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High-Profile Streaming Service Signs Off
Modern viewers confused by the welter of over-the-top streaming services vying for our eyeballs have at least one less to worry about now. Quibi—the high-profile, mobile-device-only service run by Jeffrey Katzenberg (former chairman of Walt Disney Studios, co-founder of DreamWorks Pictures) and Meg Whitman (former CEO of Hewlett Packard)—just launched in April. But last week, six months into its young lifespan, the fledgling company announced it would be shutting down “on or about” Dec. 1.
The service was aimed at younger viewers, who—founders felt, anyway—only liked watching short-form videos on smartphones. Quibi (short for “quick bites”) produced TV shows in 7-to-10-minute increments and came up with such high-tech “innovations” as videos that could be viewed in both landscape (wide) or portrait (tall) format. Amazingly, the company scared up a billion dollars in start-up financing and lured such Hollywood luminaries as Steven Spielberg (who conceived a horror anthology that could only be accessed when it was dark out), Catherine Hardwicke (the Twilight director was developing a “high school sci-fi story”) and Justin Roiland (the “Rick & Morty” creator was threatening to dip his toe into claymation).
It seemed like an bold idea. The first week of its release, the service’s app rocketed to number 11 on the Google Play store. One week later it had dropped out of the top 50. By the middle of the summer, the company admitted it had about 1.3 million active users, a number that Katzenberg conceded was “not close to what we wanted.” By the time of Quibi’s October obituary, the number of subscribers was hovering somewhere around 500,000.
The reasons for Quibi’s quick and decisive failure are no doubt myriad. Katzenberg, for his part, is quick to blame the worldwide outbreak of COVID. Undoubtedly, the timing of Quibi’s release was lousy. Katzenberg and his investors imagined millions of Millennials and Gen Zers poking at their iPhones—as they lingered in high school hallways waiting for class to start or waited in traffic in the back of an Über—and eagerly devouring a 10-minute action movie starring Liam Hemsworth. But people have been more or less stuck at home all year thanks to the pandemic, and they have all the time in the world to binge-watch entire TV seasons on their actual televisions. In that sense, yes, Quibi was as much a victim of the coronavirus as the thousands of other, considerably less corporate, businesses that have struggled to stay afloat this year.
But is timing and circumstance the sole reason for Quibi’s downfall? … Probably not. The truth is it’s extremely difficult to market things to the younger generations. They are notoriously resistant to any influence that isn’t texted directly to them on their phones through social media. It’s easy to see why Hollywood thought they could cater to these kids. After all, they spend countless hours watching “unboxing” videos on YouTube or Minecraft gameplay footage on Twitch. How discerning could they be? But if tweens, teens and twentysomethings are perfectly content to spend hours watching “DrLupo” play Fortnite—an activity they could actually do themselves—why would they be interested in putting in the effort to view a serialized weekly TV show? The other salient point is that YouTube, Twitch and countless other content providers are free. Why would young people fork out $4.99 a month ($7.99 without ads) to watch a “Steven Spielberg” show. Has anyone under the age of 35 even heard of Steven Spielberg?
That leaves ordinary, 35-and-up consumers—people with actual paychecks who drive the bulk of the American economy anyway. But with Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Disney+, CBS All Access and others already on their plates, few older consumers even bothered to figure out what the hell Quibi was anyway. And while splashy experiments by Hollywood A-listers were teased in Quibi’s lineup, monthly viewers mostly ended up with ordinary cable TV fodder: “Murder House Flip” (a reality show in which owners makeover houses in which people have been killed), “You Ain’t Got These” (an unscripted series about “sneaker culture”), “Die Hart” (actor Kevin Hart pretending to be actor Kevin Hart trying to break into action movies), “The Fugitive” (a remake of the 1963 TV series and the 1993 movie—only, you know, chopped into tiny pieces).
So long, Quibi. At least it was a quick death. [ ]