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- Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s billion-dollar-backed mobile video startup launched its much-hyped streaming app on April 6.
- Now, the company has to convince millennials to buy into its pitch of “bite-sized” TV shows for smartphones.
- The mobile-video app, which costs $5 and $8 a month for ad and ad-free subscriptions, had a modest entry into the streaming wars, getting 1.7 million app downloads in its first week before plunging in the rankings of top iPhone apps.
- The company built its leadership team from notable Hollywood and Silicon Valley alum, but also had a few high-profile departures ahead of launch.
- Its key executives include Hulu, Snap, and Netflix alum, as well as a former top former talent agent and ad veterans.
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Roughly 20 months after Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman revealed their billion-dollar-backed pitch to put a new spin on mobile video, Quibi is here.
The platform went live in April with a $5-per-month subscription with ads and an $8 ad-free plan. A 90-day free-trial offer helped Quibi make a modest debut.
Now, it has to convince 25- to 35- year-olds to pay for minutes-long TV episodes on smartphones instead of scrolling through Instagram or watching YouTube.
Called Quibi for “quick bites,” each episode on the platform is 10 minutes or less. Smartphone users can watch in portrait and landscape mode by rotating the device.
The content is aimed at millennials, with stars known to the generation like Chrissy Teigen, Sophie Turner, and Idris Elba; reboots from their childhood like “Legends of the Hidden Temple,” “Singled Out,” and “Punk’d;” and projects from big-name filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro.
The company is now racing to develop the option to cast video to TV, in hopes of attracting people who are staying at home during the current global crisis.
The app got 1.7 million downloads in its first week — in sharp contrast with Disney Plus, which brought in 10 million subscribers and 3.2 million app downloads per day when it came out in November. Of course, Quibi lacked the benefit of Disney’s legacy brand.
Quibi hired from Silicon Valley and Hollywood to build the service, and their decisions will shape how the platform adapts to this moment.
It’s also had high-profile departures, including Tim Connolly, who oversaw partnerships and advertising, and former content execs Diane Nelson and Janice Min.
Katzenberg and Whitman’s executive bench now includes members of Hulu’s founding team, Snap and Netflix alum, a top former talent agent, and seasoned ad execs.
These are the top execs to know at Quibi.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, cofounder and chairman
Ask anyone in Hollywood what they think of Quibi, and you’ll likely hear some version of the phrase, “I wouldn’t bet against Jeffrey Katzenberg.”
The former studio exec’s idea for a TV-quality mobile video platform for millennials, legacy, and Hollywood ties helped Katzenberg, 69, raise $1.75 billion in funding, poach executives from companies like Netflix and Snap, and secure $150 million in ad revenue ahead of Quibi’s launch.
Katzenberg also enlisted filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro to make projects for Quibi, in part by offering creators the rights to their content after a certain period of time.
Katzenberg has had his share of high-profile hits and misses.
He started out working for legendary Hollywood executives like Barry Diller and Michael Eisner and led Walt Disney Studios from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, when it produced hits like “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King.”
He cofounded DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen and later ran DreamWorks Animation, where he oversaw hits like “Shrek,” “Kung-Fu Panda,” and “Madagascar,” and expensive flops like “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.”
DreamWorks ultimately folded into cofounder Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners. DreamWorks Animation sold to Comcast as the realities of being an independent film studio amid the collapsing DVD market became too much for the standalone companies.
For Quibi, Katzenberg sees success as a slow burn and not an explosion.
“We are a marathon, not a sprint,” Katzenberg told Business Insider in January. “We have seen in the pre-existing TV ecosystem, those [platform launches] have been looked at as rocket ships. I think we’re hopefully a sports little race car that starts at zero and goes.”
Investors, creators and executives, and advertisers have bought into Quibi — now it’s time to see if viewers will.
Meg Whitman, CEO
Quibi may be Katzenberg’s brainchild, but Meg Whitman is the one bringing it to life as the company’s chief executive.
The 63-year-old Silicon Valley veteran’s career includes high-profile roles at eBay and Hewlett-Packard. She is credited with turning eBay around and making major changes at Hewlett-Packard including its split into two companies in 2015.
Last year, Whitman was named the second-richest, self-made woman in the US by Forbes, with a net worth $3.8 billion. Her fame extends beyond tech: She ran for California governor on the Republican ticket in 2010, spending nearly $150 million of her own money on the campaign.
Whitman secured funding and enlisted Hollywood A-listers to make content for Quibi ahead of launch and helped staff it from the ground up. Now her job is to challenge the incumbent streaming players including Netflix and Hulu.
She has her work cut out for her. Quibi got 1.7 million subscribers in its first week, but it’s still a fraction in comparison with another streaming newcomer Disney Plus, which reported 10 million sign-ups on the first day of its launch last November.
Tom Conrad, chief product officer
Tom Conrad’s job as chief product officer is to distill Quibi’s content into a compelling product.
Conrad and his team came up with the company’s touted “turnstyle” technology, which lets viewers interact with the content, letting them move between portrait and landscape orientations by rotating their smartphones, for example.
“I’m talking about, in real time, the phone telling the piece of content, what time it is, what the weather is, what the lighting conditions are, and letting the piece of creative react to that in the same way the creative reacts to the rotation of the phone,” Conrad told Business Insider.
While Quibi was originally meant to capitalize on moments when people are on the go or scrolling through social media, the world it launched into looks a lot different with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world. As a result, Quibi is working to enable people to watch its shows on TVs.
Before joining Quibi, Conrad was part of Pandora’s launch and growth and led Snapchat’s product team during its redesign.
Rob Post, chief technology officer
As chief technology officer, Rob Post produced the Quibi’s touted “turnstyle” technology that lets people switch between portrait and landscape orientation.
His team also worked to encode that video more efficiently, so files are delivered without hogging data or storage space as video streaming typically does.
“When I first saw what the early mocks were from the product and design team, I got this knot in my stomach because I’ve been working in streaming video for about a decade now and for this to really, really work well, the user experience has to be flawless,” Post told Business Insider in January. “Ultimately, we’ve had to invent a new way to deliver a video down to the end device in order to support this new way of storytelling.”
Post’s team is also developing features at the behest of creators. Steven Spielberg, for example, only wanted his upcoming series “After Dark” to be available after sunset.
Before joining Quibi in 2018, Post spent more than 10 years at Hulu, where he was a member of the company’s original engineering team and oversaw several tech platforms as VP of engineering. Post was also a software-development engineer at Microsoft.
He holds several patents related to video delivery for his work at Hulu and has applied for some of his work at Quibi.
Quibi is now live in the US, Canada, and India, and one of Post’s next big challenges will be making sure people can use the platform on different devices and with varying degrees of connectivity. Other, larger streaming services like Disney Plus had technical difficulties at launch.
Ambereen Toubassy, chief financial officer
Ambereen Toubassy, chief financial officer, helped incubate the idea for Quibi as partner and financial chief at Katzenberg’s holding company for media and technology investments, WndrCo. She joined Quibi’s founding team when it became a standalone entity, then called NewTV, in 2018.
Toubassy worked with CEO Whitman to flesh out Quibi’s business model, according to a 2019 Harvard Business School article.
The founders sought input on the business model from major movie studios, some of which since became investors or content suppliers for Quibi. They came up with an approach that allows creators to own their IP. Quibi pays the studios’ production costs, plus a 20% premium to license the content exclusively for seven years. After that, the rights revert back to the studio.
“Everyone else in town, when they commission content, they own the IP. But we made the strategic decision not to compete with our suppliers,” Toubassy told Harvard Business School. “It means that the creators are super motivated to make the best possible content.”
Toubassy has also helped raise and manage Quibi’s $1.75 billion in funding.
Before WndrCo, Toubassy worked at firms including JMB Capital, Ivory Capital, Empyrean Capital, and Goldman Sachs. She also advised Goop.
Robert Kelly, general counsel
Robert Kelly has been Quibi’s general counsel since March 2018, before Katzenberg and Whitman presented the idea to the world.
Kelly has over 25 years of experience managing legal affairs, with expertise in media and entertainment.
He spent nearly 14 years at DreamWorks Animation, where he most recently was deputy legal counsel.
In 2014 and 2015, Kelly was named to Variety’s Dealmaker’s Impact Report and Legal Impact Report, per his LinkedIn.
Jim O’Gorman, head of talent and organization
Jim O’Gorman, head of talent and organization, drives Quibi’s recruiting and culture at the 225-person company.
He helped pull in talent from Hollywood and Silicon Valley companies like Viacom, Netflix, Snap, and Google.
“We have created something really powerful in bringing both the entertainment competency and technology competency together,” O’Gorman told the Los Angeles Times in July.
O’Gorman joined Quibi from Hulu in 2018. Since then, Quibi has gone on hiring spree, and secured some of the power players on this list.
Before Quibi, O’Gorman spent more than five years as a leader on Hulu’s talent and organization team, most recently as an SVP. He led functions including talent management, recruitment, organizational development, internal communications, and human-resource operations.
Jim Toth, head of content acquisition and talent
Former Hollywood talent agent Jim Toth leads content acquisition and talent at Quibi, which has signed on A-list celebrities like Sophie Turner, Liam Hemsworth, Idris Elba, Zac Efron, and Chrissy Teigen.
Toth joined Quibi in 2019 after more than two decades at CAA, where his clients included high-profile actors like Matthew McConaughey, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Jamie Foxx, Zoe Saldana, and Chris Evans.
Toth also sits on a number of boards, including his wife Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine and clothing line Draper James, as well as Providence St. John’s Health Center, Loyola Marymount University, and Just Keep Livin Foundation.
Doug Herzog, senior content executive
Doug Herzog helped develop the Quibi originals on the platform as senior content executive, working with creators to find and tailor shows for Quibi’s mobile-first platform.
The company’s slate runs the gamut, with daily news and entertainment programs, called “Daily Essentials”; reality series pegged to influencers such as FaZe Clan and Joe Jonas; reboots from the 1990s and 2000s like “Punk’d” and “Singled Out”; projects from filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Sam Raimi; and scripted dramas and comedies.
While the shows resemble old-school TV series, there are differences. Each installment runs about 10 minutes and ends with a cliffhanger. Each video also requires a portrait and landscape edit, so users can move between the two orientations when they rotate their phones.
“It’s a very impressive group of people, who have tremendous vision and really understand what they want to create,” one content executive who is producing shows for Quibi told Business Insider, of Quibi’s content team. “Everyone is kind of adapting to the Quibi technology.”
Herzog joined Quibi in 2018 and was originally set to oversee content alongside former DC Entertainment Diane Nelson and The Hollywood Reporter editor Janice Min, but they have since departed.
Herzog spent much of his career before Quibi at Viacom, where he was most recently president of Viacom’s music and entertainment division, overseeing networks including Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, and Spike. He also held senior roles at USA Network and the Fox Broadcasting Company.
Craig Kurland, head of business affairs
Craig Kurland is in charge of deal-making at Quibi as head of business affairs. He joined Quibi in January 2019 and reports to Katzenberg.
Kurland was previously an EVP at Fox, overseeing legal and business affairs under then-CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Neuman. Before that, Kurland worked at Fox’s sister studio, 20th Century Fox Television, where he negotiated development and production deals, program licenses, and talent contracts, and other agreements.
Kurland also spent more than 12 years at NBCUniversal, starting on the program and talent contract team and rising to SVP of broadcast-network and studio-business affairs.
Earlier in his career, Kurland worked at law firms including Troop Steuber Pasich Reddick & Tobey; Dewey Ballantine LLP; and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.
Nicole McCormack, head of advertising partnerships
Nicole McCormack’s team started pitching brands as early as last summer, helping book $150 million in ad revenue and sell out Quibi’s first year ahead of launch.
The head of advertising partnerships led the negotiations that landed Progressive, Discover, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, AB InBev, Taco Bell, Pepsi, T-Mobile, Google, and Walmart as launch ad partners.
The deals call for non-skippable pre-roll ads that run 6, 10, or 15 seconds before the start of an episode. Each brand is the exclusive sponsor for a given episode.
The former Flipboard exec is responsible for cultivating relationships with advertisers and agencies and reports directly to CEO Meg Whitman. She got an expanded mandate when her boss Tim Connolly, Quibi’s former head of advertising and partnerships, left in August.
Megan Imbres, head of brand and content marketing
As Quibi’s head of brand and content marketing, Megan Imbres is in charge of making people aware of Quibi and trying it out.
To drive awareness, the company ran ads during the Super Bowl and Oscars telling people that Quibi stands for quick bites and that there’s always time to watch a Quibi episode since they’re so short. Quibi followed up by heavily promoting a 90-day free trial.
The opportunity for Quibi is there, as people seek out indoor entertainment amid the coronavirus crisis. Americans streamed 85% more minutes of video in March compared to last year and binge-watching is up across various streamers, according to Nielsen.
Imbres started her career at agencies, working at Razorfish and Crispin Porter Bogusky before going to Netflix.
Juan Bongiovanni, head of growth marketing
Juan Bongiovanni, Quibi’s head of growth marketing, is an early recruit, joining in November 2018.
Before Quibi, Bongiovanni spent nearly five years at Netflix, where he oversaw digital marketing in Latin America, programmatic marketing in the Americas, and acquisition marketing globally.
He also worked at agencies including ZenithOptimedia and MEC.
Gina Stikes, head of PR and communications
As Quibi’s head of PR and communications, Gina Stikes is the gatekeeper between the company and the media whose job it is to make sure the new streaming service stands out amid a sea of competitors.
While Quib has attracted media interest by virtue of its high-profile leadership, Stikes has also managed to woo some naysayers like NBC’s Dylan Byers and landed big profiles in publications like The New York Times.
Stikes joined Quibi in March 2019 after being the global head of communications for YouTube Originals.
Earlier, she was the senior director of corporate communications at Viacom’s BET Networks, and the PR and marketing director at NBC News, where she spent six years.