For all the hype that surrounded it, Quibi's launch has turned out to be an outright failure. But co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg's explanation for why his short form video streaming service failed may be the most embarrassing mistake the company has made yet.
In an interview with The New York Times on Monday, Katzenberg, who co-founded Quibi with Meg Whitman, said that the bite-size streamer's disappointing launch had nothing to do with its strange name, limited content, or lack of broad appeal. No, its real problem was coronavirus.
"I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus," Katzenberg told the Times. "Everything. But we own it."
Does he own it? Really? Because what I'm hearing in that comment isn't that Quibi's management made a poor decision to launch in the middle of a global pandemic and failed to attract a general audience. What I'm hearing is an excuse.
But then again, many observers saw this coming, didn't we?
Quibi had the most hype of any startup launch I've seen in a long time. It attracted nearly $2 billion in funding ahead of its launch by wooing investors on the concept that what we really, really want in our lives is another streaming service offering videos of five to 10 minutes. And to attract users, Quibi enlisted seemingly every star in Hollywood.
What Quibi failed to acknowledge, however, is that from Instagram to Facebook to YouTube to Twitch and Tik Tok beyond, there are countless places for people to find the content they care about. And in a large number of those cases, they don't care if celebrities are delivering content or not.
From the outset, Quibi seemed like an unnecessary service with too much cash and not enough vision. But when Katzenberg decided to stick to his long-planned launch in April, at the height of the pandemic, it became a true case of failed leadership.
Now, though, that leadership problem has widened with Katzenberg's comment. Make no mistake, he and Whitman and the rest of the leadership team chose when to launch Quibi. It was also their choice to focus Quibi's content around the programming they did.
In the business world, leadership is about being willing to take the heat and express responsibility when things go wrong. It's a true test of a leader. But Katzenberg, who said the service's 3.5 million installations came in at 50 percent of the company's goal and there are only 1.3 million active users right now, decided to blame coronavirus.
It was an unfortunate move. And it makes me wonder what the leadership team will blame when Quibi has even more problems after the coronavirus threat recedes.