The on-the-go streaming service, Quibi (short for ‘quick bites’) recently shut down, due to a lack of downloads and traction. Quibi was intended to be a ‘bite size’ streaming network with short episodes (under ten minutes each) that could be watched by commuters; and, it was only available as a mobile app. Shows on Quibi starred names like Chrissy Teigen, Chris Hemsworth, Sophie Turner, and Anna Kendrick. They had a cooking show, a true crime show, and a reality show, to name a few. They even did a remake of The Princess Bride, a cult classic (and my favorite movie), but it was all filmed from home by different actors—giving the impression of a bad Instagram sketch—while paying homage to the original cast with a sidebar on the screen.
After its launch in April, Quibi offered users a three-month free trial before having to commit to a subscription, which is unusually long compared with other streaming services. It’s almost as if Quibi knew they’d have to up the offer to keep viewers interested. This didn’t work, however, because only 7% of initial downloaders chose to subscribe to Quibi after the trial was up (Swell Entertainment). Founders Meg Whitman (former CEO of Hewlett Packard) and Jeffrey Katzenberg (co-founder of Dreamworks Animation) claimed they faced setbacks with the app due to COVID-19. Because Quibi was aimed at young millennials on the go, since everyone was at home, naturally, Quibi wouldn’t be as attractive (NBC News). But if Quibi is supposed to be a streaming service, where people watch shows they love—no matter how short or long the episodes—wouldn’t that have made Quibi downloads go up, not down? People were spending more time on their phones (albeit at home in their sweatpants) during the initial shutdowns in April, not less.
Before their launch, Quibi aimed to secure 7.4 million subscribers, but in June, just 2 months after launch, they were on track to retain only about 2 million. In 2018, Whitman and Katzenberg received $1 billion in funding from big Hollywood studios and an additional $750 million shortly before Quibi went live, spending $100 million of that on advertising (Variety). Quibi officially announced their shut down on October 21, and said they will close the app in December. This means that nearly $2 billion dollars went down the drain.
Why did Quibi fail? Was the idea bad, poorly executed, or was it just bad marketing? Before hearing about their downfall, I had never heard of Quibi besides seeing confusing ads on social media that carried no indication of Quibi being a streaming service.
Quibi’s early marketing strategy was centered around their quirky company name. Sophie Turner starred in an ad where she said, “so they call a trainer a sneaker, a jumper a sweater, and a few minutes a…Quibi?” and then proceeded to watch a clip from her Quibi show on her phone. This ad was confusing and lackluster, and made it seem like Quibi’s marketing strategy relied on big name celebrities and easily recognizable faces, rather than attempting to promote (or clearly describe) the platform itself.
The one unique feature of Quibi was the way viewers could switch seamlessly from portrait mode to landscape mode, with a differently zoomed view of the scene for each orientation. App reviewer Amanda Golka, also known as Swell Entertainment, claimed that in her own experience, this feature “got old pretty fast.” While it is unique and well done, changing orientations seems to be the only defining feature of the app, besides the short episodes. And clearly, it wasn’t enough to keep people interested.
The short episode format was the backbone of Quibi, and what the founders thought would set it apart from other streaming services. But there are plenty of other platforms that allow for the same short content that are wildly successful, like Youtube and Tiktok. TikTok has content of 15 seconds, or at most 1 minute, and it is one of the most popular apps that exists. Granted, TikTok’s major target audience is Gen Z, but millennials use it as well. While it’s true that our attention spans are short, we want good content. Making a platform with ten-minute videos, featuring big name actors to grab young people’s attention is a little cringey—for lack of a better word.
It didn’t help that Quibi made it difficult for viewers to share content from the shows online. Viewers couldn’t take screenshots of the episodes, or access Quibi from a computer, or watch the shows on their TVs at home (Swell Entertainment). One of the best ways to get the word out about a new show is to share stills, gifs, or videos of it on Twitter and Instagram, and because that wasn’t possible, even if a viewer really loved a Quibi show, there wouldn’t be an easy way to let several people know about it at once. This frustrated a lot of viewers, and probably contributed to the lack of subscription renewals and downloads following the launch. It also restricted modes of free advertising, where viewers, rather than the company, could promote Quibi content.
Several factors went into Quibi’s downfall, and big name celebrities weren’t enough to prop it up, or break its fall; it just wasn’t attractive enough. The content on the platform should have been the chief concern—and the major draw—not the quirkiness of the platform itself. Quibi gives the impression of trying too hard to be hip and appealing to young viewers. And clearly, the content wasn’t good enough to keep viewers coming back. The only content on Quibi was their original shows, with each episode a short 10 minutes or less. The main pull of many other streaming services is the variety of content they offer. Netflix features more than Netflix originals, Disney Plus has nostalgic movies and TV shows from our childhoods, and Hulu has new episodes of shows currently airing on cable every week. Quibi only had…Quibi. Are there just too many streaming services that people are already spending their money on? Are Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus more worth their prices? Maybe this was the main reason for Quibi’s downfall, or maybe it was a combination of awkward advertising, celebrity brown nosing, and mediocre content. Either way, just like their videos, Quibi’s bite-sized lifespan is over.
Several factors went into Quibi’s downfall, and big name celebrities weren’t enough to prop it up, or break its fall; it just wasn’t attractive enough.