The new streaming service is off to a lukewarm start, but its existence is further proof of the growing influence of video.
Sound the trumpets, raise the banners and prepare a royal feast, because after long last, Quibi, the highly-anticipated new streaming video service, is finally here!
After two years of development and nearly $2 billion in venture capital investment — you read that correctly, $2 billion, with a “B” — entertainment industry veterans Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman have finally revealed Quibi, their (supposedly) revolutionary new video streaming platform.
And it’s… fine, I guess? It’s fine. Some of the content is pretty cool, specifically the revamped version of Punk’d, this time featuring Chance the Rapper in the role Ashton Kutcher famously once occupied.
But for the most part, Quibi is underwhelming. Not bad, per se, but certainly not the kind of groundbreaking debut you’d expect from one of the most star-studded, highly-funded product launches in the history of the internet. Its lukewarm start is a testament to the fact that building great products is about more than just getting a bunch of smart people in the same room and throwing a bunch of money at them. But it’s also proof that the streaming video market still has some growing to do.
My skepticism about Quibi stems from the fact that it is attempting to specialize in short- to medium-length mobile video content, a market that only a few companies have successfully cracked. (Quibi is short for “quick bites.” Very clever.) Instagram has had trouble bringing people to its Instagram TV feature — only 7 million of Instagram’s more than 1 billion global users have downloaded the standalone IGTV app since it was released in June 2018. And the OG short-form video app, Vine (RIP), was killed off in 2016, shortly after it was acquired by Twitter.
And yet TikTok, the short-form video platform out of China, is the fastest-growing social network in the world. More than 1 billion people have downloaded the app in the last year and a half. Snapchat’s Discover feature remains popular among Gen Z users, meanwhile, especially during the corona pandemic.
So there is a market for this kind of content, but it’s hard to carve out a niche. Quibi is hoping to attract viewers by upping the ante in terms of production value. Each video is a maximum of only 10 minutes, but they’re produced with the polish of a network television show.
The emphasis on production quality is understandable given the founders’ background. Katzenberg was a hotshot Hollywood studio exec, working at Paramount, Disney and DreamWorks. Whitman, Quibi’s CEO, has worked for some of the largest tech companies in the world, including eBay and HP. They are used to going big, and it shows with Quibi.
What Quibi needs to be successful is that breakthrough TV show that generates tons of social media chatter and compels people to buy a subscription. For Netflix, it was House of Cards. More recently, it’s been Tiger King, which has become a full-blown phenomenon amid quarantine. HBO always seems to have a signature show in rotation, whether it’s The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm or Insecure.
Quibi’s series are decent, but none of them rise to the level of the shows listed above, and recent history shows that achieving this kind of success requires an organic creative process. Apple invested hundreds of millions into creating content for and marketing its new Apple TV+ streaming service, recruiting some of the most famous TV actors of all time — such as Steve Carrell and Jennifer Aniston — to star in its original series. But only 10 percent of Apple device owners have signed up for the service.
Quibi shows are only available on mobile devices, but the content seems to be written and produced in a style better suited for viewing on a laptop or an over-the-top device, such as a Roku or Apple TV. Or maybe people want to watch premium content specifically on their phones and that’s where the opportunity lies. The mobile video space is fickle, as history has proven.
A bigger issue is that Quibi has no social connectivity. There’s no easy way to share content to your social streams, or to take screenshots of series and turn them into memes, an essential part of growing an audience in the social era.
This feels like a mistake.
Quibi’s competition is stiff. But that there are so many companies getting into high-quality streaming video proves that the market is a lucrative one. Who will be the winner, though, remains to be seen.