Rumors of the site’s demise have run rampant since the summer, and The Wrap reported that founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and co-founder Meg Whitman scheduled a call with both senior management and investors Wednesday night.
The news of closure comes after the Wall Street Journal reported that Quibi was “exploring several strategic options, including a possible sale.” At the time, the company was also considering raising more money or going public through a merger with a blank-check company to held fund the deal, according to the publication. None of these options have come to pass.
The Wall Street Journal reported in June that Quibi was on track to sign up fewer than 2 million subscribers within its first year, which was around 30 percent of its original target.
Quibi raised $1.75 billion from investors including Disney, NBCUniversal, Time Warner, Viacom, and Sony Pictures, and suffered a slow start after launch and then failed to gain any traction in the following months. IndieWire interviewed Whitman and several industry analysts in a June report on Quibi’s slow start; analysts argued Quibi suffered from confusing marketing, a lack of eye-catching programming, and a poor design philosophy that was made worse by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
New reasons why Quibi struggled seemed to arrive every day, but the core problem comes back to a misunderstanding of how modern audiences watch TV (or movies, or “content,” or Quibis — aka “quick bites”). Quibi was marketed as a streaming service to be consumed casually, where subscribers would watch episodes while standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for the bus. But a plethora of free services already offer those distractions (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) and social media can be a similar (free) time-filler with the added (free) benefit of interactivity. (Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, and more all stream videos in one way or another, while letting you talk to your friends, favorite celebrities, or brands.)
Even if people did prioritize Quibi over other apps, what happens when your mobile-only service is being sold to an immobile world? Quibi was designed to be used by on-the-go millennials, but launched on April 6, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic which forced many television viewers indoors where they had access to other streaming services on larger screens. The streaming service also lacked key features at launch, such as the ability to screenshot or cast Quibi’s programming to televisions via tech such as AirPlay and Chromecast.
The pandemic didn’t help Quibi — but it also can’t be considered the reason for its failure. People often watch programs while doing something else, or even watching other programs. Anyone who may have wanted to watch “The Fugitive” remake while texting with friends had to choose one or the other. That design flaw made Quibi’s competitors insurmountable; not only do subscribers have to value Quibi enough to pay the monthly fee, they have to value it over every other app and opportunity offered on their phone.
Quibi made adjustments to its phone-only policy, but once people could watch Quibi programming on their computers or TVs, the original slight against the service only magnified: There weren’t any must-see shows. Some were good: “Flipped” earned Kaitlin Olson a well-deserved Emmy nod, and #FreeRayshawn won Quibi its first — and last — Emmys. Some were bad. Many were fine. But none broke through in a way that made pop culture enthusiasts eager to pay for Quibi. In the time Quibi has been out, Netflix dropped “The Baby-Sitters Club” and “Ozark,” Hulu released “PEN15” and “Normal People,” and HBO aired “I May Destroy You” and “Lovecraft Country” — these are Quibi’s competitors, and its shows could not stack up.
The end of Quibi mirrors another failed venture from Katzenberg at the start of the digital era: Pop.com. The site also offered short form video with a big-name celebrity imprimatur, but similarly failed to gain traction. The price tag of that endeavor, by comparison, was reportedly $50 million.
For more on Quibi’s fall, listen to IndieWire’s early dissection of its plusses and minuses via the Millions of Screens podcast.