After two years of capital raising, ad sales, promotion and publicity, the short-form video-only streaming service Quibi debuts today.
The venture — brainchild of entertainment and ecommerce wunderkinds Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman — debuts with $150 million in upfront advertising commitments and $1.75 million in funding from investors including Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and Disney.
But it’s also debuting during a pandemic and an unprecedented socioeconomic environment that could never have been anticipated during its gestation period.
On one hand, along with OTT, WiFi, mobile phone use and app downloads have been hitting record levels (albeit driven in no small part by gaming), and Quibi may well benefit from younger consumers seeking novel content as they grow restless and bored.
On the other, Quibi’s original premise of offering under-10-minute videos for people who want quick news or diversions while they’re moving about or waiting in lines has been made largely irrelevant, at least for the present.
“With potential customers largely confined to their homes, [Quibi, which works only on phones] will now go up against established platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video that can be watched on any screen, including the living room TV,” notes The New York Times.
Whitman claims to be unconcerned. ““Think about how often you use your phone when you’re homebound,” she said. “People who are home with their children would really like a 10-minute break.”
Further, despite its publicity machine and an aggressive campaign that has included ads during the Super Bowl and Academy Awards, Quibi has struggled with making its concept understood and raising its profile. As The Times points out, a Morning Consult/Hollywood Reporter survey last month found 68% of respondents saying they weren’t familiar with the brand.
For the time being, the specter of the app’s pickup being impeded by cost-consciousness borne of the millions suddenly out of work should not be an issue. In March, Quibi announced a 90-day free trial — and just last week, it also announced a tie-in wherein some T-Mobile customers can get the service free for a year.
But as with all free trials, conversion rates for the service — which is $4.99 per month with ads and $7.99 ad-free — will be a make or break.
Even entertainment/technology pundits who were once convinced that stay-at-home would benefit all streaming services, including the ones set to debut this spring and summer, are beginning to back-peddle.
Some (The New York Times’ Alex Sherman, for example) are now suggesting that the economic crisis may force people to curtail paid service subscriptions along with other discretionary spending. Meaning either cut all paid streaming services, or perhaps retain only one or two, like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, and forego new ones.
And while only time will reveal Quibi’s reception by the public — particularly the younger consumers meant to be its core customers — critics haven’t been bowled over by its content.
The 50-title at-launch menu includes four original scripted shows broken into short episodes, including ones starring Sophie Turner and Liam Hemsworth. But most of the launch content consists of reality shows and other unscripted programming, such as the sports and news content on “Daily Essentials.”
“The technology is great; the content isn’t really all that unique or innovate… and without a hit, it’s hard for me to see how this catches on,” wrote NBC News’ Dylan Byers.
In his daily blog, Byers also shared reviews in several influential tech and news sites.
“Quibi’s biggest flaw at the moment is that none of its content stands out from the wealth of media already available to us,” wrote Engadget’s Devindra Hardawar. “To make things worse, since Quibi’s shows are only viewable on mobile, you can't easily use your phone to do anything else while watching them."
In Axios, Sara Fischer described the video quality as “good and consistent,” but added that its 50-show library “seems jarringly small compared to the endless feeds of content that users are used to getting on platforms like IGTV and even to an extent Facebook Watch."
Quibi’s phone-only nature “is going to hand an easy win to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and other service,” predicts Chris Welch of The Verge. “The app truly couldn’t be launching at a moment more antithetical to its purpose.”
Quartz’s Adam Epstein, while allowing that Quibi might be able to “create a niche in unscripted comedy programming,” suggested that it should leave prestige TV shows to HBO.
As for advertising, given that budgets and campaign buys around the world are in review, and in many cases being slashed in the short term, might at least some of Quibi’s category-exclusive advertising commitments be at risk in this disastrous, totally unexpected economic climate? If not, what about renewals of same?
There appear to have been no specific revelations from Quibi about how iron-clad these category-exclusive advertising commitments are. (Google, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Walmart, Progressive and Anheuser-Busch InBev signed up, among others.)
Quibi made advertising attractive by promising light ad loads and plenty of targeting and metrics capabilities, as well as category exclusivity. But according to at least one agency executive, the new platform also committed to achieving certain reach levels.
“They have goals they need to achieve, and we’re going to make sure they can adhere to that,” Brad Stockton, VP of video innovation at Dentsu Aegis Network, told AdExchanger last month.