Quibi creator Jeffrey Katzenberg was the reason why Quibi failed so massively

Jeffrey Katzenberg at a public appearanc...

There haven’t been that many true Hollywood scandals this year, because most of Hollywood is locked down, unemployed and simply trying to deal. Which means everyone has time to really dunk on Jeffrey Katzenberg and the failure of Quibi, the streaming app service creating unique content meant to be watched on your phone. We discussed the failure of Quibi last month in the context of Reese Witherspoon, who got paid seven figures for her Quibi junk (promotion and a show), all while Quibi is facing massive layoffs because the service is doing so poorly. To be fair, it wasn’t Reese’s fault – Katzenberg was paying A-list talent gobs of money with the hope that it would all even out when Quibi’s launch was a massive success (Quibi is currently the 284th ranked app). The failure of Quibi is entirely on Katzenberg and Quibi’s senior staff for their poor decision-making throughout the entire process. And so here we are: another analysis piece on what went wrong. This one is from Vulture and it is full of some insidery tea.

Whether the pandemic is really to blame: Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, Quibi’s CEO, attributed the slow start in part to the pandemic. T-Mobile, Quibi’s most important launch partner, could hardly flex its marketing muscle when most stores were closed. The “on the go” users the app was meant to capture were now stuck at home. Of the 40 million newly unemployed, a disproportionate number are the young digital natives Quibi is trying to reach. But plenty of streaming companies have seen the stay-at-home orders as a boon: Instagram Live is surging, and mobile-phone use is up, with shocked iPhone users posting screen-time reports graphing dramatic spikes. It’s easy to imagine users of a new, bite-size video app sitting in bed at night gorging on mouthfuls of fresh content.

The name: The new name was Quibi. Katzenberg had originally wanted to call it Omakase, after the sushi tasting menus he enjoyed at least once a week at Nobu Malibu. “That would have really won over Wisconsin,” a former insider notes. Ultimately, Quibi won the day. “They never asked staff to weigh in on it,” this person says. “People on staff thought it was cringey and would ask, ‘Is it too late to change it?’ Meg loved it.” Though arguably no sillier-sounding than Hulu, Quibi would be roundly mocked by people who thought it sounded like a “quinoa-based doggy snack” or “the cry of an attacking Ewok.”

Katzenberg & Whitman are out of touch with the youths: People have wondered why Katzenberg and Whitman, in their late and early 60s, respectively, and not very active on social media, would believe they have uniquely penetrating insight into the unacknowledged desires of young people. When I ask Whitman what TV shows she watches, she responds, “I’m not sure I’d classify myself as an entertainment enthusiast.” But any particular shows she likes? “Grant,” she offered. “On the History Channel. It’s about President Grant.”

Oh my God: Katzenberg is on his phone all the time, but he is also among the moguls of his generation who have their emails printed out (and vertically folded, for some reason) by an assistant. In enthusing about what a show could mean for Quibi, Katzenberg would repeatedly invoke the same handful of musty touchstones — America’s Funniest Home Videos, Siskel and Ebert, and Jane Fonda’s exercise tapes. When Gal Gadot came to the offices and delivered an impassioned speech about wanting to elevate the voices of girls and women, Katzenberg wondered aloud whether she might become the new Jane Fonda and do a workout series for Quibi. (“Apparently, her face fell,” says a person briefed on the meeting.)

Katzenberg is awful: At a casting session this year, while watching a tape test for a Daily Essentials host who was a Black man with an Afro, Katzenberg said the man didn’t look “authoritative.” Content executive Shawna Thomas, an Emmy-winning journalist from Vice News and NBC, was used to the political incorrectness endemic to casting conversations, but as a discussion of the candidate’s hair went on and on, she felt increasingly uncomfortable and left the room to avoid becoming visibly upset. That evening, she and Katzenberg had a long phone chat in which she explained why she makes a point of wearing her hair in a natural style on TV — so that, say, a little Black girl watching MSNBC could see someone authoritative who didn’t conform to the predominant white American standard of beauty. Afterward, she felt Katzenberg had understood her. “The discussion was frank, honest, and positive and might not have gone as well at another company,” Thomas says.

[From Vulture]

Can you imagine thinking that you’re super-qualified to understand what the youths will want to watch on their phone and your frame of reference is Jane Fonda’s workout videos and America’s Funniest Home Videos? WTF?? And to listen to Gal Gadot talk about elevating the voices of girls and women and then asking her to do a workout series?? OH MY GOD. There’s a ton of other shade and typical Hollywood backstabbing in there – Katzenberg has made enemies throughout his career, especially when he was at Disney, where he was apparently known as a “scene f–ker,” a term I’m only learning now. It means a micromanager, someone who nitpicks every director constantly about every single little thing. Weird that he’s like that and he didn’t see the big picture of why Quibi would fail.

Impact Awards 2020

Photos courtesy of WENN.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

20 Responses to “Quibi creator Jeffrey Katzenberg was the reason why Quibi failed so massively”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. livealot says:

    The name also sucks – “Quibi”

    • bananapanda says:

      1. It sounds like Quibble.
      2. The world doesn’t need another streaming app, especially one that costs money since TikTok and YouTube exist.

  2. Who ARE these people? says:

    Reads like a parody, doesn’t it? Investors must be steamed.

  3. Lara says:

    Can I just say that Vulture are really hitting it out of the park recently with some of their articles. This was such an interesting read.

  4. I pet goat 2 says:

    So I need to tell this to someone in the hopes y’all understand. KATZENBERG looks exactly like a white evil American rich dude (and like an older version of a Man I dated who ended up being an asshole). Like I think it’s the jaw and the eyes??? But there’s something so oddly specific about that look and THEYRE NEVER GOOD PEOPLE! Does ANYBODY understand 😂

    • Allergy says:

      I do. I totally get you.

    • AMA1977 says:

      I JUST said (aloud, to myself) when I scrolled to the end of the post that he looks like an evil assh0le. This is no surprise. I am so sick of old, white men. You can tell just by looking at him.

      And who TF wants a PRINTOUT of an EMAIL? For god’s sake, my 73 year-old father has figured out how to read them on the computer and he is far from a techophile.

    • Anne Call says:

      Yeah, let’s go with The two CEO’s-one who doesn’t watch any streaming or current shows and the other one doesn’t know how to read his email on a computer. Very with it. Their investors are idiots.

  5. Sarah says:

    I love (and fear) the arrogance of two 60-something’s designing a product aimed at ‘youths’. Sure you’ve got a lot of experience in your industry but you may have slightly missed the rate at which your industry is now changing. Yikes.

  6. Jillian says:

    I downloaded Quibi with their 90 day (!) free trial so I could watch a particular doc series on there – the content was, overall, terrible (except for Nightgowns, which was excellent). A 90 day free trial assumes no one wants to buy what you’re selling and MAYBE people will forget they downloaded the app before its starts billing. I deleted the app after a month

    • STRIPE says:

      Same! Exact same. Watched Nightgowns then deleted the app. Nothing else looked super interesting. Maybe Crissys Judge Judy show? But I couldn’t even get excited for that.

      Maybe a better strategy would have been to make more stuff like Nightgowns, stuff that wouldn’t find a home on other platforms, instead of trying to bring other platforms’ shows to your phone.

      Loving the column inches dedicated to the “OK Boomer”ing of the Quibi execs though. If we get nothing else, that’s been fun.

  7. Mia4s says:

    That is WILD! Well in the say something nice spirit: it’s great that celebrities did a cute Princess Bride spoof (that shows someone needs to cast Diego Luna as an Inigo-like character NOW please) and got a one million dollar donation out of Quibi for World Central Kitchen!

    That was great! Also…….nope never mind. That’s it.

  8. Mumbles says:

    I’m not sure the best of managers could have made Quibi a success. I hate watching things on the phone and the short-form format doesn’t make sense. But certainly having two old fuddy-duddies who still live in the past didn’t help.

  9. Queen Meghan's Hand says:

    I watched the Some More News episode on Quibi and the writers brought up a good and timely point: Why wouldn’t Quibi hire the people who excel at short-form content like TikTok videos and Twitter content to create Quibi content? Because all those people (of different ages) have devoted fans because of that short form content. Their fans are the built-in audience for Quibi. So one would need to target those fans. By hiring those short form content stars. Like, how did Quibi not figure this out? Was there a rule at Quibi that they could not offer shows to non-millionaires?

    Because the leadership at Quibi is ignorant, they hired wealthy movie stars whose followings are built on long form content. Their audiences are going to be less likely to consume short-form content from them–even if those audiences do consume short-form content!

    A simple, device agnostic example, because I have watched her shows on Hulu and HBO, I have become a fan of Reese Witherspoon. Because I watch her 1-minute long videos on Twitter, I have become a fan of Sarah Cooper. When Reese Witherspoon creates a Quibi show, I am less inclined to watch it because I know of Reese from mini-series and am skeptical of her ability to produce short content. However, if they had announced Sarah Cooper’s show on the Quibi platform I would be intrigued because I enjoy her 1-minute videos so much. And I don’t think I’m unusual.
    Another example: I like shoes, especially Sam Edelman shoes and I like cheesecake, especially Cheesecake Factory cheesecake. I would not buy Cheesecake Factory shoes. I would not buy Sam Edelman cheesecake. Because one is known for making shoes, the other is known for cheesecake.

    The people who created Quibi don’t appreciate short, digital first content as it’s own medium.

  10. Hollah says:

    Now I hear Celebitchy laughing as you mention “the youths” after the last podcast.

  11. Sharra55 says:

    Am I the only one that thought this was a stupid concept in the first place?

    • Allergy says:

      No. There are all these rich dudes in entertainment business who think they are business geniuses, when in fact they just got really lucky at some point.

  12. Katie says:

    Quibi was a no go for me after Chrissy Teigen and her tweets telling Courtney Stodden to go kill herself multiple times came to light. What kind of troll …

  13. TaraBest says:

    The outdated references! My boyfriend (in his late 20s) did not even know Jane Fonda had a work out tape until I mentioned it a few weeks ago. He said, “The lady from Grace and Frankie?” I feel like he’s their target demographic, but he also didn’t bother to download the app.