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Screen Themes: Quibi — the billion dollar streaming failure you’ve never heard of

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Are you looking for a new streaming platform that has bite sized bits of content perfect for consuming on the go? No? You’re not alone…

As the global streaming landscape becomes more competitive, it’s inevitable that not everyone will survive. In a world where Netflix spend billions of dollars on creating content, new competitors need to do something special to stand out. Apple TV+ did it by spending a fortune on advertising and spamming their existing customers with endless ads for their shows,

Quibi (pronounced Qwee-bee, in case it comes up in a trivia quiz) was launched by former Disney bigwig Jeffrey Katzenberg and ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman in April to much fanfare, announcing partnerships with big-name content creators including Guillermo del Toro, Antoine Fuqua, Jennifer Lopez and low budget horror auteur Jason Blum. Perhaps most tantalising was Steven Spielberg’s After Dark, a show so scary that it would only be watchable after the sun sets in whatever timezone you’re in.

At the same time, Quibi convinced a bunch of partners including Pepsi and Google to spend a staggering $100 million on ad space and committed to spending $500 million on marketing, decisions that probably seem rather rash in the cold hard light of day.

Inspired by the massive popularity of TikTok and the millions who watch short form content on YouTube, all of the shows on Quibi are under 10 minutes long. While this format works okay for a sketch comedy (Reno 911), jump-scare horror (50 States of Fright) or absurdist reality (Kirby Jenner), it fails miserably when trying to generate dramatic tension (Most Dangerous Game with Liam Hemsworth) or compelling story arcs (#freerayshawn). You can also switch between watching the shows in phone-ready portrait format or more traditional landscape, but this doesn’t really add anything to the viewing experience.

The content on Quibi ranges from the vaguely entertaining (Dummy with Anna Kendrick is about a talking sex doll and is oddly charming), to the outright bizarre (Dishmantled features food being fired from a cannon into blindfolded contestant’s faces, then asks them to recreate the dish) and the downright unwatchable — think Chrissy Teigen in a Judge Judy ripoff and you’re on the right path.

Unfortunately, the thing that seems to unite the vast majority of content on Quibi is that it’s not that memorable and doesn’t really make you want to watch more. Adding insult to injury, the long promised content from del Toro and Speilberg is nowhere to be seen, presumably still in production or being re-tooled for a streaming service that isn’t circling the drain.

A quick search reveals a plethora of stories of Quibi’s woes: that they’re considering laying off 10% per cent of their employees; that senior management are taking a pay cut to keep the company alive; and that, most crucially for advertisers, Quibi is failing to attract the expected number of downloads by a huge margin.

Part of the problem with Quibi (perhaps the biggest part) is that the highly experienced founders fundamentally misunderstand their young target market. In a misguided effort to combat piracy and avoid spoilers, Quibi blocks users from taking screen shots of their content, making it near-impossible to create memes from the content. Their two major competitors (TikTok and YouTube) are free, and Quibi can’t even attract viewers by claiming to be ad-free. It’s certainly poor timing that the world has been locked down, taking away commute viewing, but the fact that other streaming services are attracting record numbers of viewers while Quibi struggles points to bigger issues.

If you’re interested in checking out Quibi you can sign up for a free 14 day trial, but don’t forget to cancel — at $12.99 a month it’s one of the more expensive streaming services around.

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