A queue spanning two floors and seemingly endless hallways filed into the ballroom as SXSW-goers searched for a front row seat to hear the story of Quibi.
Hollywood titan Jeffrey Katzenberg, former chairman of Walt Disney Studios and CEO of DreamWorks Animation, introduced the audience to Quibi, his latest project with longtime friend, colleague and Quibi CEO Meg Whitman. The project, set to launch in April 2020, is a new streaming service that will produce original, short-form content on a mobile platform. Despite doubts from other industry professionals, eight major Hollywood entertainment houses have invested in Quibi, which Katzenberg said he believes will contribute to its ultimate success.
“What we’re trying to do here is somewhere between improbable and impossible,” Katzenberg said. “That’s our home address.”
The discussion was moderated by NBC news correspondent Dylan Byers, who questioned the various categories of entertainment that Quibi will produce, including a short news program.
“We want to make accessing information as convenient as Spotify made music,” Katzenberg said. “Information today is where music was a year ago — ubiquitously available but not convenient.”
Katzenberg and Whitman commented on the state of other media giants also gearing up to premiere streaming services, such as Disney’s Disney+, and how Quibi plans to compete in an ever-growing market.
“If we’re successful, there will be competition,” Katzenberg said. “But they won’t have a library to go by like with other platforms because we create original content.”
Whitman said Quibi will not detract users from other platforms, so she does not consider them competitors.
“What we’re seeing right now with streaming is a lot of players coming into the market as it opens up. Over time, that will widdle down as consumers decide which are the best,“ Whitman said. “We will contribute to (the market), and I think all the boats will rise on that tide.”
The new platform will release ‘lighthouse’ series every other Monday upon launch. These are flagship or high-profile short programs available exclusively through the service.
Whitman and Katzenberg announced four lighthouse projects, showcasing Quibi’s diverse range of content. One project is an origin story to a popular Telemundo film, “El Señor de los Cielos,” and will follow the childhoods of the drug lord protagonists up to the beginning of the film. The program will be in Spanish, with English subtitles.
Whitman said this is the most diverse generation in history, and she hopes Quibi will represent that in their work.
Other programs announced consist of a music competition show produced by Scooter Braun and a docuseries following the journey of Snapchat co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel entitled “Frat Boy Genius.”
Byers steered the Quibi co-founders toward more general topics of discussion toward the end of the panel, asking their take on issues like politics and the Academy Awards.
Katzenberg praised the awards show for the showstopping shot of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performing “Shallows” and offered joking praise for the presenters.
“At least this year they read the name (for Best Picture) right,” Katzenberg said. “It’s not a high bar but we got there.”
Whitman ran on the Republican ticket in California’s 2010 gubernatorial race, while Katzenberg has consistently contributed to and supported the Democratic party.
“There are no two people in the world who are more different than Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg,” Whitman said. “But it works.”
The upcoming SXSW events involving presidential candidates led into a discussion about the state of American politics.
“On a scale from 1 to 10, I’m a 12 in how worried I am about the state of this country,” Whitman said. “I’m hoping something is different, and we have different choices than the ones we have today.”
Unlike Whitman’s hopes for the nation, Katzenberg has high hopes for Quibi’s future. At the end of the discussion, Katzenberg said he hopes to return to SXSW, with Quibi as an established player in the streaming game.
“Five years from now, I want to come back here — Quibi will be what Kleenex is to tissues, and what google is to search,” Katzenberg said. “I have no doubt that people are going to be blown away.