Quibi was meant to revolutionise entertainment. Why is it so bad?

Before Quibi launched last month, expectations were running high. Billed as the next big player in the crowded streaming space, the short-form video start-up seemed to have all the ingredients it needed to make a big splash: hype, money and a raft of A-list celebrities on board.
Quibi, short for ‘quick bites’, is targeted at millennials and has been specifically designed to be consumed in the gaps in users’ day-to-day lives. Every episode on the platform is a trim seven to ten-minutes-long, and is just short enough for people to snack on when commuting. Before its launch, the service had raised $1.8 billion, and signed on big stars including Idris Elba, Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon and Will Smith, as well as Oscar-winning directors Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro.


But analysts were skeptical. With no content, no previews and a premium price tag of $7.99 a month, could a new streaming service made exclusively for mobile devices actually work?Today, just six weeks on from its launch, Quibi seems to be floundering. Viewers have not flocked to the platform in the numbers that its founders, DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman, had hoped.
According to data from mobile app market intelligence firm Sensor Tower, Quibi has been installed just over 3.4 million times globally since it launched on April 6, with the company revealing that the vast majority of downloads – 96.7 per cent – have come from the US and Canada. Many of these downloads took place in the first week of Quibi’s launch, with app downloads topping 1.5 million. Since then, Quibi has been gaining around 44,000 downloads a day. In comparison, fellow streaming newbie Disney+ generated more than 15.7 million downloads in its first week, and that was in the US alone.
In an interview with the New York Times, Katzenberg blamed Quibi’s disappointing launch on the global Covid-19 pandemic. “I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” he told the paper. “Everything. But we own it.” While a portion of the blame may fall at the pandemic’s feet – it’s supposed to be a streaming service for commuting, after all –Quibi’s business decisions didn’t help its chances of finding initial success.
“Yes, the coronavirus is a problem for a service whose use case is massively restricted now. It’s selling point pre-launch was on-the-go consumption,” says Jamie McGowan Stuart, research analyst at Enders Analysis. “But at the same time, there are more existential problems with Quibi as a whole.”


For one, Quibi only has original content, and doesn’t have any existing brands or intellectual property that it can comfortably rely on. Unlike Disney+, for example, which launched with The Mandalorian, there’s no Star Wars-like fanbase that it can tap into. The platform launched with the first three episodes of an initial slate of 50 original shows. “Disney+, Peacock (NBC’s offering), HBO Max – all of these digital content providers have major libraries of established content to offer consumers,” says Tom Nunan, lecturer in film, television and digital media at the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television. “What are the two content providers that don’t have libraries? Apple TV+ and Quibi; the two that have done most poorly since launch.”
The content Quibi does have has been critically panned, with a clip from a show called 50 States of Fright being widely mocked in a viral tweet: it features Rachel Brosnahan playing a woman who refuses to take off her golden arm in a horror short that GQ describe as “deeply weird and inexplicably bad”. Quibi shows “almost universally feel cheaper and less memorable than similar stuff on other platforms,” write Vulture.
McGowan Stuart says that there are also problems with the app itself, with aspects of its design that didn’t lend themselves well to the mobile format. For instance, Quibi was heavily criticised after users discovered that they weren’t able to take screenshots of shows they were watching to post on social media. Instead, they were greeted with a black screen.
While you can’t take screenshots of Netflix and Hulu shows on your mobile device, you are able to on web browsers. As a mobile-only platform, the enforced screenshot restriction meant that users had no way of easily sharing content from Quibi on social media. “The asocial nature of the app as a whole was a problem given the content is only consumable on a mobile device, and mobile is inherently social,” says McGowan Stuart, pointing out that the viral clip from 50 States of Fright was shared by a Twitter user who had to physically film the content using another mobile device.


“if you look at TikTok, so much of its early growth and exposure and awareness of it came from repackaged TikTok videos on other social media platforms,” McGowan Stuart points out. “That’s very important for the growth of a burgeoning service.”
Another issue is that people can’t cast content to their smart TVs if they want to watch it on the big screen. While its founders have stood firm in its belief in Quibi being a mobile-only platform, Nunan says that consumers don’t want that restriction. “People want the freedom to be able to watch it on their smart TVs, their desktops or their laptops,” he explains. “They don’t want the limitation of having to watch something on their phone.”
With the world stuck inside their homes, success should have come a lot easier to the fledgling streaming service. Data from app tracking company App Annie show that on the day of its launch, Quibi was the fourth most downloaded app on the US iOS App Store, but just two weeks later, it had fallen to number 92. That is despite global media streaming intelligence firm Conviva finding that video streaming consumption was up by 57 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, when many lockdown measures had just begun. Netflix gained almost 16 million new subscribers in the first three months of the year; almost double the number it saw in the last three months of 2019.
One of the big questions Quibi needs to answer is whether there is an appetite for short-form content and whether users are willing to part with their cash for it. Previous experiments in the short-form space have also shown that it’s difficult to make a success of the short-form format.
“We know that there’s a huge demand for short form content. But where has there ever been evidence of a strong demand for premium, high quality, studio-led short form content?” says Tim Mulligan, head of video analysis at MIDiA Research. “Where has there been a model that has shown that people are willing to pay for exclusive access?”
Ultimately, Quibi still has time to prove that it can work. The company has already announced that it is working on allowing users to take screenshots and is due to add in the ability to cast content to the TV. “For all the inherent flaws and faults of Quibi, there is a huge amount of momentum behind it,” says Mulligan. We’ll just have to wait and see if it pays off.
Alex Lee is a writer for WIRED. He tweets from @1AlexL
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