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Quibi Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg Disappointed With Debut, Blames COVID-19

Fern Siegel

Mobile platform Quibi debuted far more quietly than founder Jeffrey Katzenberg had intended. The short-form platform was designed for people on the go. Instead, it launched during a national quarantine.

“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” Katzenberg told The New York Times. “Everything. But we own it.”

Going live April 6, Quibi was the 20th most-popular free app in the App Store and sixth on Google Play, per analytics Sensor Tower three days later. But the pandemic changed its initial momentum. Now, it’s ranked No. 125, behind the game app Knock’em All and the language-learning app Duolingo, according to Sensor Tower.

And that’s even with big names attached.

Quibi shows include “Survive,” starring Sophie Turner and Corey Hawkins, “Most Dangerous Game,” starring Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz, reality show “Thanks a Million” with Jennifer Lopez and home-renovation comedy “Flipped” starring Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson.

Quibi claims 3.5 million customers and 1.3 active users; Sensor counts 2.9 million customers.
Despite the discrepancy, Katzenberg, who raised $1.8 billion for the streamer, along with his CEO Meg Whitman, is disappointed. “It’s not up to what we wanted. It’s not close to what we wanted.”

Katzenberg told the NYT that Quibi’s “Daily Essentials,” which curated shows from various sources, including NBC, BBC and ESPN, didn’t attract the audience it hoped. That means a different strategy going forward and slowing releases, given the lack of production. The streamer needs to pace output to ensure new content in 2021.

With shelter-in-place orders, many customers also wanted a TV option for Quibi. This week, Quibi subscribers with iPhones can watch shows like “Most Dangerous Game” and “Reno 911!” In a few weeks, Android users will, too.

Another headache: tech company Eko has sued Quibi, claiming it stole its technology for its Turnstyle interface. Hedge fund giant, Elliott Management, has made a “substantial” investment funding the lawsuit. In return, Elliott Management will gain an equity stake in the company.

Whitman told Deadline Quibi will make a renewed pitch to advertisers this fall. She noted the service launched with 45 shows and has added two every week. That pace will continue through Thanksgiving and she remains upbeat about the future. “We now have a chance to hone in on what we’re doing.”

Quibi costs $4.99 per month for ad-supported streaming and $7.99 for the ad-free service.