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Netflix braces for investigation into workplace culture

The media company has been a runaway success in recent years, but The Wall Street Journal is looking behind the scenes to see what its employees think.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings speaks during Netflix Slate Event 2018 on Oct. 9, 2018 in Bogota, Colombia.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings speaks during Netflix Slate Event 2018 on Oct. 9, 2018 in Bogota, Colombia.Gabriel Aponte / Getty Images

Netflix executives have been telling employees to brace for a Wall Street Journal investigation that takes a critical view of the company's corporate culture, people with knowledge of the matter tell NBC News.

Executives are expecting the piece to be similar to The New York Times' 2015 investigation into Amazon, which described a hyper-competitive and "bruising" workplace where employees were said to be held to “unreasonably high" standards, said the sources, who spoke on the condition anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Such a piece threatens to sap morale at a company that has been widely portrayed as the envy of the media industry, given the lucrative six- and seven-figure salaries it offers to employees, to say nothing of the hundreds of millions it offers to showrunners.

The investigation could also be a setback for Netflix just days after its strong third-quarter earnings report, which showed the company had added 7 million subscribers and was on track to add another 7.6 million in the months ahead.

A Netflix spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Spokespeople for The Wall Street Journal did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While Netflix executives are said to be nervous about the piece, they also know that the damage these kinds of stories can do to a company's overall image may be relatively muted.

The New York Times investigation of Amazon, now three years in the rear-view mirror, has done little to curb that company's growth. A survey by jobs-focused social network LinkedIn found Amazon supplanted Google in 2018 as the company people most want to work for. Netflix ranked tenth.

Netflix has been a disruptive force in Hollywood, borrowing and spending billions of dollars to build a massive library of original and licensed content so that it can continue to fuel subscriber growth. The company now boasts 130 million paying customers and brought in nearly $15 billion in revenue last year.

At the same time, Netflix owes an estimated $28 billion in outstanding content obligations, debt and other commitments — an expense it and its investors justify by the expectation that they will one day more than double their current audience.

But the company also faces mounting pressure from rival services like Disney, AT&T, Amazon and Apple, which are spending heavily to get into the direct-to-consumer game that is reshaping Hollywood.

“There are so many competitors,” Reed Hastings, Netflix’s CEO, acknowledged on an earnings call Tuesday. “Disney’s going to enter. AT&T is going to expand HBO. YouTube is on fire. ... There are so many ways to have great entertainment on the screen.”

Netflix also battles major tech companies including Facebook, Amazon and Google for the top tech talent to help build the company's technical side, which now streams content to more than 190 countries.