Hollywood Flashback: Before Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg's Pop.com Failed to Launch

Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Jeffrey Katzenberg -Getty- H 2020
J. Vespa/WireImage

Despite the involvement of big-name stars like Steve Martin and Jerry Seinfeld and funding from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the website was doomed.

Two decades before Jeffrey Katzenberg started Quibi, the video platform that has been struggling to find a sizable audience since its April 6 debut — but which was nominated for 10 shortform Emmys — the mogul tried a similar format with Pop.com. However, despite deep funding ($50 million from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen — still a drop in the bucket compared with the $1.75 billion raised for Quibi) and the involvement of such big-name stars as Steve Martin and Jerry Seinfeld, the website was doomed.

Ron Howard had dreamed up the idea to put “pops” of entertainment — short, comedic videos that might one day turn into lucrative IP — on the internet. Howard and Imagine producing partner Brian Grazer brought the idea to Katzenberg and his DreamWorks co-founders, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, who liked what they heard. In October 1999, Pop.com was announced with much fanfare.

“No other entertainment-driven internet start-up has the creative and financial clout that Pop.com boasts,” noted The Hollywood Reporter at the time, adding that Spielberg was energized by the idea of soliciting “original programming from its users … [who] could find themselves in business with DreamWorks or Imagine.”

But that hook wasn’t enough. After hiring 125 employees and setting up shop in a Glendale warehouse that also housed Shrek animators, Pop.com — which planned to pay blue-chip talent including Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey and Mike Myers in shares (it incorporated with a staggering 250 million of them) — never debuted.

The dot-com bubble burst in April 2000; with no formal production plan in place and broadband failing to catch on as quickly as Allen had predicted it would, Katzenberg decided five months later to dissolve the company. As for the fate of Quibi, he remains upbeat. “We’re on it,” Katzenberg tells THR of the project’s next phase.

This story first appeared in the August standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.