Even with its open-to-all 90-day free trial, the performance of the new short-form video streamer Quibi has fallen short of expectations — but it’s entirely the fault of the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic, asserts its founder and chairman of the board, Jeffrey Katzenberg.
“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus… everything,” Katzenberg told The New York Times, alluding to the stay-at-home scenario’s having interfered with the “on the go” news and entertainment concept of the app, which was originally mobile-only.
Quibi claims the app has had 3.5 million downloads since its April 6 launch (including 1.3 million “active” users), but app tracker Sensor Tower reports only 2.9 million.
Katzenberg acknowledged that even the higher number is disappointing: It’s not up to what we wanted. It’s not close to what we wanted.”
Nevertheless, he said, the company is “making enough gold out of hay here that I don’t regret [the launch's timing].”
Responding to user demands, Quibi has now made it possible for subscribers with iPhones to view the content on TV screens, and is working on providing Android users with the same capability.
"One could argue that the pandemic actually helped Quibi, insofar as it increased consumer demand for free video content," comments Dylan Byers of the NBC News Byers Market blog, noting that Quibi's launch content failed to produce a real hit. "Katzenberg's suggestion that people aren't watching simply because they're not commuting is specious at best."
Quibi has also been faced with a patent lawsuit that is now being financed by activist investor Elliott Management; a widely reported email data leakage problem that the company says has now been fixed; and the exit of several senior executives, including its head of brand and content marketing.
Of course, he has to say these things but even so, considering that that only a paltry 1.3 million are "active users"--- whatever that means--- it seems fairly clear that there's something else at play besides the pandemic. Could it be the program content?
Quibi's real problem is content. So far, it has failed to feature a single standout show. Jeffery Katzenberg bet heavily on Hollywood. He's already lost that bet, because Hollywood has clearly demonstrated that it simply doesn't have the sort of content that could save Quibi. Even so, all is not lost yet. Jeffrey Katzenberg is doing something right. He is listening and has already shown that he's ready to make swift change where necessary. Ultimately, that attitude could dramatically change Quibi’s fortunes. It isn't over yet, until the fat lady sings. Quibi could end up surprising everyone.