Just a couple of months ahead of Quibi’s official launch, it appears the company’s leadership has already developed a, shall we say, fraught relationship with the press and its reporting on the company’s inner-workings.
Quibi, the short-form video streaming service that’s set to launch in April, is headed by Dreamworks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and former HP chief executive Meg Whitman, who is now CEO at Quibi. Citing two sources familiar with the matter, the Information reported Tuesday that in a recent all-hands meeting with staffers, Whitman took aim at reporting on the company’s financial backing by comparing journalists’ relationships with their sources to the manipulation tactics used by sexual predators to “groom” child victims. According to the report, “Whitman’s comments upset some Quibi employees who described them as strange and off-putting.”
It goes without saying that the alleged remarks are an extremely bizarre and inappropriate comparison—particularly coming from someone with years of experience running companies as big as HP and eBay. Whitman even ran for Governor of California. This isn’t her first rodeo with the press. I think it’s even fair to assume this is exactly the kind of thing you’d hope not to hear from a chief executive!
Quibi did not immediately return a request for comment. In a statement to the Information, however, a spokesperson characterized the report as “materially inaccurate” and said it is “not our policy to comment on speculation of what was or was not alleged to be said in an internal company meeting.”
“As evidenced by the access our executives have given to the media, including The Information, Quibi has the utmost respect for journalists and has hired and is partnering with some of the most trusted names in news and information,” the statement added.
According to the Information, the reported remarks were correlated to a leaked financial memo the site had reported on earlier this month. That report zeroed in on the streaming service’s evidently waning ability to raise money as well as its financial projections, including one internal projection from last year that Quibi would blow through about $1.5 billion in marketing and content expenses in its first year. The report, which cited sources familiar with the matter as well as internal correspondence, further raised suspicions that the service’s executives may have overshot their expectations for both funding as well as subscribers.
Setting aside the company’s highly-optimistic reported expectations for Quibi’s success at launch, the service as a concept is already a bit of a gamble. The service is focused on producing content for mobile in short, bite-sized clips. And while the company has already secured high-profile Hollywood names to star in and host its assorted mix of original content—Guillermo del Toro, Steven Speilberg, and meme lord Chrissy Teigen are all attached to the service—Quibi leans on the pricier side of recent subscription launches. The ad-supported version will run users $5 per month, and the ad-free service will cost $8 per month.
In other words, the company’s executive leadership would be wise to develop thicker skin between now and April if they hope to see their streaming gimmick through following its launch day.