Jeffrey Katzenberg's Quibi to Launch in North America in 2020

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Jeffrey Katzenberg

Steven Spielberg will write a horror series for the short video platform titled 'Spielberg After Dark.'

Quibi co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg on Sunday said his ambitious new digital-content startup is set to launch April 6, 2020, in North America, ahead of an eventual global rollout.

Quibi, also founded by former HP CEO Meg Whitman, will feature video series from A-list Hollywood creators and studios designed exclusively for the mobile platform. Each series will likely be two to four hours long and divided into bite-sized segments of no more than seven to 10 minutes each.

One is a Hollywood horror project to be written and directed by Steven Spielberg, a longtime friend and business associate of Katzenberg, with a working title of Spielberg After Dark.

The Hollywood director also asked Quibi to ensure his series — to have between 10 and 12 chapters — will only be viewed at midnight. So Quibi designed smartphone technology with a clock that will allow Spielberg's series to be viewed only between sundown and sunup, as the smartphone monitors where a user is, what time of the day or night it is, and when sunup and sundown are to occur.

“Steven Spielberg came in and said, 'I have a super scary story...,' but he said, 'I only want people to watch it at midnight,'" Katzenberg recalled. He added that Spielberg during his pitch said, “It’s a creepy idea and when they watch it, I want it to be creepier.”

Katzenberg took the pitch to Whitman and her product team to come up with a way to allow viewing after sunset and until the sun comes up the next day. The solution is to tag the content so that it is tied to a clock that ticks down to sunset and then ticks up to when the sun comes up, according to the smartphone’s geographic location.

"So he said, 'OK, let’s do it,'" Katzenberg said of Spielberg’s reaction to the Quibi technological solution.

Once Quibi is up and running, the digital startup plans to launch eight "super-premium" movies offered in bited-size chunks during an initial two-week free-preview period. Quibi will then roll out another 26 "lighthouse" or signature movies like The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu and House of Cards on Netflix every other Monday during the first year of the service.

The digital startup will spend around $1 billion on content in its first year, and another $470 million in marketing and promotion. "It's a big bet, and a high bar," Katzenberg said during his keynote address at the Banff World Media Festival.

He predicted Netflix, Amazon and Hulu and other streaming giants will continue to dominate the online video space, but that consumers currently only watch video series on smartphones about 10 percent of the time. So that will leave Quibi as the only premium digital platform for mobile content, after YouTube launched as a platform for user-generated content before becoming a viewing option for far more cheaply-produced shortform content.

"No one is doing what we're doing today," Katzenberg told the Banff delegates, as he predicted consumers that already watch shortform content on the go will choose to upgrade to Quibi as a premium form of bite-sized content.

"We're no more competing with them [streaming giants] than Spotify is competing with them. ... What we're doing is taking what is a tried-and-true form of consumption and now offering people a premium version of it," Katzenberg insisted.

To illustrate the economic model for Quibi, the veteran Hollywood player pointed to #Freerayshawn, a drama series from Sony TV starring Stephan James and Laurence Fishburne and which Antoine Fuqua is currently shooting in New Orleans. The project will be two-and-a-half hours long and broken into 15 chapters ranging from seven to 10 minutes.

"We pay cost plus 20 percent, up to $6 million an hour to make the show," Katzenberg said. "It's a lighthouse show for us. It's $15 million. We pay the cost of the show, 100 percent, and some extra costs to get the stars in the show," he added.

And, typical of Quibi series, Fuqua will edit two versions of #Freerayshawn. The first version will be for Quibi and have 15 chapters, and will be licensed to Katzenberg and Whitman's platform exclusively for seven years.

After that period, the rights to the series will revert back to Fuqua and his partners at Sony TV. At the same time, a second version of #Freerayshawn will be edited as more of a traditional movie, likely around two hours in length and designed to be viewed during a single sitting.

Two years after the first version streams on Quibi, Fuqua and his team will be able to sell their second movie version globally, likely to streaming platforms like Apple, Netflix or Amazon looking for premium content.

"The value of that is going to be pretty extreme, and I know that because people have already approached those creating content for us," Katzenberg said. Quibi will likely be priced at $4.99 a month with short ads, and $7.99 without them.

After its North American launch early next year, the video venture will roll out to English-speaking markets worldwide before going global. The Quibi full-screen video service is also being designed to be viewed in either portrait or landscape mode on smartphones.

The Banff World Media Festival continues through Wednesday in the Canadian Rockies.