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Latest Quibi damage limitation exercise does anything but

The CEO of new video streaming service Quibi has turned to the press once more to address its faltering launch, but he continues to score own-goals.

Jeffrey Katzenberg has impeccable credentials as a video content exec, having founded DreamWorks and headed up Walt Disney Studio. He is the joint CEO of smartphone-focused streaming service Quibi alongside experienced tech CEO Meg Whitman and thus ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the venture, which has received billions in venture funding.

It would be fair to say that, right now, the numbers for Quibi are not what was hoped. Nonetheless, three weeks ago Katzenberg said the following in an interview: “Under the circumstances, launching a new business into the tsunami of a pandemic, we actually have had a very, very good launch.” Either that assessment was misleading, or Quibi’s fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse since then, because he’s singing a very different tune now.

Speaking to the NYT, Katzenberg said: “I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus, everything. But we own it.” He seems to be trying to completely exonerate himself from any underperformance while at the same time claiming to do the opposite. Not a great start, regardless of how plausible the excuse is.

That wasn’t the last of the doublespeak. “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,” said Katzenberg in answer to a question about the timing of the launch. “The answer is, it’s regrettable. But we are making enough gold out of hay here that I don’t regret it.” It’s regrettable, but he doesn’t regret it, OK?

In response to the disappointing launch Katzenberg and co have been desperately trying to tweak the offering to broaden its appeal. They initially left out the ability to cast the content from your phone to your TV, apparently out of a desire to avoid diluting its smartphone specialness, but soon reversed that decision. Now the penny seems to have dropped that allowing some sharing of content online might help spread the word.

“There are a whole bunch of things we have now seen in the product that we thought we got mostly right,” said Katzenberg, “but now that there are hundreds of people on there using it, you go, ‘Uh-oh, we didn’t see that.’” Again, a perfectly normal part of refining a new product, but it’s hard to see how the previous ‘walled off’ approach was ever considered a great idea.

Part of the problem, on top of the pandemic, could be that Katzenberg is used to heading up operations that already have massive brand recognition and value. Disney can afford to limit the distribution of its content and over-charge for it because its unique and highly sought-after. The same it not true of Quibi, so acting all haughty and distant from the start would probably have been a bad idea no matter when it was launched.


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