Quibi was one of Hollywood’s most ambitious startups. Pinned to revolutionize the entertainment industry with short-form content on mobile phones, it seemed like the company had the perfect recipe for success. It had bagged an investment of $1.75 billion, the support of A-list actors and producers lined up for its content, and a target market of millennial and Gen-Z viewers.
However, despite a treasure chest of talent and money, within just 6 months, Quibi shutdown and became the first major victim of the streaming wars. In the following sections, we’ll discuss how Quibi came to be, who was behind it, and why it ultimately failed so quickly.
Quibi, short for “quick bites,” was basically Netflix and Amazon Prime for your phone. For $5 with ads per month, or $8 without, subscribers with short attention span and busy lives could watch short-form movies and shows of approximately 5 to 10 minutes in both landscape and portrait modes on the go.
While some people expressed reservations about the project from the beginning, it was highly anticipated because it was led by veteran Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and former HP CEO Meg Whitman. As former chairman of Walt Disney Studios and co-founder of DreamWorks Animation, the belief was that if anyone could disrupt mobile viewership patterns, as Quibi hoped, it would be Katzenberg. Instead, we witnessed one of the fastest collapses in the entertainment business.
4 Reasons That Led to The Failure of Quibi
The pandemic added a wrinkle to Quibi’s launch in April 2020. People’s routines had changed, and the “in-between” moments of your day that Quibi was counting on became rare. But Katzenberg’s claim that “everything had gone wrong due to coronavirus” ignores the fact that American consumers were using mobile video apps more during the pandemic than before. Furthermore, TikTok usage was growing during the pandemic, and presumably, TikTok relies on mobile usage just as much as Quibi.
To save grace, Katzenberg later admitted that it was a “flippant answer at the time” and that it wasn’t “fair” to put all the blame on the pandemic. So why did Quibi fail to gain traction with its subscribers? Let’s find out.
1. Poor Content
No matter how innovative the technology is, no video platform will work if it doesn’t have high-quality content, especially if subscribers are paying for the service.
Although Katzenberg and Whitman invested more than $1 billion in top Hollywood talent and projects from top studios, content on Quibi was mediocre. The audience simply couldn’t find anything better than content available for free on TikTok or YouTube. Some producers even admitted, “If we have a show that’s going to be a huge hit, you pitch to Netflix, HBO,” and “if it doesn’t get traction, you pitch to Quibi.” Indeed, many of the shows Quibi picked up had been widely shopped elsewhere beforehand.
2. Unsuitable Format and Lengths of Videos
When the pandemic struck, people were no longer restricted to watching content solely on their mobile devices. Most were getting comfortable with watching long-term content available on various streaming platforms on TV.
However, Quibi was designed to be exclusively watched on mobile phones, and for the longest time, Quibi didn’t budge on that design. Eventually, Quibi was forced to adjust its model and allowed subscribers to broadcast content to TV using AirPlay and Chromecast. However, this would disable Quibi’s Turnstyle technology, the only thing really setting its content apart at this point. It wasn’t an ideal fix.
To fill the need for long-form content, Quibi bought feature-length movies and cut them into 10-minute chunks to make a ‘series’ out of them. Naturally, this approach turned a movie into a frustrating experience that hindered storytelling principles
3. Weak Marketing
Quibi was targeted at a younger and tech-savvy audience. However, the company didn’t seem to understand that screenshotting and sharing clips on social media were a huge part of its demographic. Quibi failed to realize that without those sharing features, including memes and trending hashtags, there was no way for people to discover and engage with Quibi’s series quickly. Sure, there were expensive ads placed during the Super Bowl and Oscar’s, but those shows usually have older viewership. The company relied entirely on its own poor marketing strategies to drive awareness, and as a result, failed to create buzz. The platform was clearly not designed to work on the Internet of 2020.
4. Leadership Problems
Being in their sixties, Katzenberg and Whitman were far removed from their target audience. They didn’t know how millennials and Gen-Zs used their phones for streaming purposes and misjudged which programming and technology features would appeal to them. Despite their powerful connections and massive investment, it all became worthless.
Besides, there were hints from the start that the founders did not have the best relationship. According to the Wall Street Journal, Whitman even threatened to leave when she felt that Katzenberg was dictatorial, weakening her authority and humiliating her.
It All Came Crashing Down
Quibi failed in all aspects, mainly because it had no specified goal or direction. It couldn’t provide a valid reason to convince people to subscribe as its entire business model was based on the idea that people wanted high-quality short-form content daily. However, they didn’t realize that people have been getting that for free for years. Instead of learning from current market trends, it stuck its nose up and insisted they were doing something different, even if no one was interested.
Upon its failure, Quibi’s catalog was purchased by Roku, where users can now view the short-form content for free with ads running between episodes. Ironically, the content is more popular on Roku than it ever was on Quibi (source)
Have you ever heard of Quibi? And did you subscribe to it? Please share with us in the comment section below.
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