2020 afforded us with several unprecedented challenges and disappointments, and the short-form video streaming platform Quibi is just another name on that list. Since its US debut in April, the $1.75 billion pet project of DreamWorks Animation co-founder, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, Meg Whitman, has already run out of fuel.
The service began with some of the biggest names in the industry — Joe Jonas’ talk show, a dystopian thriller starring Liam Hemsworth, Sophia Turner’s plane crash survival story, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Lopez and more-all broken down into digestible “quick bites” (hence the name Qui-bi) of 10 minutes or less, at the touch of your finger.
Launching with a whopping 50 shows (Chrissy’s Court, Shape of Pasta, Most Dangerous Game) while promising a regular roll-out of fresh content, the streamer brought in quickly consumable tidbits, with premiere Hollywood quality.
Which begs the question, why did Quibi fail after all? Katzenberg would like us to believe that it’s the pandemic, however, there seems to be more to that story.
A not so good start
Touted as a revolutionary mobile-oriented video streaming service, Quibi came into the picture earlier this year and easily became the talk of the town. Amidst mixed reviews, the app was off to a strong debut as the fourth most downloaded app on the App store. However, it didn’t take long for things to fall apart, and so the spiral began.
Its name was nowhere to be seen on the top 50 charts in the days to come and only attracted about 1.3 million active users by the end of May. According to the Wall Street Journal, by June the startup was dangerously close to missing its subscriber goal (approx 7 million) for the first year by more than 5 million.
Even among these, there were many who had a one-year free subscription through a deal with T-Mobile and many who were holding free trials. So it was unclear exactly as to how many subscribers actually translated into profits for the company.
To add fuel to fire, ongoing strife between Whitman and Katzenberg didn’t really help the situation. Whitman had labelled Katzenberg as ‘dictatorial’, who treated her like one of his underlings and wasn’t ready to relinquish control or let her do her job as the CEO.
She was worried that her relationship with Katzenberg had worsened to the point that it could jeopardize the company’s future. And well, the rest is history.
The pandemic is to blame
“You leave the house every morning with a little TV in your pocket. It’s called your smartphone. During the day, you have these in-between moments. Ten minutes here, 15 minutes there, where you want to see something great.” – Whitman
In an interview with the New York Times Katzenberg attributed Quibi’s rocky start to the ongoing pandemic. From the very beginning Quibi’s business model aimed for those “in-between” and on the go moments that busy schedules afford. That fraction of free time available during the daily commute to the office, bathroom and lunch breaks, was to be the primary space for the platform to plant its roots.
But with the majority of the population confined to their homes, the service wasn’t able to strike the sought after chord with the target audience. The pandemic definitely played a role in the way things turned out, but it needs to be kept in mind that screen time numbers since the pandemic began have been hitting the roof.
According to the Washington Post, people saw a shocking increase in their weekly screen time reports. With nothing left to do, many have sought comfort in the glow of their small screens. This proved to be a massive success story for streaming platforms, with Netflix recording a steller 16 million new subscribers worldwide in April itself.
Let me grab a screenshot!
“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus. Everything.” – Katzenberg
After Katzenberg’s statement hit the public sphere, several dissatisfied customers rebutted his remark and pointed out their issues with the app, one of the major ones being the lack of shareability. One of Quibi’s biggest mistake was that it did not allow users to share videos or images from the app to social media, leaving customers dissatisfied.
Though screenshots weren’t allowed initially, the service tried to reverse that move by enabling the feature later on. However, by then it was too late, with no salvation in sight. Since no apparatus was provided with which the content could go viral, the move affected the company as well. With no memes, trending hashtags, it relied almost entirely on its own marketing devices to drive awareness.
On top of that, Quibi videos could only be watched on smartphones until very recently, when the company finally added the option of casting content to the TV with Apple Airplay or Chromecast-enabled devices. But the service still lacks compatibility with Roku, Amazon Fire, or Android TV.
Where is the company now?
The platform recently announced that it was shutting down all operations, admitting defeat in its struggle to consistently add new subscribers. It is now looking to sell off its assets or the service entirely, the latter move proving highly unsuccessful so far.
Quibi had been looking into various “strategic options” with a possible sale in mind. Katzenberg recently approached Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services, Eddy Cue, regarding a sales pitch. However, the deal didn’t pan out.
Apart from Apple, the company has already been rejected by WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar and Facebook app chief Fidji Simo. The service initially brought in content creators based on a limited contract of two years, after which they were allowed to license their content to other platforms. This is part of the reason why the service faced rejection.