Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi Picks T-Mobile as Wireless Launch Partner

Quibi, the short-form mobile TV service founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, announced a pact with T-Mobile to be the official telecommunications partner for its April 2020 launch.

T-Mobile will be the exclusive wireless distributor when Quibi launches next spring. However, the arrangement doesn’t mean only T-Mobile customers will be able to subscribe to Quibi: Anyone will be able to sign up for Quibi, regardless of their carrier.

Headed by Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman, Quibi plans to launch its service April 6, 2020, priced at $5 monthly for a version with ads and $8 for an ad-free tier. The company’s theory is that it can attract a subscriber base of smartphone-centric millennials for its premium, bite-size programming with episodes running less than 10 minutes.

Presumably, T-Mobile will grant Quibi prominent placement on its wireless devices and/or offer subscribers some kind of price discount. The companies didn’t reveal any such arrangements, saying they will announce additional details of the partnership later.

“Quibi will deliver premium video content for millennials on a technology platform that is built exclusively for mobile, so a telecommunications partner like T-Mobile, with their broad coverage today and impressive 5G roadmap, is the perfect fit,” Whitman said in a statement.

John Legere, T-Mobile’s brash-talking CEO, commented, “Of course Quibi and T-Mobile are working together — we’re two mobile-centric disruptors committed to challenging the status quo and giving customers incredible experiences. Quibi is completely re-imagining video content for a mobile-first world, and that’s what makes this such a strong partnership.”

In reality, Quibi’s options for wooing a wireless carrier partner were limited to T-Mobile and Verizon, and the latter may be gun-shy on the mobile video space after writing off hundreds of millions of dollars related to the shutdown of its Go90 service. AT&T is firmly entrenched on its strategy to exploit WarnerMedia content, including with the forthcoming HBO Max, across its wireless footprint. Sprint, meanwhile, has agreed to be acquired by T-Mobile, a deal that cleared FCC approval but is being challenged by several U.S. state attorneys general.

The L.A.-based company has raised $1 billion from investors including Disney, WarnerMedia, Viacom, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Alibaba Group and Katzenberg’s investment holding company WndrCo.

Quibi has lined up scripted and unscripted projects from entertainment A-listers including Guillermo del Toro, Antoine Fuqua, Steven Spielberg, Sam Raimi, Jason Blum, Steven Soderbergh, Trevor Noah, Catherine Hardwicke, Anna Kendrick, Doug Liman and Peter Farrelly. It also has several deals for news and lifestyle content to be part of its Daily Essentials section from partners including NBC News, BBC Global News, CBS’s “60 Minutes,” ESPN, TMZ, Telemundo, Weather Channel, Entertainment Weekly, Hearst and others.

Even with big-name Hollywood talent on board, it’s uncertain how well Quibi will fare as the streaming wars heat up, with Disney, Apple, WarnerMedia and NBCU gearing up to launch new offerings in the next six months. Katzenberg has argued that Quibi is hitting a “white space” with a slate of premium video specifically produced for on-the-go, small-screen viewing.

While Katzenberg has had a hugely successful career, most recently selling DreamWorks Animation to Comcast, there’s no guarantee Quibi will avoid ending up in the same graveyard that has claimed previous mobile-video ventures like Verizon’s Go90 and Jason Kilar’s Vessel.

According to Whitman, Quibi is aiming to launch 7,000 pieces of original content in Year One and will spend around $1.1 billion on programming deals. The startup has been seeking an additional $500 million in funding to get to the break-even point, she said.

Earlier this year, Quibi said it sold $100 million in upfront ad inventory to six advertisers, including Google and P&G, representing two-thirds of its $150 million in year-one ad slots.

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