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Has Quibi Bitten Off More Than It Can Chew?

Short-form video site Quibi launched on April 6th, 2020 (Photo:Quibi)
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With most of the country sheltering in place, people are spending more time streaming than ever before, which makes the timing of today's launch of the short-form video site Quibi brilliant... or bonkers.

Former Walt Disney Studios and DreamWorks Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman raised $1.8 billion for their platform, which delivers its episodes in short installments, or quick bites (hence the name Quibi).

Quibi's shows include dramas, comedies, reality programs, sports, documentaries and even video meditations. Katzenberg and Whitman hired a lot of recognizable creators and actors to produce the shows including Jennifer Lopez, LeBron James, Steven Spielberg, Liam Hemsworth, Reese Witherspoon and Sophie Turner.

Unlike most major Hollywood studios, Quibi has hired a diverse range of storytellers, both in front of and behind the camera. Writer Lena Waithe (Queen & Slim, Master of None), for example, has a documentary series about sneaker culture called You Ain't Got These.

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But at a time when many consumers are watching streaming entertainment on their laptops and TV monitors while they have way too much free time, Quibi's typically 8-minute-long episodes can only be watched on mobile phones or, for the dozen folks who still own them, iPads.

Subscribers get the first three months for free then pay $5 a month (with ads) or $8 (without).

Short-form video site Quibi launched on April 6th, 2020 (Photo: Quibi)

Katzenberg and Whitman have said they didn't postpone Quibi's launch (although the coronavirus forced the cancelation of their launch party) because they believe potential subscribers are not only cooped up but also could use some short breaks during the day.

Even if Quibi was not debuting in the middle of a pandemic, is it something that actually stands apart? The earliest reviews, both from professional critics and some of the members of the Horn household, would suggest the answer is... not always.

A brief search into the history of some of Quibi's first-out-of-the-gate programming reveals that a fair amount of the content is essentially thrift shop: shows rejected by other producers. Other series are retreads, like new episodes of the reality shows Punk'd and Singled Out.

What's more, the intentionally brief length of Quibi episodes means that every dramatic series installment concludes with some sort of dime-novel cliffhanger, which can grow tiresome fast.

And watching a video meditation show like The Daily Chill on your iPhone while Slack messages pop up every minute isn't exactly calming.

Even with its deep war chest, Quibi faces steep competition now and in the near future. On top of new streaming sites from Disney and Apple, NBC Universal and HBO will soon introduce their own platforms.

Unlike Quibi, you don't have to use your phone to watch any of them -- and most of the shows run longer than a few minutes.

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