Jeffrey Katzenberg Blames Quibi’s Lackluster Launch on Coronavirus

“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” Katzenberg told the New York Times Monday

A Conversation With Quibi's Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg And Quibi Creators Lena Waithe, Veena Sud, And Kaitlin Olson At Sundance 2020
Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Quibi

Quibi co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg is unsatisfied with the streaming app’s debut figures and is blaming its underwhelming performance on the coronavirus pandemic.

“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus. Everything. But we own it,” Katzenberg told the New York Times Monday, implying he regretted the streamer’s decision not to postpone its April 6 launch.

“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,” Katzenberg said of Quibi’s launch. “The answer is, it’s regrettable, but we are making enough gold out of hay here that I don’t regret it.”

Since it was released a little over a month ago, Quibi has only hit 2.9 million downloads, according to app analysis firm Sensor Tower. That figure includes users who signed up for the 90-day free trial. According to CEO Meg Whitman, 1.75 million of the users joined in the app’s first week of launch.

“I am very pleased with where we are, especially only five weeks in,” Whitman told TheWrap Monday evening, adding that Quibi’s download statistic sits closer to 3.5 million. “The good news is, we now have customers and we are learning more about what those customers want.”

The app rose through the mobile download charts and briefly peaked at No. 3 on the Apple app store, but it quickly fell off within a week of launching. Prior to its launch, Quibi predicted that the service would have 7 million registered subscribers generating roughly $250 million in revenue for its first year.

“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,” Katzenberg told the New York Times regarding the download counts.

The pandemic was expected to boost Quibi’s user count as more people stayed home. Katzenberg said that didn’t pan out the way the company had hoped, partly because the app was pitched as something to occupy time during “in-between moments,” such as waiting in a line or commuting, which the current socially distant society has a lot less of.

“My hope, my belief was that there would still be many in-between moments while sheltering in place,” Katzenberg said. “There are still those moments, but it’s not the same. It’s out of sync.”

Another possible user turn-off is Quibi’s lack of cross-platform flexibility — its shows currently can only be watched on mobile devices. Whitman said in April that engineers were “scrambling” to find a technical fix so users could cast the video from iPhones to smart televisions after widespread consumer demand.

When asked for his thoughts on rival short video platform TikTok’s increased success in recent months, Katzenberg told the Times, “That’s like comparing apples to submarines. 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?”

An ad-supported version of Quibi costs $4.99; ad-free costs $7.99. Quibi has raised $1.75 billion to date from investors which include Disney and WarnerMedia. Katzenberg told TheWrap in January the app will house 175 shows and 35 movies in its first year and publish three hours of original content daily.