Jeffrey Katzenberg blames all of Quibi’s problems on the coronavirus

Chris Morris

Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg said Monday that the coronavirus is the sole reason the streaming service has had such an anemic start.

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

That’s a broad statement for a service that was iffy to begin with. Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman rolled Quibi out at CES in January, leaning on their celebrity friends and a $1.8 billion cash raise to produce short content that was meant to be watched by people who were on the go.

It launched April 6, right about the time people’s lives got a lot less mobile. Signups never took off, even with a 90-day free trial. Only between 3 and 3.5 million people have installed the app. The number of active users is about a third of that, the company said.

“Is it the avalanche of people that we wanted and were going for out of launch?” he said. “The answer is no. It’s not up to what we wanted. It’s not close to what we wanted.”

Early on, Katzenberg and Whitman were adamant that Quibi’s content would not work on TV screens. It was designed for a mobile audience and the viewing habits of those people. Now, however, the company is adjusting content like Chrissy’s Court to fit on TV screens. (iPhone users can stream content to the TVs now. Android subscribers will be able to in the coming weeks.)

Despite his insistence that coronavirus was the exclusive reason for the service’s troubles, Katzenberg admitted that some content had failed to connect with audiences. News programming, for instance, from NBC, BBC, ESPN, and others, which was classified “Daily Essentials” has gone largely unwatched.

“The Daily Essentials are not that essential,” said Katzenberg.

Quibi had projected it would gather 7 million viewers in its first year. The company has now abandoned that guidance but has not given any updated projections.