The new streaming service Quibi is facing an uphill battle. Most people don’t know what it is or why it exists. That’s partly because it hasn’t even launched yet, but CEO Meg Whitman recently put it on the map in a less than tasteful fashion when audio leaked of her comparing journalists to pedophiles. She has now apologized for the comparison.
Earlier this week, the Information reported that Whitman made the comparisons at a recent internal all-hands meeting for the company. Whitman allegedly compared the relationships journalists cultivate with sources to the grooming behavior pedophiles engage in with their victims. It’s not a polite comparison, to say the least, and the Information reported that several attendees of the meeting found the comparison “strange and off-putting.”
I’ve heard similarly grotesque comparisons from rank-and-file PR staff at many large tech companies. Tech companies do not like leaks, and often go to extraordinary lengths to keep them from happening. They monitor meetings (including lunches), check emails and phone records, and typically have new employees sit through excruciatingly boring press training sessions. I even once had a friend have to disclose our friendship to their new tech employer in case the company got suspicious of our interactions on social media.
Whitman, who formerly led eBay and HP, no doubt is familiar with that culture of antagonism towards journalists. But in entertainment, things are a little more...chill. There might be jokes about Marvel snipers, but Disney does not appear to actually employ murderers who are charged with protecting spoilers. The week one lecture on how evil the press is is not a regular feature on movie sets.
So it would seem there might be a little bit of a culture mishmash at Quibi, which is made up of tech people like Whitman, and Hollywood people like Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Whitman apologized in an interview with Variety at this week’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
“I used an analogy that was inappropriate and just plain wrong,” she told Variety. “None of us are ever perfect. I didn’t intend it, and it’s not at all how I think, how I feel.”
Having met Whitman for an interview concerning Quibi, I have to say she was very polite. I didn’t once think she was mentally dressing me up in a PedoBear suit. So maybe she’s sincere!
But perhaps she should worry less about leaks to the press and more about the complete lack of information coming out of Quibi regarding...what the heck it is. I saw a demo at CES and was extremely impressed with Quibi’s ability to give a smartphone user incredible control over how they interacted with the show they were watching. The idea behind Quibi—giving people small and easy-to-digest narratives in a format not intended to be cinematic—is a good one.
But like virtual reality, Quibi is very much a thing that sounds like bullshit when explained. Its promise is only really revealed when people actually see it in action—which most people have not. Right now, viewers still have no clue what Quibi is. Most people have no idea how to say it, what’s coming to it, or why they should consider subscribing for $5 a month when it launches this April.