Quibi Is the $1.75 Billion Gamble No One Can Predict — Analysis

Quibi is powered by big money and celebrity creators. Are they enough to help the new streaming service stand out in such a crowded industry?
Anna Kendrick in the Quibi series "Dummy"
Anna Kendrick, "Dummy"
Photo by: Nicole Wilder

Quibi is the latest streaming service to hit the market, and the mobile-only platform is making its debut during an unprecedented time in the entertainment industry. Consumers’ hunger for new film and television content has never been stronger — fueled further by the ongoing pandemic — and Quibi is promising a boundless variety of original programming to keep viewers entertained in these socially distant times. But will the streaming service’s unique approach be enough to make it stand out in the increasingly cutthroat streaming wars?

Quibi began turning heads in the entertainment industry immediately after the Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman-led venture was announced in 2018. The streaming service, which only works on mobile devices and features content that is exclusively doled out in 10-minute-or-less installments, is entirely unlike any other major streaming service on the market. The platform’s patented Turnstyle technology allows users to seamlessly switch between horizontal and vertical displays, and Quibi content creators can give their projects different scenes or character perspectives depending on which display is being used.

While Quibi’s short-form approach and unique technology helps differentiate it from other streamers, neither of those factors were ever going to guarantee success. Such an experimental platform would be a large gamble in the best of times, and the global instability caused by stay-at-home directives is unlikely to do Quibi any favors.

Quibi has billed itself as the ideal streaming service for consumers on the go. The content isn’t meant to be binged on the couch; it’s for individuals who are in line at a coffee shop, on the bus, or otherwise only have a few minutes to spare. The problem is, nobody is doing those things right now because everybody is holed up indoors. Whitman has explicitly stated that Quibi is not meant to directly compete with the likes of Netflix, Disney+, or other leading streaming services, but current events mean that Quibi will have to do exactly that, at least for now.

Even if Quibi wasn’t releasing during a global pandemic, there’s another key issue the platform will have to contend with: Strong, reliable Wi-Fi connections are rarely universally accessible for consumers who are out of the house, and streaming high-quality Quibi videos will presumably eat into most individual’s data plans at a worrying rate.

Granted, none of these potential issues are related to Quibi’s programming, which could serve as the streaming service’s saving grace. Quibi is promising a veritable avalanche of original content: It launched with 50 titles and is promising to release around 175 series in its first year. Quibi plans on releasing three hours of content every weekday, which is could be fantastic for user retention. Given that Quibi is marketing itself to younger demographics, who do not regularly watch cable news, its Daily Essentials (essentially curated hard news shows) could also serve as a strong selling point.

"Fierce Queens"
Quibi’s “Fierce Queens”Quibi

Will Quibi’s programming be good enough for viewers to keep coming back? That’s something that only time will tell, but the streaming service’s massive star power certainly can’t hurt. The platform launched with shows starring Idris Elba, Chance the Rapper, Chrissy Teigen, Liam Hemsworth, and Christoph Waltz. Jennifer Lopez produced a show and Reese Witherspoon presents a different one. Guillermo del Toro and Steven Spielberg are working on Quibi projects, as are a laundry list of other entertainment industry A-listers. This isn’t even remotely close to a comprehensive list of Quibi’s collaborators; at this point, it would be easier to list the household names who aren’t attached to a project for the streaming service.

Quibi’s numerous celebrity project creators and stars can be credited to the charisma of Katzenberg and Whitman, in addition to the platform’s enormous financial backing. Katzenberg was Walt Disney Studios’ former chairman and later co-founded DreamWorks Animation, while Whitman, a former eBay CEO, has long been a Silicon Valley power player. The duo is politically connected and have spent much of the last several years aggressively promoting Quibi to Hollywood leaders and potential investors. Their gambit has succeeded: Quibi has raised a staggering $1.75 billion.

The talent, money, and business acumen are all here, but Quibi isn’t the only new streaming service to boast those traits. Disney+, which launched last November, continues to enjoy a seemingly endless surge in popularity despite its comparable dearth of original content, and that issue will be remedied when “The Mandalorian” Season 2 and various Marvel Cinematic Universe shows make their way to the platform. And then there’s WarnerMedia’s upcoming HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock, which are slated to launch in May and July, respectively. Those streaming services’ debuts will only intensify the streaming wars.

Thankfully, Quibi is offering a particularly generous 90-day free trial for early adopters, and a yearlong subscription is available for free to select T-Mobile customers. An ad-supported version of Quibi costs $4.99 per month, while the ad-free version runs $7.99 per month. Will Quibi’s “quick bites” be worth chewing on in three months’ time? That’s what Hollywood has been debating for the last two years. No one knows for certain, but we’ll find out soon enough.

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