Quibi Quickly Bites the Dust
Quibi was founded on the belief that people need, want, and are willing to pay for high-production value, short-form content that’s viewable on a mobile screen. Six months later, that idea hasn’t played out. In December, the app will be shutting down, taking with it millions of dollars in investment. Over the past decade, platforms like Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube have changed consumer expectations around video, especially video that’s available for free. Rather than adapting to the ecosystem created by on-demand video, Quibi sought to upend it, creating a serial format that banked on novelty and talent rather than true originality. Format alone, especially when priced at a premium, is not enough for a platform to succeed.
Despite the proliferation of options for video content that we’ve seen in the past few years, most shows stick to the rules established by broadcast television — 20 to 50 minute program blocks, with a beginning, middle and end. Seasons are shorter than those of traditional television, but the basic content is the same. The same goes for film, which looks the same whether it’s distributed digitally or theatrically. (Movies shot on iPhones like Sean Baker’s Tangerine and Steven Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird are exceptions, but content-wise, they’re unexceptional.) The long-running success of shows like Friends and The Office, both of which are wildly popular with Gen-Z, is perhaps due in part to their predictable structures and deep library of seasons.
But instead of attempting to court that young demographic which might be more receptive to the change of a new viewing format, Quibi seemed to be all over the map, with content designed to appeal to everyone and no one. (A Kevin Hart action-comedy show, a Liam Hemsworth-helmed thriller, a sneaker culture docu-series from Lena Waithe, a travel show featuring Joe Jonas.) Engaging emerging digital creators with followings, for whom Quibi would represent an opportunity for advancement (and bigger budgets), likely would have made more sense than attempting to compress Hollywood stars into the confines of a mobile aspect ratio and 10-minute episodes. Digital creators might also have helped the app attract an audience of younger viewers already accustomed to mobile viewing.
As recently pointed out in a piece from the Los Angeles Times, Quibi gave creators the ability to retain ownership of their projects, a rarity in the uneven power structures of the broad streaming universe. One example of how this plays out typically comes from the Quibi library: Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings, hosts of The Nod podcast, which they pitched while working at Gimlet, don’t own rights to the program. When they created a video version of the show for Quibi, the deal was negotiated by Gimlet (which has since been acquired by Spotify), and Luse and Eddings got EP credits. In that sense, the creative-first orientation of Quibi is refreshing, and offers a glimmer of hope for showrunners who want to try and take their content elsewhere after the app shuts down.