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Quibi calls quits: ‘Our failure was not for lack of trying’

October 21, 2020, 11:00 PM UTC

Quibi, the would-be streaming video giant, is calling it quits just six months after debuting its service.

Led by an all-star cast of executives, Quibi raised $1.75 billion to lavish on Hollywood-caliber shows that few people watched. In its brief existence, the Los Angeles-based startup promised—and failed—to attract big audiences for its short-form, serialized video content.

“It is with an incredibly heavy heart that today we are announcing that we are winding down the business and looking to sell its content and technology assets,” the company’s cofounders wrote in a blog post on Wednesday evening. The impending shutdown was first reported by the Wall Street Journal earlier in the day.

“Our failure was not for lack of trying; we’ve considered and exhausted every option available to us,” Quibi’s leaders said, noting that it would return any unspent cash to shareholders. A spokesperson did not immediately reply to Fortune’s request for more information, such as the quantity of remaining funds.

Quibi’s app, which cost $8 per month (or $5 with ads), debuted in April, shortly after the coronavirus pandemic forced the U.S. and many other regions into shutdown. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the chairman and former Disney and DreamWorks executive who concocted the startup, claimed in an interview with the New York Times that the pandemic wrecked the launch.

Quibi’s execs backtracked on that stance in their farewell notice. “The circumstances of launching during a pandemic is something we could have never imagined but other businesses have faced these unprecedented challenges and have found their way through it. We were not able to do so,” they said.

Critics said Quibi was ill-conceived from the start. But that didn’t stop it from garnering mega-sized funding from big name entertainment behemoths such as Disney, NBCUniversal, and AT&T’s WarnerMedia and producing bite-size films featuring A-list celebrities such as Anna Kendrick, Jennifer Lopez, Kevin Hart, and Chrissy Tiegen.

When confronted with skepticism over Quibi’s prospects in an interview at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo., last year, Katzenberg grew animated and compared his service to HBO’s launch in the ’90s in terms of its significance. “Broadcast TV was fantastic and free, and yet many of us were happy to pay for something different and premium. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said.

Those high aspirations never panned out. Quibi entered a crowded market and the startup struggled to peel eyeballs away from entrenched rivals ranging from Google’s YouTube to Netflix to TikTok, with Disney, HBO, Showtime, CBS, and plenty others in between.

With so many competitors in its way, Quibi gained little following. “Quibi’s content isn’t bad, it’s perfectly fine. It’s just hard to get the attention of a new audience without very compelling content,” wrote Doug Clinton, an analyst at Loup Ventures, in a stinging note in May.

Quibi recently reversed course on its foundational mobile-first premise by green-lighting its content to stream elsewhere, such as on Apple TV and Amazon’s Fire TV.

In recent weeks, Quibi was said to be exploring its options, including restructuring or a sale, as The Information reported. In its official goodbye, Quibi’s leaders said they “will be working hard to find buyers for these valuable assets.”

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s transition team is said to have floated Meg Whitman, Quibi’s chief executive and the former CEO of eBay and HP, for a possible cabinet position, despite her history as a Republican, Politico reported.

“All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down,” Katzenberg and Whitman said. True to its name, Quibi, which stands for “quick bites,” burned briefly, if not brightly.