Brow Beat

That Time Quibi’s Founder Called Into Our Podcast That Makes Fun of Quibi

We introduced him as “Shrek Daddy,” and he went with it.

Jeffrey Katzenberg on a mobile phone screen
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Fernando Hernandez on Unsplash and Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

“Hey! I just spoke with Jeffrey. We are in and excited to talk.”

This was not how we thought this would go. “Jeffrey” is Jeffrey Katzenberg, the founder of the $2 billion “micro-streaming platform” Quibi and a Hollywood legend. An executive there was excited to inform us Katzenberg would be coming on our podcast, which we created in February to chronicle how ridiculous Quibi is. A month ago, they had threatened to sue us.

When we first started our podcast, it was meant to be funny and chaotic, like everything we’d read about Quibi. We decided to make episodes 10 minutes or less, to match Quibi’s content, and to report on everything Quibi—the good, the bad, the unhinged. There was plenty of material. It had a show from Steven Spielberg that you could only watch at night. It had one about Liam Hemsworth wearing tight athleisure and being hunted by two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz. It had a show about food being shot through a cannon into contestants’ mouths! We envisioned the podcast as a companion piece to this entire demented oeuvre. We called it Quibiverse.

Early on, we had some suspicious hiccups. A lawyer for a “new streaming service” started following us on Twitter. Several Quibi employees followed us, but never interacted with us. Twitter temporarily suspended our account, citing “impersonation,” despite us writing very clearly “we are NOT QUIBI” in our bio. After appealing the decision, Twitter reinstated us. We continued to spit hot garbage takes about how excited we were for Quibi’s upcoming launch.

Until March 17. That was the night we received an emailed cease-and-desist from Quibi’s lawyers. They said we weren’t allowed to use the word Quibi in our podcast name, couldn’t use artwork that resembled Quibi, and basically could continue to talk about Quibi but without using its likeness in any way. As a reminder: We were a fan podcast, doing this for fun in our spare time. We made no money from the podcast, and on our best days, we got maaaaybe a couple hundred listens. Imagine what Quibi paid in billable hours for this.

Anyway, we were shook. To our knowledge, we were the only fan podcast about Quibi. We were their only form of earned media. We were the only people on earth who were actually rooting for Quibi to succeed.

We went through our options. Should we just stop talking about Quibi? Should we podcast exclusively about Quibi’s competitors? Should we stop podcasting entirely (for the record, this is the correct answer)? We took some time off and thought about it. Finally, we decided we weren’t going to be silenced by a $2 billion mobile phone streaming company that greenlit a show about flipping houses where real-life murders took place. We weren’t going to shut up—this is America. (Danielle is Canadian.) It’s our God-given right to podcast obnoxiously about our enemies.

We renamed the podcast Streamiverse and pivoted to spite. From that day on, every episode has detailed Quibi’s combination of bad luck, bad press, and bad strategy. There is so much: the content, the user interface, the social media presence. We may have called it “a fat pig that needs to be slaughtered.”

So you can imagine our surprise when Katzenberg wanted to come on our podcast and have a little chat.

We scheduled it quickly, so that we wouldn’t lose our nerve, and J Katz wouldn’t realize he was about to waste 30 minutes on a Saturday talking to two idiots. When the day came, we were freaking. Rob drank two bourbons. Danielle cracked open a beer. When Katzenberg showed up to the Zoom call, he was still shrouded in Hollywood mystique, and by that we mean he “forgot” to turn his camera on so we couldn’t actually see his face. For all we know, it was a Katzenberg impersonator.

After eight of our allotted 30 minutes flew by without us asking a single question other than “How are you?” (Katzenberg speaks in paragraphs, not sentences), we knew we had to take back control. We finally got around to our first question: “What’s the most expensive mistake you’ve ever made?”

Katzenberg took this at face value, and launched into his regrets about launching the app during a pandemic. Which is fair, but also boring. We asked him about sending cease-and-desists to his fans. To his credit, he said it was a mistake, and took ownership of the mistake. We asked if he fired his lawyers after that, why people couldn’t take screenshots of Quibi, and whether he had actually listened to our podcast before agreeing to talk to us. (He had, alarmingly.)

Throughout the interview Katzenberg was polite, tolerant, and overall much nicer than he needed to be, considering the fact that we called him Shrek Daddy when introducing him. He was obviously also very savvy. He didn’t take our bait and basically gave us answers about stuff he wanted to talk about, regardless of the questions asked. We ended the interview respecting the hell out of him, and the Quibi execs, Shawna Thomas and Brian Tannenbaum, who helped set the call up. We invite you to listen to the entire awkward conversation. It is something.

In light of all this, we have pivoted once more. We now know what we’ve known all along: Only we can save Quibi. We are launching a laser-focused plan on how to rescue Quibi from its current turmoil. We’re doing this because after talking with the founder, it’s clear that no one else can. Our spite has taken us through a dark portal, and from there it can only go downhill. Instead, we will be advising Quibi on how to succeed, and for much less money than it pays its lawyers (zero). If, and ONLY IF, Quibi listens to our tough love advice, it will rise from its current sad position at No. 75 in the App Store. It will go from industry laughingstock to Hollywood golden child. It will go from fat pig to prized swine.

Probably. Or maybe it will just make another show about building fancy houses for dogs. (That’s actually real. It’s called Barkitecture.) We’re thrilled to find out.