US streaming startup Quibi calls it quits after six months and says COVID-19 is to blame

Quibi

Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and chief Meg Whitman at the FORTUNE Brainstorm Tech event in 2019. Photographer: Stuart Isett for Fortune Magazine.

It raised US$1.75 billion in funding and roped in a support crew of A-list celebs, but US streaming competitor Quibi is winding down just six months after it hit the App Store.

Founded by film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and headed up by chief executive and former Hewlett-Packard chief Meg Whitman, Quibi is a streaming service for short-form content, designed for time-short viewers to watch on the move.

The startup secured investment from the likes of Disney and NBCUniversal, and lined up stars like Jennifer Lopez, Idris Elba, Chrissy Teigen and even Steven Spielberg to be involved in creating content.

Unfortunately, though, the streaming service launched in the US in April in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, at a time when no one was moving anywhere.

In an open letter to employees, investors and partners, Katzenberg and Whitman confirmed rumours that the new service is winding down.

“Our failure was not for lack of trying; we’ve considered and exhausted every option available to us,” the pair wrote.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Katzenberg told investors the business has about $350 million left in the bank, which he will return to investors, rather than pursuing a new strategy.

It follows a lacklustre launch for the business. While Quibi made an appearance in the top 50 iPhone apps for about a week, it was quickly overtaken by learning apps and games. That was despite the offer of a 90-day free trial.

“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” Katzenberg said at the time.

“Everything. But we own it.”

In the open letter this week, the co-founders put the failure down to one of two reasons — either the idea just wasn’t strong enough, or the timing was wrong.

“Unfortunately, we will never know but we suspect it’s been a combination of the two,” they said.

“The circumstances of launching during a pandemic is something we could have never imagined but other businesses have faced these unprecedented challenges and have found their way through it.

“We were not able to do so.”

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