Jeffrey Katzenberg on Quibi’s Early Struggles: ‘I Attribute Everything That Has Gone Wrong to Coronavirus. Everything’

Jeffrey Katzenberg Hand Imprint Ceremony
Michael Lewis for Variety

When the mobile, short-form content app Quibi launched on April 6, co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg surely wasn’t expecting it to release in the midst of a worldwide virus outbreak. In a New York Times interview, Katzenberg blames all of Quibi’s launch struggles on COVID-19.

“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus. Everything,” he said.

Two weeks after the app launched, Quibi reported it had 2.7 million downloads. The New York Times article, published on Monday, says the app may now have 2.9 million customers, though Quibi would say the actual figure is 3.5 million, and 1.3 million users are active on the app. Ahead of its launch, the company predicted it would have 7 million downloads by the end of its first year and it would generate $250 million in revenue.

“Is it the avalanche of people that we wanted and were going for out of launch? The answer is no. It’s not up to what we wanted. It’s not close to what we wanted,” Katzenberg said.

According to the New York Times, Quibi fell out of the top 50 most downloaded free iPhones apps a week after it launched. Now, it ranks as No. 125.

However, the co-founder said the company is making enough money, despite the low number of downloads, and he doesn’t regret not delaying the launch date.

“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. The answer is, it’s regrettable, but we are making enough gold out of hay here that I don’t regret it,” he said.

Katzenberg envisioned that the mobile-only, “quick bites” of content would be suited for “in-between” moments, like riding a subway or waiting in line. With people around the country stuck at home sheltering-in-place, he admits there are fewer times where people would think to watch Quibi.

“My hope, my belief was that there would still be many in-between moments while sheltering in place. There are still those moments, but it’s not the same. It’s out of sync,” he said.

Though it has been around for much longer and it’s more of a social network, the app TikTok has exploded in popularity among young people. Katzenberg gave his thoughts on the digital competitor.

“That’s like comparing apples to submarines. I don’t know what people are expecting from us. What did Netflix look like 30 days after it launched?” he said. “To tell me about a company that has a billion users and is doing great in the past six weeks, I’m happy for them, but what the hell does it have to do with me?”