Quibi(tes) the Dust

Streaming service app Quibi announced it’s shutdown last Tuesday after just six months of being available for consumer download.

The service, led by former Ebay chief Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg from Dreamworks Animation was built to succeed. How could it do anything but with an almost $1.7 billion dollar investment from the likes of Disney and NBCUniversal along with Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan? The app was also heavily promoted through social media and, according to Katzenberg, “was founded to create the next generation of storytelling.”

After COVID-19 hit, the app could not have had a better debut in April. With everyone sent and stuck at home for three months, Quibi’s growth was expected to skyrocket. Starting at $8 per month (cheaper than Netflix and Hulu, honestly speaking), users could watch something for less than 10 minutes and, then, move onto the next show. Above the surface, the app executives seemed to have a perfect plan: Capitalize on fleeting attention spans with original concepts. With stars already well-off in the entertainment and music businesses.

Show lineups included. Darren Criss’ Royalties; Joe Jonas’ A Cup of Joe; Dummy starring Anna Kendrick; Survival with Sophie Turner; these are but a few morsels of what Quibi had to offer. But one of the biggest headliners of the app was timely drama #FreeRayshawn, where actors Laurence Fishbourne and Jasmine Cephas Jones won Emmy Awards for their performances. After the big score, the app should’ve only gotten better from there. Only, what if wasn’t going to?

To put it very bluntly, critics were either indifferent towards or totally despised Quibi. For one, the app could not be casted onto bigger devices and browser access was denied. In other words, you needed a smartphone to watch shows. A far cry from other streaming services, where, despite expenses, one can cast to any device to your heart’s content. Even with the Turnstyle Mode (where one could switch from portrait or landscape to watch), it was clear there were setbacks.

Another problem was content quality. Despite Emmy-award winning #FreeRayshawn, other shows seemed to either be repurposed plot lines from other show ideas or, quite simply, too ill-conceived for shorter formats. One reviewer on CNET wrote about how he enjoyed the comedies over the frantic, quick-paced dramas because they were used to watching similar shorts found on YouTube. Without the appeal of watchable, interesting shows, the app struggled to regain its footing. And never seemed to get back up.

In the end, failure to garner subscribers became it’s undoing. Projections estimated over 7 million would have tuned in by the end of this year and 5.6 million joined when the app first launched it’s trial period. However, the end result is crushing with only 500,000 still subscribed to the app. These numbers, along with unspoken problems in higher management, will lead the app into shutdown effective December 1st.

What’s Next?

At this point, no one knows. But one big takeaway from this short-lived melodrama is simple: Quality matters. Even with all the investments and celebrity content Quibi had in the bag, some shows make the hour-long journey (and the endless commercial breaks) worth it.

But watching in Portrait Mode might be a cool idea…

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