What the Hell is Quibi and Will Anyone Actually Watch It?
If you follow entertainment news as fervently as I do, you’ll probably have at least a passing familiarity with the name Quibi. Perhaps you’ve seen the sudden glut of reporting on its original programming and the impressively major names it’s managed to hook. In the space of less than a year, Quibi has made announcements of upcoming programming created by and featuring the likes of Jason Blum, Guillermo del Toro, Catherine Hardwicke, Don Cheadle, Naomi Watts, Idris Elba, and Lena Waithe. Steven Spielberg has created a horror series that will only be available to watch after sunset. Chrissy Teigen will headline her own Judge Judy style court show, with her mother acting as bailiff. There will be a drama about the creation of Snapchat and the life of its founder, Evan Spiegel. All attention grabbing prospects, to be sure, but there is still one question to be answered: What the f*ck is Quibi?
Quibi (short for ‘quick bites’) was announced in late 2018 as the newest project of Jeffrey Katzenberg, with former Hewlett Packard CEO and Republican candidate for Governor of California Meg Whitman on board as CEO. The company have been extravagant in their public declarations of how they plan to upturn the world of content and the amount of money they’ll spend doing so. According to a report in Variety, Quibi plans to spend $1.1 billion commissioning original programming in its first year, totalling over 7,000 short form episodes of 10 minutes or less. They also claim to have already booked over $100 million in ad revenue. Quibi plans to launch with a price point of $4.99 a month (with ads - users will have to pay $7.99 a month for the ad-free version).
Quibi is primarily the brain child of one Jeffrey Katzenberg, a name that will be all too familiar to film lovers. Perhaps best known for his time as chairman of Walt Disney Studios during the company’s toughest time followed by the redefining era of the ’90s Renaissance, Katzenberg got his start at Paramount and co-founded Dreamworks SKG in 1994, taking charge of their animation department. He’s famed for his business savvy and infamous for his pettiness. You know how the villain in Shrek looks eerily like former Disney CEO Michael Eisner? You probably have Katzenberg to blame for that, not to mention the startling coincidence of Dreamworks releasing Antz right before Pixar could drop A Bug’s Life. Essentially, he’s an old-school Hollywood movie man who had new era instincts. So it’s not all that surprising to see him go full tech bro in 2019, but boy is it a risk to get into the streaming business with a whole new platform designed to be viewed exclusively on your phone.
That’s right: Quibi is for your mobile. This is a video service designed solely to appeal to your short term attention span and every cliché you’ve heard about the internet generation’s lack of focus and commitment, but this time legitimate movie makers are involved! It is kind of fascinating to see this platform gain such hype at a time when we’re all panicking about the potential loss of ‘the cinematic experience’, but there does seem to be some logic behind this idea. It seems silly and almost condescending on paper to put so much money into something that will centre on 10 minute bursts of content you watch on your phone while brushing your teeth or going to work, but isn’t that just how we watch things these days?
Kumail Nanjiani recently gave an interview where he talked about being told that kids of this generation don’t really care about going to the movies anymore because YouTube makes up the majority of their entertainment. It was the sort of generalization that’s easy to mock but nowadays has become tough to refute. Hell, I’m pushing 30 and talk about pop culture for a living, and most of my days’ viewing comes courtesy of short form stuff on YouTube I keep on in the background while writing my sizzling hot takes. I usually have YouTube playing on my phone when I’m washing my face in the morning or cooking in the kitchen. Perhaps I am the audience for Quibi and I just don’t like to think about it.
It sounds very radical, but Quibi will not be the first company to try a mobile first approach to entertainment. Remember go90? That was the video service and mobile app owned by Verizon that tried to offer millennials original content they could watch on their phones. They even attracted big talent like producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the Street Fighter and Transformers franchises, and the National Women’s Soccer League. Launched in 2015, go90 shut down three years later. Audiences just weren’t interested in what the platform had to offer, and they hadn’t even had to pay for it.
That may be a tough problem for Quibi to overcome. Sure, people are watching stuff on their phones now more than ever, but they don’t pay for YouTube. They’re already subscribing to Netflix and maybe Amazon (not to mention the upcoming Disney+) and may not want to justify another cost on top of that. The fear of Peak Streaming Service is real. Audiences are naturally set in their ways too. Why bother signing up and putting money down for a whole new way to watch things on your phone when you can just watch Binging With Babish stuff on YouTube for the eleventh time in a row?
Still, if nothing else, Quibi could prove to be a fascinating creative exercise. How do you adjust to telling stories in such a short form, far shorter than that of a typical television episode? At a time when Netflix and even HBO are happy to let shows run feature length episodes, there is something to be said in favour of brevity. Katzenberg certainly has the know-how to make something like this work, but audiences will need more than big names and a fun gimmick to sign onto Quibi. It’s also an ad-heavy platform, and personally, I think that will turn off people. We can’t get most users to turn off their Adblock, so why would they pay for videos full of ads?!
Quibi will launch in April 2020. Will you subscribe? Let us know in the comments.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.