Updated: Dec 15, 2020
In a year of unpredictable events, this is perhaps the least surprising of all.
After six short months of serving 5-10 minute ‘chapters’ of movies, Quibi is shutting down for good. An attempt at finding investors to keep this $1.75 billion dollar startup in production failed, and now hundreds are out of work.
The company launched as a streaming service catering to those on-the-go. The ‘turnstyle’ technology would allow users to watch videos on the service in both portrait and landscape modes, offering movies broken into chapters, unscripted shows, documentaries, and daily news and entertainment. Sound familiar yet?
Upon its formation, headlines touted the large amount of A-list collaborations, which gave a strong indication of the gratuitous investment in production. Liam Hemsworth, Christoph Waltz, Chrissy Teigen, Laurence Fishburne, and Kevin Hart are just a few of the names used to draw audiences to the service.
Can we see where this is heading yet?
The pedigree of writers, directors, and producers on these projects ranged from Sam Raimi, Jennifer Lopez, one or two of the Jonas brothers, Idris Elba, and Zac Efron. With millions and millions paid out for the chance of incorporating A-list talent in any shape or form, Quibi set itself up for its demise before productions even began.
Because streaming services, just like Quibi, already exist. Quibi’s direct competitors were not only the firmly established Youtube or Netflix but also the underappreciated pause button. These bite-sized shows were for people on the move, providing them digestible and sometimes absorbable content, much like a Buzzfeed video. This year has also seen the launch of Peacock, HBO Max, and Disney +. Quibi was not just designed to interrupt, but also to be one of the same. But with commuters on the go tuning into a tv show or movie on a streamer, what stopped them from pausing their shows and tuning into a Quibi quickie?
Upon its release, there was an overwhelming cascade of shoulder shrugs. Its content wasn’t particularly well-received, but still managed to garner a few Emmy nods, and subscriptions purchased were minimal. Quibi executives Meg Whitman (CEO) and Jeffrey Katzenberg (founder/chairman) have since partially blamed the pandemic for the failed launch and subsequent folding of the company. While this may be true, and Quibi may have held onto the life raft for a couple more months had life resumed as normal, the reality is that the streaming service failed to pivot when all signs were pointing to adapting to the moment.
What was most troubling about the service when the pandemic struck was that it was never made available on TV screens. At a time when people have been at home more than ever, the service failed to provide consumers with another way to watch. Not only that, but the marketing was so confusing for the service that they could’ve just been a subsidiary of a larger streamer. Why get a Quibi when Netflix has the same, if not similar shows? Why watch a video on my phone when I can turn the TV on and have a superior viewing experience? I don’t want to have to watch a show with headphones on!
Finally, the largest conundrum that the service didn’t account for was that its content was the same as the rest. There was very little, if anything, differentiating its shows from other services, and it didn’t have the brand support that Peacock and the flailing, though totally fantastic, HBO Max have had upon launching. The bite-sized movie chapters are just feature films sliced and diced for no reason when the aforementioned, and monstrously unrecognized, pause button can accomplish the same thing. If you’re sitting in the New York subway for example, and want to watch a show for ten minutes, why not listen to a podcast or watch a bit of a show on Hulu instead? When you get to your stop, press pause, and Siri will bring it back up for you later.
Quibi offered very little to differentiate itself from the grown-ups in the field. It relied on drawing the masses to its casting and attachment choices when most already exist in the TV landscape. You want to watch Idris Elba? Fine, but you know he has a few shows and movies on Netflix you can check out. Also, why not just watch five seasons of Luther instead? If you really want to watch a reality show with Zac Efron, just head to Netflix! It all exists already.
The lesson here is that if you want to disrupt, then you need to differentiate. The question is and has always been, why did Quibi want to exist? Pixar has already mastered the short-form by including delightfully reflective animations prior to their movies. HBO Max now provides short-film categories to check out festival favorites. The Criterion Channel has an array of award-winning shorts that are intricate and thought-provoking. Disney+ can give you the shorts you already know and love.
What Quibi could’ve done differently is offer a unique outlook on the short form and how it can provide an introduction or compliment a film or tv show. Or perhaps it should’ve just existed as a production company, selling its projects to streamers, thereby paying its investors back without folding completely. I’m sure these ideations were discussed and tossed around the boardroom because who knows what obligations those contracts enforced. The value of this $1.75 billion company was that you could watch your screen sideways, and enjoy A-list talent in bite-sized shows that could’ve existed on any Network or streamer.
Quibi didn’t disrupt anything, and that is the issue. It just added to the noise until no one was left listening.