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Analysis: Quibi Continues to Excite Investors Despite Experimental Design

The BBC is joining an expansive roster of Quibi investors that includes Disney, Sony, Warner Bros., Fox, Viacom, and Goldman Sachs.

Jeffrey Katzenberg speaks at the Produced By Conference at Warner Bros. Studios, in Burbank, CaliforniaProduced By Conference 2019 - Day 1, Burbank, USA - 08 Jun 2019

Jeffrey Katzenberg speaks at the Produced By Conference at Warner Bros. Studios, in Burbank, California

Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Quibi, the upcoming short-form streaming service that continually makes headlines for raising piles of money from every company on the planet — just made headlines for raising money again. BBC Studios, the production arm of the U.K.’s BBC, announced an investment of an undisclosed sum in the platform yesterday. The BBC is joining an expansive roster of Quibi investors that includes Disney, Sony, Warner Bros., Fox, Viacom, and Goldman Sachs. Beyond that, Google, WalMart, and Proctor & Gamble are among the service’s advertising cohorts.

Quibi, short for “quick bites,” raised $1 billion last year and seeks to raise an additional $500 million by early 2020. The service will launch on April 6, 2020.

That’s a lot of partnerships and a lot of money, especially for such an experimental platform. Quibi, the brainchild of entertainment industry giant Jeffrey Katzenberg, is billing itself as a mobile-only streaming service that promises to deliver quality films and television shows in short chapters that can be quickly watched on the go.

Of course, Hollywood and venture capital firms have no qualms about throwing large piles of cash at just about anything that promises to revolutionize entertainment. That said, Quibi has an especially strong, sustained track record for investments, even by American business standards. The seemingly weekly scoops about the platform’s new financial backers and creative partners begs the question of how Quibi has generated such industry hype.

The strongest selling point — for investors and other industry insiders, anyway — is probably less about the platform itself and more about the duo selling it. Katzenberg, the former Walt Disney Studios chairman and DreamWorks Animation co-founder, has an impressive industry track record and his words carry considerable weight. Selling the idea of a streaming service that won’t be compatible with desktop computers or built into televisions would probably be next to impossible for anyone else.

Katzenberg has the entertainment industry credibility, while Quibi CEO Meg Whitman, a former president of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and eBay, enjoys comparable influence in the business sector. Furthermore, the duo also has significant presences in the political arena and in charitable foundations.

Both Katzenberg and Whitman have kept themselves plenty busy promoting Quibi over the last few months, as one or the other has appeared at many of the major entertainment industry conferences this year to play up the streaming service.

Outside industry events, Quibi has begun regularly teasing upcoming projects to the news media. Original Quibi projects are frequently being announced, but the timing of those news releases is staggered enough that it probably isn’t overwhelming readers. It also means we’ll probably be reporting on new Quibi films and television shows for months to come. Signs of life. Media awareness. A steady influx of new projects. Prospective investors tend to like these things.

Although throwing hundreds of millions at any project is bound to increase its odds of success, Quibi’s design philosophy still warrants significant skepticism. For starters, this has all been done before, and not particularly well. For example, Verizon’s go90 launched in 2015 to minimal fanfare and was shuttered last year. Reasons included a shoddy interface, poor marketing and a content library that failed to keep audiences hooked.

While Quibi boasts that it will cater to a mobile audience, that claim is dulled when you consider that every serious streaming service on the market already has a mobile app. From a purely interface-focused perspective, Netflix’s mobile app is pretty much without fault. It’s unclear how Quibi could improve the mobile streaming experience, but it’s plenty easy to imagine all the ways it could go wrong.

Quibi is hedging a lot of bets that its short-form content will be the differentiating factor. The company has said it expects to release 7,000 pieces of content within the first year of launching. That obviously seems like a ludicrous number, but it will apparently be made possible by Quibi’s staggered release schedule.

Short segments of Quibi’s films and television shows will be released daily, which Quibi believes will keep time-starved millennials — 25 to 35-year-olds are the platform’s key demographic — coming back for more. Whether that will appeal to audiences is open to interpretation, but it could cause problems for advertisers if viewers decide to hold off on watching a program until more content from a particular project is available.

This release strategy is in line with the stereotype that millennials have short attention spans, but on the other hand, it also directly contradicts another thing millennials are noted for enjoying: binge watching. Regardless, it’s a viewing concept that isn’t being actively promoted by other streaming competitors at the moment, and investors likely see potential in serving such a niche.

Regardless, if there’s one thing that could encourage consumers to take the Quibi plunge, it’s a diverse slate of original content from household names in entertainment. That’s why Quibi signed a deal with Steven Spielberg, who is creating a horror project for the platform. It’s also why Quibi signed a deal with Guillermo del Toro and Chrissy Teigen. And Idris Elba. And Paul Feig. Don Cheadle. Anna Kendrick. Naomi Watts. Much like investors, the collaborators are a laundry list.

Verizon’s go90 platform had a respectable roster of content creators throughout the years, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Hollywood talent that will be developing, producing, or starring in films and television shows for Quibi. Whatever hesitation investors might have about the experimental nature of the service, it helps Quibi when so many industry A-listers have signed on to create content for the platform.

While Quibi’s cheap subscription options probably won’t make-or-break its odds of success — some competing platforms, such as HBO Max, are predicting that consumers will be willing to pay a premium for bundled content — it probably can’t hurt, either. Quibi will offer a $4.99 per month subscription that comes with advertisements, while an ad-free subscription will run consumers $7.99 a month. Both options are considerably cheaper than the subscription plans offered by Netflix, Hulu and most of the other major streamers.

It’ll take another year or so to determine if all of this is enough to woo subscribers, but investors clearly see the potential. Quibi’s design still warrants skepticism, but it helps when you have all the money and much of the creative talent in the world on your side.

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