Editor's Note:Since this story was published, a Quibi PR rep has provided MediaPost with the text of an internal memo written by Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman that asserts that the $6 million amount cited was inaccurate, and with a separate quote, attributed to an unnamed "source with knowledge," asserting that the actual amount was “less than one-sixth of that”). The memo also states that Quibi is "very pleased" with the performance of the "Fierce Queens" nature series narrated by Witherspoon, and denies that staff are being laid off as part of cost-cutting measures. This story has been updated to highlight the Quibi-disputed statements with asterisks. (The New York Post's article now also includes similar statements from Quibi about Witherspoon’s fee and the series’ performance.)
On top of its other challenges — including worried advertisers — Quibi now has “seething” staff on its hands due to a content investment involving Reese Witherspoon, reports the New York Post.
Witherspoon was paid $6 million* [see above] to narrate “Fierce Queens,” a nature show produced for the short-form, mobile-first video platform by the BBC’s Natural History Unit, according to the report.
Her husband, Jim Toth, is now Quibi’s head of content acquisition and talent, having left CAA after 23 years.
According to an unnamed Post source, the nature series has been among Quibi’s weakest performers*, and with cost-reduction moves underway, staff are upset that Witherspoon and other celebrities involved in creating and/or starring in Quibi’s at-launch show lineup received millions.
Quibi has “cut overtime for its lowest-level staffers and quietly let go of others*,” according the source, who described the mood at the startup as “dark.”
Neither Quibi or Witherspoon were available for comment.
Although Quibi has received very positive reviews from users during the past 60 days, according to Apptopia — better scores than Disney+, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, in fact — it appears to be in danger of falling short of its goal of reaching 7 million users in its first year.
To date, Quibi has generated about 4.2 million downloads, only 30% of whom are daily active users, per Apptopia. And a Wall Street Journal source reported that the streamer had signed up 1.5 million users through its free 90-day trial offer — which means that there’s potential for significant falloff when that trial period is up.
The venture has more than $1.7 billion in funding. However, due to pandemic-related ad budget reductions and concerns about Quibi’s viewership performance, the new platform is starting to get requests to defer payments from major advertisers who committed a combined $150 million to the launch, such as PepsiCo, Yum Brands, Taco Bell and Anheuser-Busch and Walmart, according to WSJ — which also reported that Quibi is implementing cost-cutting moves such as delaying hiring.
Quibi is also facing a patent lawsuit — being financed by activist investor Paul Singer's hedge fund — over its Turnstyle viewing feature. It has lost at least four key executives since it began development in 2019 — most recently, its head of brand and content marketing. In addition, last month, Quibi experienced an email leakage episode.