Within the past month, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s yet-to-launch mobile video service Quibi has lost two of its top execs — head of advertising and partnerships Tim Connolly and Janice Min, who had been in charge of the company’s daily programming deals with media companies — but ad buyers aren’t ready to hit the panic button.
Advertisers’ and media companies’ work with Quibi is proceeding like everything is business as usual, said media and agency execs. The departures of Connolly and Min are considered by these execs to be a byproduct of a platform that aims to be a major player in the entertainment ecosystem and must adapt to that ecosystem’s changes as the streaming video wars intensify in the lead-up to its launch next year. The executive departures are not the only changes at Quibi since Katzenberg first teased the short-form video platform in July 2017. Originally described as a mobile-first service that would also have connected TV apps, Quibi has shifted to focus on being a mobile-only service, Digiday reported earlier this year. Despite these shifts, Katzberg’s continued and active involvement in Quibi’s development and the roster of execs working under him and Quibi CEO Meg Whitman has helped to settle concerns among media and agency execs.
“I don’t know that it raises a ton of alarm bells,” said an agency exec.
Connolly had been credited with overseeing the $100 million that Quibi has secured from advertisers. Min was in charge of the companies’ daily programming deals with publishers. After news of Min’s departure broke on Sept. 4, an agency exec received an email from a client asking what was going on at Quibi. Media execs speculated that Min’s departure suggests that Quibi may be tweaking its daily programming strategy, but they have yet to receive any word from Quibi to confirm whether that is the case.
“Honestly, I don’t think anyone here really thought much of it and chalked it up to this is really hard, and there is probably some difference of opinion on how to execute daily programming,” said a media exec of Min’s departure.
Quibi has been an object of fascination — and skepticism — among media and advertising executives ever since Katzenberg said in July 2017 that the former DreamWorks Animation CEO planned to raise $2 billion to create the short-form video platform. That someone with Katzenberg’s reputation and war chest was attempting to pull off what Verizon’s Go90 and Jason Kilar’s Vessel had so spectacularly failed to do brought the Michael Jackson popcorn meme to life in Hollywood. The wave of announcements that major Hollywood talent, including Steven Spielberg, Anna Kendrick and Jennifer Lopez, are producing, directing or starring in shows and movies for Quibi has further magnified the attention on the platform.
“Janice did a great job of getting Daily Essentials through its first chapter,” Quibi CEO Meg Whitman said in the emailed statement. That statement would appear to suggest that the platform’s daily programming strategy is entering something of a new phase, but a Quibi spokesperson said that’s not the case.
Quibi partners pointed to the deep executive bench at the company. Since May, Quibi has hired Snap sales exec Marni Schapiro to be its head of ad sales in North America and Twitter sales exec Ryan Moore to be its head of advertising strategy and solutions. Both Schapiro and Moore report to Quibi’s head of advertising partnerships Nicole McCormack, who had joined Quibi in March after serving as svp of revenue strategy and operations at Flipboard. Schapiro’s and Moore’s experience at platforms that had to convince advertisers to consider them for video ad buys is important in helping to acclimate advertisers to a new platform like Quibi, said agency execs.
“They know how to talk to the teams at agencies about how to sell it in and how to get people thinking about it,” said an agency exec.
Meanwhile, Quibi still has former CBS execs Becky Brooks and Ryan Kadro. The pair had been working under Min, with Brooks focused on lifestyle programming and Kadro concentrated on news programming for Quibi’s “Daily Essentials” slate of daily content. Brooks and Kadro now report directly to Katzenberg, said a Quibi spokesperson. Additionally, there had been questions about Min’s role at Quibi long before her departure. Prior joining Quibi in October 2018 to oversee daily programming, Min had primarily worked in magazine publishing, having served as editor in chief of Us Weekly and eventually co-president and chief creative officer at The Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group.
“What qualified her to be a content executive at a company like Quibi when they have people like Doug Herzog?” said a media executive, referring to the former Viacom exec whose LinkedIn account lists him as a content adviser at Quibi.
Perhaps most important, the active presence of Katzenberg and Whitman has mitigated media and agency execs’ concerns that Connolly’s and Min’s departures signal any deep tumult at the company. Both Katzenberg and Whitman have participated in meetings where Quibi has pitched advertisers and agencies as well as meetings in which media companies pitch shows to the platform. Agency execs have taken Katzenberg’s and Whitman’s involvement as a sign of their commitment to the company, as opposed to Quibi being a hobby for a Hollywood heavyweight and a longtime Silicon Valley exec, and media execs have come away with a similar opinion.
“Having pitched Katzenberg and seeing how invested he is in this, I came away from the pitch more bullish to their success than prior to the pitch,” said a media exec.