Jeffrey Katzenberg: Coronavirus to Blame for "Everything That Has Gone Wrong" With Quibi

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Jeffrey Katzenberg

The shortform video platform founder discussed its soft launch and 3.5 million downloads in an interview with The New York Times on Monday: "It’s not close to what we wanted."

Jeffrey Katzenberg is copping to the disappointment that has been Quibi's soft launch into entertainment's coronavirus-era ecosystem.

The shortform video app, which gained 1.7 million views in its first week, quickly departed the Apple Store's 50 most downloaded free iPhone apps after and is currently ranked at No. 125. Quibi features a 90-day free trial and costs $4.99 a month with ads and $7.99 a month after that period. "I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” Katzenberg said in an interview with The New York Times published Monday. “Everything. But we own it.”

According to the service, it has been downloaded 3.5 million times, and 1.3 million of those who downloaded the app are "active users." Given those figures, Katzenberg told the Times, "Is it the avalanche of people that we wanted and were going for out of launch? The answer is no. It’s not up to what we wanted. It’s not close to what we wanted.” (Quibi had projected 7 million users in its first year.)

With all of its shows' episodes shorter than 10 minutes, Quibi (short for "Quick Bites") was designed to entertain viewers on the subway, in line or before appointments, a plan that was entirely upended by the coronavirus crisis unfolding during the app's launch on April 6. Though time spent on streaming platforms has rocketed as consumers social distance from each other, many find themselves with too much time on their hands at home, rather than only a few moments to enjoy shows between engagements.

However, Katzenberg, who launched the app with former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, said that he didn't regret launching the app during the coronavirus. “If we knew on March 1, which is when we had to make the call, what we know today, you would say that is not a good idea,” he told the Times. “The answer is, it’s regrettable. But we are making enough gold out of hay here that I don’t regret it.”

He added, "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." (Still, he noted, 80 percent of users are finishing episodes they start.)

On social media, where Quibi has become something of a meme, users have criticized the fact that they cannot share the clips on social platforms or watch the shows on their TVs. (Some critics have also panned a few of the platform's initial offerings.) Quibi is now allowing iPhone users to watch the shows on their bigger screens, while the same update will also come to Android users soon. Following user feedback, the app is also developing a sharing function for social media platforms.

Notably, Katzenberg shared with the Times another update: Users don't seem to be viewing as much news content as the platform assumed. Its events-driven shows, called "Daily Essentials," "are not that essential," he said.

Katzenberg added that the company is working on new revenue projections and decreasing its marketing budget given the new COVID-19 entertainment landscape. When asked about the success of TikTok, a social platform that is also premised on short videos, Katzenberg gave a testy reply. "That’s like comparing apples to submarines," he told the Times. "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?"