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Jeffrey Katzenberg on Quibi’s Spectacular Rise and Fall: ‘I’m Proud to Own the Failure’

Jeffrey Katzenberg took a massive swing at the streaming biz with Quibi — and despite the startup’s shutdown just six months after it launched, he says he’s still proud of the effort.

Katzenberg, an investor, Hollywood producer and former top studio chief, founded Quibi with former eBay and Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman. The streaming service had positioned itself as the HBO of short-form mobile video and had raised $1.75 billion before it closed its doors in late 2020 after failing to attract subscribers.

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Katzenberg reflected on Quibi in an interview with LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky on the latest episode of the business-focused social network’s “The Path” series. “I’m humbled by the failure,” Katzenberg said. “But I’m proud that what we tried was a moonshot.”

Katzenberg said that over his career, “owning my failures is as important, or actually more [important], than owning my successes.” About taking the risk with Quibi, he said, “I’m proud to own the failure. I’m not proud of the failure. But I’m proud of what we tried. It was a moonshot. It wasn’t fun failing — I don’t recommend it — but it’s going to come.” (Watch the interview with Katzenberg on LinkedIn at this link.)

Quibi, a portmanteau of “quick bites,” announced in October 2020 that it would shut down. That came after it debuted in April of that year — at the front end of the global COVID pandemic — with a service that cost $4.99/month with ads and $7.99/month without ads. Quibi, which had about 200 employees, had paid top dollar for dozens of original series from big-name talent. In January 2021, Roku paid less than $100 million for the assets of Quibi.

Earlier in his career, Katzenberg had co-founded and led DreamWorks Animation after he was fired as head of Walt Disney Studios and was the studio chief at Paramount Pictures. In the LinkedIn interview, Katzenberg discussed taking on unglamorous jobs at Paramount, which served as the building blocks for his future achievements. The exec said working at the studio (then led by Barry Diller) was frustrating at first because he was moving around the business a lot — across marketing, distribution and business affairs — before he could move up.

“It frustrated me and in some instances really pissed me off, but I always felt I was growing,” Katzenberg recalled. “As long as you feel like you’re learning and you’re growing, just go with it. And then they made me president of the movie studio.”

In any job, Katzenberg said, the important thing has been to exceed expectations. “Whatever job I got — and it didn’t matter whether it was to go get a cup of coffee — it was very simple: just do better than they thought I was gonna do,” he said. “And I realized that for people that I worked for, the more I exceeded their expectations, the rewards came.” As such, Katzenberg added, “for the people that work for me, I want to be a better leader than they thought.”

Katzenberg founded Quibi (code-named “New TV”) after he sold DreamWorks Animation to Comcast in 2016. His hypothesis was that, given the rise of mobile video viewing, a sizable number of smartphone users would pay for a premium mobile TV service with content chunked into sub-10-minute episodes. But Quibi couldn’t persuade enough consumers to pay for the service, because free short-form content on mobile apps was already abundant and because during the pandemic people stayed at home and binge-streamed entertainment on their TVs.

Before Quibi went under, Katzenberg had boasted of paying upwards of $6 million per hour of programming from A-listers including Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Jennifer Lopez, Sam Raimi, Reese Witherspoon, Antoine Fuqua, Lena Waithe, Kevin Hart and Steven Soderbergh. Quibi reached 710,000 subscriber households in the third quarter of 2020, according to estimates from research firm Kantar; the company had expected to sign up more than 7 million paying subscribers in its first year.

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