“No one believed in his own idea and his own ability to make Quibi exist more than Jeffrey,” said one Hollywood executive.
“There’s a weird line about Jeffrey that is often referred to: ‘Don’t bet against Jeffrey,’ said one senior executive. “Nobody works harder. No one sells harder. No one recruits better. And no one believed in his own idea – his so-called brilliance and his own ability to make Quibi exist – more than Jeffrey … But Quibi’s pride – arrogance, daring – that’s what takes my breath away.
The veteran executive’s perspective was echoed in conversations in Hollywood last week, including among Katzenberg’s many friends, few of whom would speak for a quote. In an industry normally fueled by schadenfreude, the end of Quibi was viewed with sad regret for wasted investments, lost jobs, aborted projects. And, significantly, the blind will of Katzenberg himself – focused on an epic grand swing as he neared his seventh decade. (Katzenberg declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Wall Street drew a similar conclusion to Hollywood – although investors on the street were mostly unaffected by the streaming fan’s demise. Quibi raised $ 1.8 billion from private investors, but only earned $ 3.3 million in subscription revenue, according to Apptopia.
“It’s a major black eye for Katzenberg and the whole team,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said last week. “It’s amazing how quickly this has come and gone.”
Loup Ventures analyst Doug Clinton added, “Sometimes when you have companies and entrepreneurs they go out and have really big ideas – and sometimes it just doesn’t work. No one is immune from this, not even Jeffrey Katzenberg.
While insiders praise Katzenberg for his vision and resolve, they note that these qualities may have blinded him to the shortcomings of creating an independent subscription streaming service, just like most Hollywood conglomerates, of Disney to NBCUniversal via WarnerMedia, launched theirs.
The decision was the signing of Katzenberg, a tireless newcomer who may have heard and ignored the chorus of non-partisans suggesting that he and Meg Whitman, 64, were ill-suited to predicting the habits of teens and young adults who were Quibi’s target market. In the end, the biggest hiccup was betting that Gen Y and Gen Z craved high-quality, short-form content to watch exclusively on their phones – and were willing to pay a monthly fee for it.
“What’s great about him is that he has boundless determination and energy,” said one veteran agent, who declined to use his name. “Add to that his contacts and financial resources, he can get things done. He can do it. (But) like everyone else, the fact that you could do it doesn’t mean it should have been done… And in this one, he was messing around in an area that wasn’t in his experiential wheelhouse. It was intellectual judgment, not his experience.
The veteran added: “It was fascinating to see the idea of Quibi develop. He told everyone about it, endlessly. And I’m sure… there have been many others who have challenged his premise. Many people have challenged his business model. Many people have questioned its timing. I think he largely ignored the realists. And I tried to bend the world to its will.
Quibi’s flaws may be evident now, but it’s easy to see how Katzenberg won over investors and A-list content creators.
He holds an almost legendary status in contemporary Hollywood, the closest to a Lew Wasserman-like imperial figure the industry has. Katzenberg is known to work harder than a small army, hosting three breakfasts a day, warning staff in a much-repeated aphorism (which can in fact be apocryphal) that if they “don’t come on Saturday, don’t worry. not come Sunday. ”
He was also the author of a famous memo in 1991 when he was the head of the Disney film studio, which foresightedly struck at the heart of the issues plaguing the company’s future. (The memo inspired Cameron Crowe’s “Jerry Maguire” manifesto in this film). He advocated for high caliber talent and big ideas “with which event films could be made.” He noted, “We… have the inner talent, the creativity and the absolute ability to control our own destiny.”
And it was true. At Disney, Katzenberg was empowered to lead by CEO Michael Eisner, who had mentored him at Paramount Pictures, where the two had worked under media mogul Barry Diller. Katzenberg’s vision for Disney paid off, as he rebuilt the animation studio after decades of moribund plans and worse financial results. Disney found its crown jewel in the 1994 blockbuster “The Lion King”, accompanied by a best-selling album and hit Broadway adaptation, as well as many other hit titles including “Beauty and the Beast ”and a rise for ABC television.
Nonetheless, in 1994 Eisner chased Katzenberg out, publicly citing his lack of confidence in Katzenberg’s business skills. Injured, Katzenberg turned to businesses that would create his own legacy beyond Eisner and Disney.
This led to DreamWorks SKG, DreamWorks Animation and then Quibi.
A closer look at Katzenberg’s career would suggest that his gifts lie more as a content manager than as a visionary businessman, although most cite his unquenchable will as what sets him apart the most. Arguably, Katzenberg’s record as an entertainment entrepreneur never reached the high bar of his accomplishments as a Disney employee, despite an ambition that never abated.
Less nicely, some say that the drive to create Quibi “was ego driven,” as one seasoned observer put it. “A desire of two aging executives to find relevance. A desire to invent a new modern digital act – like Barry Diller.
To this, the veteran agent said, “If Jeff Katzenberg was a stock, I would keep it and maybe buy some.
Five years ago Katzenberg was the victim of a near-fatal car accident that left him behind for weeks. His Tesla was totaled. His wrist and right arm were broken. Death was a hair’s breadth away. One would have thought that this contact with mortality could have slowed it down.
It was not the case. Instead, he redoubled his efforts to sell DreamWorks Animation, which he managed to unload for $ 3.8 billion the following year, and then embarked on the creation of Quibi. “For me, I have to get on that horse and find the next mountain to load,” Katzenberg told CNBC on Thursday. “It’s the only thing I can do, and I have a lot to prove.”
But in recent days, Katzenberg has privately told friends that for once he intends to lie down and “go under the radar” for a minute, according to a relative.
Not that this will be the last time we’ll hear from him. “He’s still a legend,” Clinton said. “If I were to bet money on him, I think you should say he will bounce back.”
Sean Burch contributed to this article.