Can Meg Whitman outwit a virulent disease with Quibi?
Not much is going as planned for Meg Whitman. For instance, there’s a pandemic on. When I first spoke to her for this profile in December, the new coronavirus had emerged in Wuhan already, but no one in the US was yet the wiser. In January, when Whitman gave the CES keynote about her startup,…

No longer powerful goes as deliberate for Meg Whitman. For instance, there’s a virulent disease on.

After I first spoke to her for this profile in December, the recent coronavirus had emerged in Wuhan already, but no one within the US was as soon as but the wiser. In January, when Whitman gave the CES keynote about her startup, Quibi, the first loss of life reported by Chinese media had now now not but happened. In February, after I used to be as soon as trying to nail down plug arrangements to Los Angeles to document the the leisure of this profile, the first community-got cases possess been existing within the San Francisco Bay Establish, where I are living. By March, every Whitman and I possess been sheltering in express by reveal of the express of California.

It is now April sixth, the originate date for Quibi, an plucky recent streaming service for prime of the range video intended to be considered for your phone. The particular news is that because so many folks are caught at dwelling, there’s been a main uptick in folks streaming video. The defective news is that qualified about every employ case Quibi has targeted for itself happens, nicely, outside.

“Ready in line for coffee” tends to be the scenario evoked the most by Quibi execs, and it’s one that’s allowed them to raise a $1 billion funding round from patrons, along side Hollywood studios, Alibaba Team, and WndrCo, Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg’s investment firm and keeping company. A 2d round of $750 million just lately came from high-gain-payment folks, sovereign wealth funds, and family offices.

Quibi raised giant swimming pools of money because Hollywood quality is dear, child. The industry makes cash two ways: subscriptions and advert income. A subscription to Quibi prices $four.Ninety 9 for a model with ads or $7.Ninety 9 a month for a subscription with out them. (The ads are preroll and carry out now now not interrupt the reveals.)

Whitman has already sold out Quibi’s $a hundred and fifty million in advert inventory for its first 365 days to firms along side Procter & Gamble, Pepsi, and Walmart. From an advertiser’s level of gain out about, the fledgling startup provides be aware security in a formula YouTube and TikTok simply can’t. On Quibi, to illustrate, there’s no likelihood of an advert being positioned subsequent to a Logan Paul video within the Aokigahara woodland featuring the physique of a individual that died by suicide. With the mark of money that’s furious by most Quibi deals, the corporate is most no doubt searching at the videos sooner than they dawdle up.

It’s also good that these ads are sold already for the explanation that absolute backside fell out of the marketing market just lately, for coronavirus reasons.

But that is the actual ingredient Whitman is there for. This is a high-profile startup, with deep pockets, launching true into a literal catastrophe. Whitman’s job is to lead it.


Months earlier, after I sat down with Whitman, CEO of Quibi, she and Katzenberg possess been doing what appears to be like to be admire a reasonably laborious day of media briefings earlier than their keynote speech the next day. At CES, their speech was as soon as intended to relief as Quibi’s huge introduction.

But Whitman and Katzenberg possess been sport after we met. If it appears to be like to be admire there was as soon as an unholy quantity of gossip about Quibi, it’s ensuing from the stature of those two faces. Yes, everybody has been talking about Katz: a Hollywood tale, Katzenberg revitalized Disney and co-founded DreamWorks. But Whitman is a boldface title in her earn factual: she led eBay and Hewlett Packard. Also, she ran for governor of California as a Republican in 2010 and financed her ambition with $140 million of her earn cash. (She lost and harm up endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016.)

It’s all wonderfully Californian: Whitman, a image of Silicon Valley, subsequent to Katzenberg, the most insider of Los Angeles insiders. At cases, they seem to be doing a riff on The Extra special Couple, with Whitman as straitlaced Felix to Katzenberg’s lightly chaotic Oscar. It is, frankly, delicious.

The pairing took place admire this: Katzenberg had been entranced with the theory that of cellular video for years. When he cashed out of DreamWorks Animation in 2016, he had the cash. On the time, Whitman had qualified launched she would step down as CEO of Hewlett Packard Endeavor, the corporate she’d spun off from Hewlett Packard.

Katz known as his ragged buddy. He’d met Whitman in 1989 at Disney when they every labored there. “He mentioned, ‘What are you doing?’” Whitman recounted The Hollywood Reporter. Whitman was as soon as thinking of retirement; she even began explaining how she major to make employ of her free time. Katz interrupted her: “No, what are you doing tonight for dinner?”

Katzenberg flew to San Francisco that night in reveal to convince Whitman to circulation to Los Angeles, which is the one most LA yarn I possess ever heard. The final consequence of that three-hour meal would in the end be known as Quibi, brief for “rapid bites” and pronounced KWIB-ee. If regular folks possess been stressed about disclose Quibi, that surely did now not bother patrons. The pitch centers on a single query: Will folks look 10-minute Hollywood-quality video on their telephones? It is now now not, on its face, a defective query.

It is, then all over again, a dear one.

The length of time Americans teach searching at video on their telephones has surged. In point of fact, folks are spending loads more time on their telephones; as of ultimate 365 days, it’s more time than they spent searching at TV. But, minute or no is if truth be told designed to be watched on telephones. In total, you’re seeing a reduction of something that was as soon as filmed for TV or movies, or you’re searching at person-generated stutter which, let’s disclose, varies broadly in quality. Delicious as TikTok and YouTube are, they form now now not seem to be especially known for rigorous and consistent manufacturing values.

And while there are quite loads of streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, HBO Max, and Peacock, among many others), most of them are now now not optimizing for telephones. Plus, whilst you elevate your viewer is searching at on a phone, that implies viewers can switch which way they’re keeping the phone, and probably you may possibly perchance possibly label them something else. This know-how, known as Turnstyle, is half of Quibi’s pitch. Looking out on what you’re doing whilst you’re for your phone, you may possibly perchance possibly ought to search any given program horizontally or vertically. Quibi helps you to exchange seamlessly from one to the loads of, with no cease for your video. In some cases, reorienting would possibly possibly perchance possibly even give you an fully numerous gain out about of the yarn.

It is titillating to argue with the abnormal inventive opportunities here. Furthermore it is titillating to argue with the cash. Quibi’s marquee choices, known as “lighthouse initiatives,” cost as powerful as $a hundred twenty 5,000 a minute. The midtier choices, “rapid bites,” cost more admire $20,000 to $50,000 per minute. The “daily essentials” — news choices — cost between $5,000 and $10,000 per minute.

That cash is paying for quite loads of star strength: Steven Spielberg, Idris Elba, Jennifer Lopez. Kristen Bell, Chrissy Teigen, Kendall Jenner, Tyra Banks, and Steph Curry all possess deals with the platform. Also — disclosure! — Verge sister residing Polygon has a label (a Day to day Mandatory, in Quibi parlance), and there possess been talks just a few Verge program, too.

Katzenberg has been heavily featured in press coverage, partly because now would possibly possibly perchance possibly be his moment. He’s been handling the inventive aspects of Quibi, running on his earn skills and judgment to e book huge names and study programming tips. But after originate, it’s the prospects who will handbook Quibi. The following day, things exchange. “April 7th, it begins being regarding the recordsdata,” Whitman tells me. Whereas Katzenberg has been running the inventive, she’s been running qualified about the whole lot else.


The ingredient about California is that it’s a extremely huge express. Palo Alto to Los Angeles alone is 5 and a half hours by automobile. What I imply is, for a Bay Establish person, LA is an adjustment — Hollywood, in particular.

“This whole town is oriented toward movie openings,” Whitman says. “I’m attracted to our opening weekend, but I’m if truth be told attracted to launching a protracted-timeframe person accomplishing.” That’s an fully numerous industry mannequin, one Whitman is aware of nicely.

For a person-going thru company — a streaming service, to illustrate — what matters is attracting recent prospects and conserving them. Whitman has a rep as a know-how multi-millionaire since eBay made her billions. But earlier in her profession, she labored at Disney, Jog Ceremony, and, later, Hasbro, where she oversaw Mr. Potato Head and in addition introduced the psychedelic UK kids’s label Teletubbies to the US. In point of fact, it was as soon as her person skills that gay accomplishing capitalist Robert Kagle that she’d be a correct fit as eBay’s CEO: “I used to be as soon as trying to search out a be aware builder to relief form eBay a family title,” he urged The New York Conditions in 1999. “Conception know-how was as soon as now now not the central ingredient. You would possibly possibly perchance possibly wish to derive the emotional a part of the client skills for your gut.’’

For Quibi, that fundamentally potential a couple of things. First, folks ought to know what it’s: streaming service, stars, brief videos, telephones. Second, as of CES, folks major to be shown what it’s for. And till very just lately, that was as soon as searching at video on the dawdle. Quibi aired a Natty Bowl advert just a few monetary institution heist long past awry, leaving the robbers with 10 minutes to search videos on their telephones — qualified the foundation of a $400 to $500 million advertising and marketing advertising and marketing campaign. And relief in January, whilst you commit it to memory, we mute went to coffee retailers and waited for coffee or waited for the bus. Whitman desires to teach you in those moments to understand at Quibi as an different of your Twitter feed or TikTok. In most of its ads, the naughty level of curiosity on movie tropes emphasised Quibi’s promoting level: these possess been Hollywood-quality videos.

The backend, though? The half the prospects don’t see, but that the corporate desires in reveal to lag successfully? That’s where Whitman’s have an effect on is most apparent.


Meg Whitman is alone in her West Hollywood house after we focus on over Zoom, two weeks sooner than Quibi’s originate. In the relief of her is a easy white wall; she’s carrying a white shirt, collar popped. Her blonde hair is in express, and while it’s a little bit of titillating to exclaim over the low-quality video, it appears to be like to be she would possibly be carrying lipstick. I am sitting on my earn bed, with a easy white wall in the present day within the relief of me because my boyfriend had walked shirtless thru a video call earlier within the week, and it wasn’t an skills I major to repeat.

Whitman’s dwelling express of job has introduced a minor predicament: her chair. It’s ornamental, now now not ergonomic, and melancholy. When it turned obvious on the week of March Ninth that Quibi employees would want to prepare for working from dwelling, tons of parents introduced their desk chairs and pc monitors with them. Whitman didn’t. She’s regretting that now.

Issues at Quibi began to exchange quickly in early March. Even supposing the corporate urged its employees that they would possibly possibly perchance possibly work at dwelling the week of March Ninth, about 70 percent of parents possess been mute coming to the express of job. Whitman was as soon as mute going to 6AM swim be aware at UCLA, as she ordinarily does. From 9AM to 10:30AM, the corporate mute had its daily “warfare room” assembly to guarantee that the whole lot was as soon as ready for originate.

But it happened to Whitman that they would possibly possibly perchance possibly now now not all be within the express of job together for loads longer. In exclaim that week, they began practicing having the assembly virtually, with teams spread at some level of the express of job on a Zoom call. Precise to possess a study. Precise in case. On the tip of the workday on March Ninth, a yarn appeared in Fluctuate: Quibi had canceled its originate occasion, the one with the crimson carpet and the a hundred and fifty stars. 200 media outlets possess been set to quilt the occasion. “So all that’s long past,” Whitman tells me. “And so we would like to contemplate, ‘K, how carry out we feature out this digitally?’”

The week of March Ninth was as soon as in particular stressful for Quibi. “Each single day there was as soon as recent news that changed what we thought we can possess to carry out,” Whitman says. “It be major to be though-provoking to exchange path, admire actually on a dime.” Quibi had deliberate a sequence of broad title events at South by Southwest, which was as soon as canceled. There was as soon as intended to be a originate promoting blitz for the length of main wearing events, but that Wednesday, the NBA suspended its season, successfully canceling the NBA Finals. Then, on Thursday, the NCAA canceled its March Madness match, zeroing out but another deliberate Quibi teach.

“K, so all of that went out,” Whitman says. “We’ve had to reprogram our media teach between now and the tip of June.” Then there possess been the advert spots featuring things folks don’t carry out powerful anymore: taking the subway, using in an Uber, looking ahead to a cup of coffee. These possess been place aside, too.

Quibi is as an different promoting on Twitch and Reddit. The whole advertising and marketing funds hasn’t changed, but it no doubt would possibly possibly perchance possibly within the future. “We’ll see what the atmosphere is,” Whitman says.

As the cancellations began to pile up that week, it turned obvious to Whitman she’d wish to end the express of job. Monday, March Sixteenth, was as soon as the first time in forty years that Whitman did now not dawdle to work. Her swim class was as soon as canceled. After hitting her building’s gymnasium, she logged on around Eight:45AM. Her schedule, after all, hadn’t changed.

Monday was as soon as rough: folks possess been learning employ Zoom. The express of job went from being in a single express to being in better than 250 areas. Plus, the first day the total express of job labored from dwelling, three recent folks began at the corporate.

After we focus on on March twentieth, Whitman tells me the app is feature-total and the main level of curiosity is squashing bugs. “I contemplate we’re ready for correct-sized traffic, which we would or would possibly possibly perchance possibly now now not derive,” Whitman says.

Other sides of Whitman’s future are also unsure. Her husband, Griffith Harsh, a neurosurgeon, is at the College of California, Davis, and Whitman says it’s now now not obvious when she would possibly possibly perchance possibly see him in person subsequent. He’s major there for the explanation that recent coronavirus is an all-hands-on-deck teach for health workers. “He’s on the frontlines there,” she says. The UC Davis Clinical Center is where the first known patient with community-got coronavirus was as soon as diagnosed.

For now, Californians are expected to stay dwelling till Would possibly possibly perchance also just 3rd. In some areas, equivalent to Oregon, the stay-at-dwelling orders carry out now now not possess a definitive cease date. Nothing in Whitman’s profession has if truth be told come end to the instability of this moment, though she says September eleventh, 2001, comes end. She was as soon as the CEO of eBay then. “Primarily the main reveal of industry was as soon as to resolve out, ‘K, is everybody accounted for?’” Whitman says. Now, it’s more admire: Is everybody wholesome lately?

From there, she says, it’s major that leaders form themselves existing. In the express of job, she would possibly possibly perchance possibly qualified plod true into a assembly to see what’s happening. But now, she feels it’s even more major to be existing, even if most fantastic virtually. So she’s been barging into quite loads of Zoom conferences, along side a advertising and marketing originate assembly factual sooner than she spoke to me. “I wasn’t invited to it,” she says. When the workers mute went to the express of job, she held breakfasts and low conferences. Now that’s “Demand Meg Anything else” in Slack.


Focusing on the client skills also potential taking note of unexpected habits. Whitman tells me an yarn she tells loads, about eBay and ancient vehicles. Quaintly, no one had anticipated eBay would possibly possibly perchance possibly be ancient to promote ancient vehicles — but there it was as soon as, in startling numbers. So the corporate created a “vehicles” category. Traditionally, Whitman has splashed out to present a enhance to prospects’ experiences: the acquisition of PayPal, to illustrate, gave eBay its earn payments supplier. Even after spinning out PayPal into its earn company in 2015, eBay persisted to make employ of it on the backend, though it’s ensuing from be phased out this 365 days.

The express Whitman went execrable at eBay was as soon as also by spending cash to present prospects what she thought they major. Her costly Skype acquisition was as soon as intended to relief patrons and sellers connect, but folks gave the influence more gay conducting their industry over textual stutter, which didn’t require talking on the phone with strangers and would possibly possibly perchance possibly nicely be accomplished asynchronously. Worse, the acquisition led to a lengthy and dear mental property dispute. (Skype was as soon as sold to private equity company Silver Lake Companions by Whitman’s successor as CEO, John Donahoe. Silver Lake flipped it to Microsoft.)

To equipment up for commissioning stutter, Quibi did surveys of parents who watched better than an hour a week of video on their cellphones. However the accurate recordsdata will come now folks are if truth be told the employ of it. The ideal query is buyer retention: will the oldsters who are trying Quibi for free convert into paying prospects?

Quibi made a distribution take care of T-Cell: a free 365 days of Quibi shall be bundled into some wireless plans. Disney did something equal final 365 days with Verizon around its Disney Plus originate. (Each deals, then all over again, are dwarfed by Netflix, which has been free for some T-Cell prospects since 2017.)

For those of us who don’t possess T-Cell: Quibi is offering ninety-day free trials for anybody who indicators up on or sooner than April 19th. (Customers who be aware in on April twentieth will derive a 14-day free trial.) A subscription prices lower than most numerous streaming services, though it’s now now not obvious that Quibi competes with them in the present day. Katzenberg clearly views his main rivals as person-generated video on platforms admire YouTube and Instagram. “We’re competing towards free,” he urged The Verge in January.

Extra than 10 million folks possess utilized for unemployment advantages within the month sooner than Quibi’s originate, as stay-at-dwelling orders closed hair salons, movie theaters, gyms, and retail shops. Whereas Instagram and YouTube can’t build the forms of spectacular stutter that Quibi is banking on, it’s also exact that free qualified bought loads more compelling (besides fleshy of celebrities who’re also caught at dwelling). And while person-generated stutter isn’t as flashy as the videos Quibi is offering, it does possess the serve of showing folks their family and mates — the oldsters we’re longing to see most factual now.

Which implies that no topic early recordsdata Quibi gets from its prospects would possibly possibly perchance possibly now now not be that handy; we’re now now not all going to stay interior perpetually. One of Whitman’s early suggestions at eBay was as soon as to search out out what prospects possess been calling in about. “Ought to you are going to fix those things in the present day, you elevate astounding buyer loyalty,” she says. “They’ll’t contemplate it. They’ll’t contemplate they known as in or made a proposal and you mounted it in a single day.” But what matters now would possibly possibly perchance possibly now now not topic later — if Quibi adjusts too powerful to pandemic living, it’ll be caught flat-footed after we emerge.

The approach for promoting in Quibi’s 2d 365 days is up within the air, also for coronavirus reasons. The distinctive realizing was as soon as for Whitman to dawdle to the Cannes Film Competition and meet with forty advertisers in 5 days. Cannes postponed the competition on March 19th, sooner than canceling it fully on April 3rd. “So what are we going to preserve up out? We are able to’t dawdle meet with folks in person to promote 365 days two promoting,” she says. “So how are we going to preserve up out that?” A wry expression crosses her face. “We’re going to preserve up out it admire this,” she says, referencing the Zoom call we’re on together.

The industrial consequences of the recent coronavirus seem to weigh heavily on Whitman. She brings up an op-ed in The Wall Toll road Journal that says the toll of an economic collapse from stay-at-dwelling orders would possibly be a ways elevated than the human cost of the pandemic. (Plenty of economists who spoke to The Verge disagreed.) Aloof, Quibi employees are conserving their jobs, Whitman says. “They’re central to us,” she tells me. Quibi’s also paying the two contractors who’re tasked with cleaning the express of job, even if no one’s within the express of job.

The manufacturing shutdowns possess hit Quibi, too — most particularly for the Day to day Necessities. Most of those reveals are mute going ahead, albeit in very numerous ways: NBC and ESPN, to illustrate, possess retooled their reveals to be produced by the host at dwelling. (Our sister residing, Polygon, is doing the the same ingredient.) When the app launched this morning, there was as soon as about 300 episodes’ payment of fifty reveals. Whitman says they’ve banked stutter thru November. For the time being, Quibi is spending as deliberate on stutter, but those prices would possibly be paused if the reveals commissioned for later this 365 days and early subsequent 365 days don’t originate manufacturing.

The core of Quibi, the product itself, hasn’t changed since January. However the approach around supporting it has. Due to Quibi was as soon as at the beginning intended for on-the-dawdle viewing, the theory that was as soon as to gain episodes of stutter a person loved to their phone at night. But since most plug outside the dwelling has been steeply lowered, Quibi’s product team has anticipated there would possibly be more binge-searching at. On April 2nd, Tricia Lee, the top of product management at Quibi, took a damage from load-checking out Quibi to chat on Zoom with me. Lee is the employ of a virtual background for the call, a tennis court in Maui. “I’ve been altering my background to areas I need I used to be as soon as,” she tells me.

Lee has been making particular Quibi can prolong under marathon streaming, that implies striking out fires. All the way thru the assessments on the week of March Twenty 0.33, to illustrate, the checking out team reached a threshold — Lee declined to present an clarification for the exclaim number — where there was as soon as strain on the system. Quibi went down for half an hour. Now, that’s now now not abnormal for the length of load-checking out; figuring those things out sooner than the service launches is the total level. The Quibi management selected to treat it as a elaborate dress rehearsal for any accurate-existence issues: Who does what? What messages dawdle out to the corporate? What messages dawdle to the oldsters who’re checking out out the service?

In total, when a residing goes down, you remove to wish to fix the predicament as quickly as imaginable. But because this was as soon as a elaborate dress rehearsal, Lee’s team didn’t carry out that. As an different, they let the predicament play out to see what they would possibly possibly perchance possibly gain out about it sooner than fixing it. Lee credit Whitman’s work philosophy with the measured way, which Lee says is way calmer than numerous areas she’s labored.

On Whitman’s first day at eBay, the gain residing crashed — for eight hours. ‘’The #1 job at eBay is conserving the residing up,’’ she urged The New York Conditions in 1999. (If so, adding backup instrument and servers was as soon as the fix.) Extra than two decades later, Disney Plus crashed on originate day because its instrument couldn’t take care of person query. So the burden-checking out Lee’s team has accomplished, besides figuring out adapt the service to the recent stay-at-dwelling cases appears to be like to be especially clutch factual now. In spite of the whole lot, even if folks are searching at more streaming video while they’re at dwelling, they’ll’t look Quibi if it crashes.

Lee is resplendent when she speaks about Whitman’s management vogue, which she describes as collaborative with out being inefficient. “I remember being in a room and going, Am I presupposed to be in this room?” Lee says. “And Meg sat down factual subsequent to me and mentioned, ‘Hi Tricia.’” It was as soon as practically as if Whitman would possibly possibly perchance possibly sense Lee major encouragement, she tells me.

Being unable to read folks’s physique language is Whitman’s ideal remorse about managing over Zoom. Making particular everybody gets a likelihood to chat is also harder when the assembly doesn’t happen in person. “But we’re making improvements to,” Whitman says.


If Quibi succeeds, this would possibly perchance be the ideal success of Whitman’s profession. Over the years, detractors possess instructed that eBay would possess been a success with or with out Whitman — that it was as soon as a “rocket ship,” and all she had to preserve up out was as soon as derive out of the manner and now now not screw up too badly.

In contrast, Quibi was as soon as a valorous notion nicely sooner than the pandemic. No longer most fantastic did Whitman wish to resolve out build be aware consciousness outside of the Hollywood trades — which breathlessly reported every high-profile departure from the corporate — but she also had to vastly alter folks’s habits. In my particular case, that implies that within the moments after I’d ordinarily scroll thru Twitter, getting me to pull up Quibi as an different. To carry out that, quite loads of money and star strength possess been funneled thru the service.

Whitman began at eBay when it was as soon as qualified 30 employees; at Quibi, she began as worker #1. Besides primarily altering how folks look video, opening up a recent entrance for Hollywood on the smallest cowl, and making but another pile of money, Whitman can possess navigated a virulent disease that wiped out her advertising and marketing realizing and most firms’ promoting budgets.

Whitman would possibly be a Bay Establish giant title, but this feels admire a quintessentially Hollywood yarn. In preference to a delicate retirement, Katzenberg talked her into one final huge heist. In the movies, the ragged hands in the end pull it off, despite the whole lot that dawdle execrable. They improvise, they derive lucky, they elevate.

In point of fact, we are all about to search out out if Meg Whitman can outwit a virulent disease.