Nat the start of three months ago, in early April, the $ 1.75 billion content experiment, known as Quibi, escaped its rocky and highly slandered promotional campaign, until its large-scale launch. The service offered a tsunami of celebrity shows divided into “quick bites” (hence, “qui-bi”) of 10 minutes or less: a talk show by Joe Jonas, a documentary about LeBron James̵
The service, the brainchild of DreamWorks Animation co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman – two billionaires deeply rooted in the Hollywood and Silicon Valley plant – was about to “be a huge home run or a big swing and a failure, “Media Analytics analyst Michael Goodman with Strategy Analytics told the Guardian. Given a string of bad news since its launch on April 6 – missed goals, executive starts, Katzenberg blaming the pandemic individually – and the end of his 90-day free trial with millions of subscribers less than expected, the stairs seemed decidedly inclined towards swing and miss. But while it is too early to declare the end of Quibi, it is still worth asking: the promise of the quick bite is already over And what went wrong?
Since its launch, Quibi has been hit by a string of disappointing news reports. The app staggered early, falling into the top 50 most downloaded within a week of its launch and attracted around 1.5 million active users by the end of May, according to the Wall Street Journal – a drop in the bucket compared to over 50 meters subscribers attracted to Disney +, which was launched in December 2019, and to the huge global users of 183 million Netflix (Quibi is only available in the United States and Canada). Most of those users participated in the free trial of the service, which ends this month (a subscription to Quibi costs $ 4.99 per month with advertising and $ 7.99 per month without). The company plans to land only 2 million paying customers by the end of the year, less than 30% of the first year target of 7.4 million subscribers.
The much smaller than expected subscriber base left the billion dollar experiment running out of cash; the Journal reported that Quibi was well on his way to spending $ 1 billion by the end of the third quarter of 2020 and although he raised another $ 750 million earlier this year, he would require another $ 200 million in new funding by the end of the year. second half of 2021 to stay afloat. In the meantime, tentpole advertising partners like Pepsi, Taco Bell, Anheuser-Busch and WalMart were trying to renegotiate their deals with Quibi based on pandemic success in their business and Quibi’s less than promised public.
Meanwhile, several unflattering reports have represented internal conflicts behind the scenes. The Wall Street Journal detailed the longstanding frictions between Katzenberg and Whitman’s employment relationship. Its brand marketing chief, Megan Imbres, kicked off in April – another high-profile executive release after the departures of daily content chief Janice Min and head of partnerships and advertising Tim Connolly last year. Staff reportedly “rebooted” Reese Witherspoon’s $ 6 million salary for voiceover work on six-minute episodes of the Fierce Queens nature series, as Quibi’s poor performance threatened layoffs, according to Page Six. (Witherspoon’s husband, Jim Toth, is the head of talent and content acquisition in the company.) Quibi’s signature “Turnstyle” technology, which allowed the content to flow from vertical view to landscape and vice versa on the phone , is linked to a patent case with a cashed hedge fund.
The bad press has filled a void of comments on Quibi’s real content, despite a list of over 50 original shows unveiled in its trial period, which the company itself seems to recognize: “Guys, we have a good show,” the Quibi account tweeted with a positive story about the most dangerous game, a film starring Liam Hemsworth divided into chapters: an ironic admission by a service whose intrinsic lack of sharing skills (the app did not allow screens, precluding memes) has suffocated a potential good hum.
Katzenberg blamed Quibi’s struggles over the pandemic – and, to be honest, it didn’t help implement a mobile-only service designed for interstitial moments on the troubled day of the week and marked with the power of the celebrity name to launch in a moment when Americans were quarantined with their televisions while celebrity culture was on fire. But attributing all of Quibi’s problems to the pandemic is “fallacious,” said Daniel D’Addario, Variety’s chief television critic who reviewed the debut list for the Quibi series. The content’s celebrity-covered strategy – Reese Witherspoon recounting a point on the female emancipation of the cheetah named Fierce Queens, Chrissy Teigen as judge Judy in the relationship court – was “extraordinarily unsuitable for the moment,” he told the Guardian, but “the format would have always been a disaster. “
In theory, Quibi endeavored to industrialize a new frontier of television: shortened narratives – that is, episodes of 15 minutes or less – in its shortest and most extended form. The concept isn’t entirely new for Hollywood – Netflix originals such as Special, Bonding and the comedy sketch series I Think You Dov Leave, as well as Nick Hornby’s state of the union on Sundance TV, compressed in 15-minute episodes – and has long been the base of YouTuber and creators with limited budgets (think of the Youtube mini-series of Issa Rae The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, its precursor of the HBO Insecure series). But Quibi’s tone was nothing more than redefining Hollywood’s corporate entertainment unit for the “bite”. “In five years, we want to get back on this stage and if we are successful, there will have been the film era, the television era and the Quibi era,” Katzenberg told a crowd in South by Southwest in 2019 ” What Google has to look for, Quibi will be a shortened video. “
But in practice, Quibi’s content seemed less revolutionary than the undercooked and slapping concepts that hit the viewer with sudden celebrity hits. The general theme was “celebrity names without thinking about what they would do interesting or new,” said D’Addario. His fragmented films and unwritten offers seemed “low-nutrient,” added D’Addario, and offered a small marginal advantage to the free celebrity fare on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or TikTok. Why pay for Quibi, when “if you want Chrissy Teigen snack content, its social media offers it to you without this kind of courtroom setup at first thought.”
Quibi’s experience was decidedly less than fresh thanks to the numerous obstacles integrated in the service: firstly, the limitation of the mobile phone alone, which precluded the display on a larger screen and also the possibility of sending text messages, scrolling or multi-task while watching the content offered to our fractured attention limits. The imposition of Quibi for mobile devices has particularly hampered the service since many Americans have been quarantined at home with the option of larger screens and ever-growing streaming services – Netflix and Hulu, of course, as well as Disney +, Apple TV + and the new HBO Max – to fill them.
Quibi’s business model has taken on an endless appetite for entertainment to the death, but its mandates, abbreviated, for mobile devices only, paid subscription, have taken on the fundamental choice of consumers accustomed to frenetic, constantly refreshing fun and expanding on demand and on phones with Youtube and TikTok, for free. “We are in a world where the viewer expects to have control over what, when, where, how they will look at the content and Quibi has taken away a lot of them,” said Goodman.
With the end of the three-month trial period, can Quibi turn the ship? “They are learning that the decisions they expected to hang their hat on are not the things consumers want,” said Goodman, who noted the sometimes quality of service content as a point in his favor; D’Addario pointed to Quibi’s quieter, confectionary and script-free options – Dishmantled, a cooking competition hosted by Tituss Burgess and the Gayme Show queer culture contest – as promising ideas for an app that becomes less laughable, the more you leans in messy and smudge-free fun.
Quibi’s saving grace could lie, ironically, in denying what was to be its turning point: the new abbreviated service for mobile devices of the streaming wars only. Quibi has already indicated to move away from the part dedicated exclusively to mobile devices, since the company is in negotiation with Amazon Fire and Roku to bring the app on TV. And Quibi could move away from the rigid 10-minute caps, allowing viewers to segment the shows as they please and the creators more room for maneuver. Which means that Quibi’s survival may not depend on becoming the new Netflix, but on becoming Netflix – perhaps a difficult pill to swallow for a service that aims to become his verb for a short view. “They are learning that the decisions they expected to hang their hat on are not the things consumers want,” said Goodman. “It’s not a pandemic question – it’s a question of: do consumers want it?”