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Jeffrey Katzenberg Blames COVID-19 for Quibi’s Failure and Honestly We Have to Laugh


Despite over $1 billion in funding and the involvement of some of the biggest names in show business, Quibi has struggled to gain a foothold in the market. The app for bite-sized streaming content launched in March, with 1.7 million views in its first week. Quibi quickly nosedived in the ranking of Apple’s most downloaded free iPhone apps, where it is currently ranked at No. 125.

There are plenty of reasons why Quibi failed to launch. The oversaturation of streaming services and viewing options. Poorly reviewed shows and content. A complete ignorance of the ways in which social media is integral to streaming success.

But in a new interview with the New York Times, Quibi founder and entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg laid the blame for Quibi’s failure squarely at the feet of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Paramount Pictures)

Katzenberg said, “I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus, … Everything. But we own it.” Quibi has only been downloaded by an estimated 3.5 million users, with only 1.3 million active. “Is it the avalanche of people that we wanted and were going for out of launch?” Katzenberg said. “The answer is no. It’s not up to what we wanted. It’s not close to what we wanted.”

Quibi was pitched as content on the go: whether you were waiting for the train, or sitting in a doctor’s office, or in line at the bank, you had just enough time to enjoy a tiny nugget of content. But with everyone stuck at home, those moments have since dissolved. After all, why watch something on your phone when you can watch it on television?

Katzenberg said, “My hope, my belief was that there would still be many in-between moments while sheltering in place, … There are still those moments, but it’s not the same. It’s out of sync.”

Quibi is now rushing to pivot to television, in addition to making their content shareable on social media.

The social media aspect is truly where, in my opinion, Quibi dropped the ball. Given the popularity of connecting with other fans and live-tweeting episodes, it is wild that Quibi launched without even the ability to screencap. There is little explanation or excuse for a tech company to miss this mark so wildly. Clearly, no one in the upper echelons of Quibi is a millennial.

Katzenberg acknowledged the mistakes, saying “There are a whole bunch of things we have now seen in the product that we thought we got mostly right, … but now that there are hundreds of people on there using it, you go, ‘Uh-oh, we didn’t see that.’” Katzenberg also admitted that he thought that Quibi’s slate of news programming, listed under the moniker Daily Essentials, would be more of a draw. It wasn’t, no doubt due to the absolutely depressing state of current affairs.

“The Daily Essentials are not that essential,” he joked. But while Katzenberg is rushing to correct these issues, the app has been plagued with security breaches and is now facing a lawsuit from tech firm Eko over proprietary software. All in all, it’s been a rough beta phase for the company.

Finally, NY Times asked Katzenberg about the comparative success of TikTok, to which he responded testily, “That’s like comparing apples to submarines … I don’t know what people are expecting from us. What did Netflix look like 30 days after it launched? To tell me about a company that has a billion users and is doing great in the past six weeks, I’m happy for them, but what the hell does it have to do with me?”

The Quibi Problem is perfectly summed up in the company’s bizarre exchange with Quibi fan podcast “Quibiverse,” hosted by Rob Dezendorf and Danielle Gibson. The duo received a cease and desist letter from Quibi’s lawyers for … promoting their platform and viewership?

Gibson said, “It just felt so surreal to get a cease-and-desist from a billion-dollar company, about our fan podcast, in the midst of a global health crisis.” Quibi later backtracked and Katzenberg himself appeared on the podcast to apologize, but the damage was done.

Many took to social media to call out the company’s failures:

(via New York Times, image: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Quibi)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, son, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.