It was the evening of March 17 when Rob Dezendorf and Danielle Gibson, the hosts of Quibi fan podcast “Quibiverse,” received a cease-and-desist letter from the streaming service’s lawyers. A week or so earlier, they did notice Quibi’s privacy lawyer had taken an interest in the show, but assumed it was no big deal considering that executives, industry insiders and media outlets were also following them. Turns out, it was.
Gibson and Dezendorf were 17 episodes into the podcast when Quibi threw them a curveball. “They were like, ‘Well, you can’t use the name Quibi, you can’t tell anyone that you’re about Quibi, you can talk about Quibi, but no one can know through your title and you can’t have any artwork that resembles our stuff,’” Dezendorf told HuffPost over video chat. He said they had no choice but to shut everything down and considered canceling the show.
“It just felt so surreal to get a cease-and-desist from a billion-dollar company, about our fan podcast, in the midst of a global health crisis,” Gibson added snarkily of the unfortunate timing.
HuffPost reached out to Quibi for comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.
Quibi ― short for “quick bites” ― is a new streaming platform created by Hollywood executive and DreamWorks Animation co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and former eBay and Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman. They raised over $1 billion to create and launch their venture, with help from big-name studios like Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures, WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS. The service offers short-form video series designed to play in full-screen portrait or landscape modes on mobile phones. It’s targeted at viewers who have 10 or so minutes to spare, such as commuters and others on the go.
Except nobody is going anywhere right now.
Quibi launched on April 6 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of people aren’t currently commuting to work. No one is picking up their kids from school. No one has in-between moments — except perhaps when they’re waiting to get into the grocery store — and if they do, they’re most likely scrolling through Instagram or watching some sort of content on their big-screen TV at home.
“I can’t crowd around my phone with my husband or whoever and watch ‘Most Dangerous Game.’ I’m not going to do that,” Gibson said, referencing the Liam Hemsworth-led Quibi show. “Now they announced that they’re fast-tracking to be able to cast to your TVs, but honestly is it too little too late? I think so.”
In Gibson’s eyes, Quibi, in general, is too little too late. Once she and Dezendorf received that scolding from the company, they rethought their initial goal and came back with a vengeance under a new name and Twitter handle: “Streamiverse.” Although they still dissect everything about Quibi, they’re no longer trying to amp up the service. Actually, they’re out for blood.
“We decided, ‘You know what? We’re not gonna let a billion-dollar company bully us. We’re not going to let them get us down. We’re gonna rise above this,’” Gibson said, with Dezendorf joking, “We consider ourselves the Joe Exotic to Carole Baskin [in this case].”
Perhaps their humorous take on their legal situation stems from the fact that Gibson, 31, is a comedian from Upright Citizens Brigade who wrote and produced for HQ Trivia before she decided to work at a tech company (which she’d prefer not to name). That’s where she met co-worker Dezendorf, 27, a former freelance cinematographer, editor and producer who also pivoted to a new career. They immediately bonded over Quibi.
“It just seemed like an incredible venture that could either be spectacular or a huge failure,” Gibson told HuffPost, admitting that she followed news around the development of the platform for months until she decided she wanted to start a podcast about it. Dezendorf was, of course, down to produce.
And so their audio partnership began when the first episode of “Quibiverse” dropped on Feb. 24, six weeks before the service’s launch date. They deemed their listeners “Quibillionaires” and quickly picked up steam, discussing everything from Quibi’s marketing strategies to its bonkers lineup of talent in daily 10-minute episodes. But since that cease-and-desist letter, Gibson, Dezendorf and their disciples, now called the “Streamillionaires,” have become cold-hearted critics.
“This podcast is now strictly about spite and revenge,” Gibson said. “No one’s watching Quibi and it’s sinking like a stone on the app store ranking, but it’s current so, yes, we’ll talk about it. But, I mean, have you heard of this fabulous other streaming service called Peacock that will be Quibi’s direct competition? Now that’s a streaming service I think we should boost up and talk about.”
Dezendorf said more and more people are jumping on board the “Streamiverse” bandwagon, even stars whom the hosts promised to keep anonymous.
“We’ve gotten messages from celebrities because they want to talk shit about Quibi,” Gibson said. “Everyone wants to shit on Quibi, but we’re the only ones who can do it because we don’t care about selling a show to them. Truly, the reason celebrities don’t want to be revealed is they still think, like, ‘Maybe I can sell a show to Quibi and make a little money off a sinking ship before the well runs dry.’”
Compared to the extraordinary November launch of Disney+ (they picked up 10 million subscribers on the first day), Quibi limped out of the gate in early April. Only 1.7 million consumers downloaded the Quibi app in its first week, and that’s after Katzenberg and Whitman offered a 90-day free trial. (Once the trial expires, monthly plans will range from $4.99 with ads to $7.99 for the ad-free option.) Yes, Quibi aims to accomplish something very different than Disney+ does (and the latter also had built-in audiences), but those numbers pretty much show that most people, especially while quarantined, would prefer to watch content on their television screens than on their smartphones.
Although the platform boasts A-listers like Hemsworth, Jennifer Lopez, Chrissy Teigen, Sophie Turner, Will Forte, LeBron James and Nicole Richie, most of Quibi’s 40-plus debut shows and docu-series have received pretty abysmal reviews. One mind-boggling clip that made the rounds ― of Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan playing a woman obsessed with her golden arm in Sam Raimi’s anthology series “50 States of Fright” ― left people questioning whether it was actually real.
“That clip of the golden arm was the only viral moment they’ve had, and it’s because someone had to film a phone with another phone to put it onto Twitter because they don’t allow screenshots,” Gibson said of Quibi’s circulation techniques. “And I guarantee you they probably sent that Twitter user a cease-and-desist, even though it’s getting them attention.”
Time will tell how successful Quibi is, but the second-week numbers seem to show a lack of engagement. According to Apple app store reviews, users aren’t into all the ads and feel the platform doesn’t support binge watching, as it releases only a few episodes at a time. Still, others rave about the “impressive” library of content and the micro-length of the shows.
For Dezendorf and Gibson, though, it’s only a matter of time before Quibi falls apart.
“We are just watching with bated breath,” Gibson said, “and we will dance on Quibi’s grave.”
UPDATE: May 8 ― A few weeks after this story was published, “Streamiverse” hosts Rob Dezendorf and Danielle Gibson dared Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg to appear on their podcast to hash out details of the cease-and-desist letter his company sent to them. Surprisingly, he accepted the challenge, and publicly apologized in a four-part interview.
“It was a mistake,” Katzenberg said. “It was lawyers doing what they believe they are supposed to do in protecting intellectual properties and copyrights and all of that stuff. As you know, that happened right in the middle of our launch,” he added, “and it never made it to me ’til after the fact.”