Quibi Makes Moves To Counter Its Shortcomings
Tens of millions of Americans are either working at home or unemployed, or out of school. The time spent watching online entertainment has doubled during the pandemic, to eight hours daily. With such an enormous and captive audience, you would think it's an ideal time to launch a new streaming service.
Unless it's called Quibi.
In what is becoming 2020's rival to New Coke, Google Glass and the Facebook phone, the heavily-funded Quibi is struggling on multiple fronts: deficient subscriptions, poorly reviewed content, technical complaints, and unhappy advertisers.
The site's founders, Disney and DreamWorks veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg and eBay alumna Meg Whitman, promise a variety of changes to turn the platform around, including the elimination of one of Quibi's foundational features: that you can only use it on a mobile phone.
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Katzenberg and Whitman also say they underestimated how the pandemic would transform viewing habits. But Quibi nevertheless has come up short in its most important test: making a good first impression.
Rather than recommending Quibi shows, some social media users are posting some of Quibi's more risible content (a Twitter clip mocking a scene from its series "The Golden Arm" has more than 1.3 million views), and a number of critics have trashed the platform and its shows.
Quibi is short for "quick-bites," and its central premise is content delivered in compact installments running no more than 10 minutes on mobile phones. In addition to a variety of scripted series released in short chapters, the subscription service also has numerous news and reality programs.
The service launched in early April, and even though Quibi attracted prominent actors (Liam Hemsworth in "Most Dangerous Game," Sophie Turner in "Survive"), and $1.8 billion in funding, Quibi only could sign up a fraction of its projected subscribers, with 1.5 million on board so far. "They are below our very high expectations," Whitman told me in an interview today.
It also appears few people are now downloading the Quibi app. In data from the research firm Sensor Tower this week, the Quibi app was ranked No. 181, trailing Celebrity Look Alike and the game Hoop Stack.
Whitman said Quibi wasn't built for shelter-in-place living -- it was for on-the-job breaks, waiting for a doctor's appointment, standing in line at the bank. "We were never designed for at-home use," she said. Now, Whitman added, "Our No. 1 request from our customers is, 'How can we watch it at home?'" Quibi content is now becoming available on laptops and TVs, through AirPlay, Apple TV and Chromecast.
Whitman says Quibi's debut was also crippled when launch events and TV ads -- as in the canceled NCAA basketball tournament -- were scrapped by the pandemic. "But I'm actually glad we launched, because we're learning a ton," she said. "We're quite optimistic."
But the pandemic rationalization doesn't seem to have hurt other streaming content platforms. According to Bloomberg, the short video site TikTok is hiring 40,000 people thanks to surging users, and Netflix has been signing up millions of new subscribers.
Quibi's next challenge arrives when its trial subscribers have to start paying, after as many as three months of free service; after that it will cost $4.99 a month with ads and $7.99 without. But advertisers, who committed $150 million for Quibi spots promoting brands such as Taco Bell, Pepsi and Walmart, already are asking to defer payments, according to the Wall Street Journal.
One of Quibi's core programming ideas was "Daily Essentials," roundups of news, sports and lifestyle reporting. Katzenberg confessed to the New York Times that it's "not that essential."
Now the question is whether the same is true for Quibi itself.
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