Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 July 2020

'We put a lot into this': Jeffrey Katzenberg blames coronavirus pandemic for Quibi’s slow start

The short-form streaming app, which launched on April 6, currently has two million subscribers

A selection of programmes offered on Quibi: Anna Kendrick in 'Dummy', Sophie Turner in 'Survive', Liam Hemsworth in 'Most Dangerous Game', Chrissy Teigen in 'Chrissy's Court' and Chance the Rapper in 'Punk'd'. AP
A selection of programmes offered on Quibi: Anna Kendrick in 'Dummy', Sophie Turner in 'Survive', Liam Hemsworth in 'Most Dangerous Game', Chrissy Teigen in 'Chrissy's Court' and Chance the Rapper in 'Punk'd'. AP

Quibi's founder has blamed the short-form streaming service's disastrous start on the coronavirus pandemic.

Even though Jeffrey Katzenberg, an American film producer, helped to crowdfund $1.7 billion (Dh6.24bn) before the platform's launch on April 6, Quibi’s performance has been so dire that its senior executives agreed to a 10 per cent salary cut at the start of June.

There have also been reports that Quibi is currently on course to amass just two million subscribers by the end of its first year, when it had originally projected 7.4 million.

Despite these setbacks, Katzenberg is still optimistic that it can make a recovery in the second half of 2020, as countries across the globe slowly return to normal.

Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg said the short-form streaming platform is meant to be used when people are on the go. 
Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg said the short-form streaming platform is meant to be used when people are on the go.

The former Dreamworks co-founder and Disney chairman made this prediction during an online video conversation with Liberty Global chief executive Mike Fries on Thursday, June 18, as part of the sixth SeriesFest. The international television festival is usually held in Denver, Colorado, but had to go virtual this year due to the pandemic.

When the discussion turned to Quibi, Katzenberg noted that it was designed to be watched on your phone during “your in between moments on the go", before then lamenting, “the sad part of all that is that in the very moment that the world stops being on the go, we launched Quibi".

Katzenberg couldn’t help but laugh at the terrible timing of Quibi’s launch, before adding: “That’s the little cement wall that we ran into. But, again, we’re about to be on the other side of that. I’m still optimistic that this userface is actually going to work. People love the content. We put a lot into this.”

I’m still optimistic that this userface is actually going to work. People love the content

Jeffrey Katzenberg, Quibi founder

One of the main reasons why Katzenberg remains so positive about Quibi’s appeal is that they’ve been able to use the last nine weeks as a beta-test. During this period, Katzenberg and his team have made numerous adjustments to the platform and its interface. Not only is it now more user-friendly, but they’re “leaning in twice as hard on what is working the best, and pulling away from what is not".

After several months of lockdown and social distancing, and with the threat of the coronavirus still lingering, Katzenberg acknowledges that the world is going to run at a very different pace as it incrementally opens back up. However, he believes that this will actually work in Quibi’s favour.

“The difference is that we are all going to be waiting online for more things than we have ever done before. We are going to be waiting like crazy. And I hope that Quibi is going to be there to fill those in between moments.”

Of course, Quibi isn’t the only streaming service contesting for your subscription. However, Katzenberg doesn’t see the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, HBO Max and Apple+ as its rivals.

“They’re competing for your time in a living room and making you watch long-form, episodic, serialised television,” he says.

Instead, Quibi is vying for attention with YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. “We want you from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. We want you when you leave your home and you go out into the world and you have in between times.”

For Katzenberg, Quibi and its new form of storytelling, which sees movies and TV shows split into digestible six to eight-minute chapters, is the evolution of these online channels, and “the next step up in terms of the quality of entertainment that we’re already watching".

Quibi’s fortunes need to quickly improve if it wants to be at the forefront of this change, though. Because, at the moment, it’s drowning in a sea of bad content and unfortunate timing.

Updated: June 21, 2020 11:59 AM

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