopsis team weighed in with similar corroboration. “We were absorbed by the localization department,” wrote this person who asked not to be identified. “Within a few months the in-house writing team was outsourced.”

“And since then, what was intended to be an effort to maintain a brand-distinguishing style of blurbs has disappeared,” this person noted: “It seems like the approach to algo assistance has been to just set it and forget it.”

Although Netflix continues to insist that there has been no strategic shift in the blurbing of its content (and points out that the company continues to maintain a sizable team of descriptor writers), the streamer isn’t disputing that some synopses writers may have been among the throngs who lost their jobs last summer.

All that being said, I still have no idea what “The Silence” is about, other than it stars Stanley Tucci and was directed by some guy named John Leonetti.