Mobile video streaming platform Quibi launched on Monday, as you’ve certainly noticed by now due to the brand’s increasing ad spend. And while the shorter (10 minutes or less) video format makes for an interesting concept, an on-the-go/mobile-focused video experience couldn’t really have been timed worse.
Amid stay-at-home orders, U.S. consumers are watching a lot more TV — on much larger screens. You could also argue that audiences were already used to watching short-form video on their mobile devices, in the form of social apps like TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (among others), so it’s tough to argue this is really a fundamental shift in the way we watch (something Digiday’s Tim Peterson gets at in his own Quibi reaction). And it’s tough to say that this fundamental shift could happen right now anyway, given the times we’re in.
But without rewriting history to either eliminate the COVID-19 pandemic (that would be ideal) or unrealistically shifting the billion-dollar platform’s launch to another time, we must evaluate what we have on (in?) our hands right now.
To do that, I discussed the app a bit more with TV[R]EV lead analyst Alan Wolk and contributor Mike Gasbara. Alan also dove into Quibi more in the short video below.
Mike: For me, the app led with Punk’d, hosted by Chance the Rapper. First couple episodes (three or four total), were good but then it dropped off substantially from there. Same went for the other content I tried out.
John: Worth going back? Or are you done with it already?
Mike: I’ll go back just bc all the hype. One more chance, to see if there are any sleepers.
John: People seem to enjoy Murder House Flip.
Alan: I had same experience as Mike. I was underwhelmed, to be honest. Navigation had the same flaws as Facebook Watch — I had no idea what I was looking at or why, or what categories there were, etc. There was no top-level nav that said “Comedies/Dramas/Documentaries.” And worst of all, I could not use AirPlay to watch on my TV.There’s no browser version or tablet version either right now
John: I doubt there will be. They seem actively entrenched in the phone experience. The fact that there aren’t two incredibly different viewing experiences for portrait/landscape right now seems like a miss, given it was a selling point.
Alan: I know. But given what is going on in the world, their use case of people watching when they have a few minutes to spare went out the window. I would even have put up with one of those “tell us what you like” intros that Apple tried with Apple Music so they could make better recommendations. At least there’s a 90-day free trial right now to check it out (and maybe make some tweaks on their end).
Mike: Yes, free for 90 days is appealing. They better have enough content to last because they are sending out emails constantly saying “new content added daily.”
John: There’s a chance it works for a lot of folks, if they’re watching 2-3 videos per day. But I don’t know if that experience is worth $5 per month come July — especially when I pay that or more for plenty of experiences (Disney+, ESPN+, Netflix) that I can also watch on my phone already.
Alan: I think their play, for me, is if the series are very bingeable — far more prone to go all in on something that will only eat up 2 or 3 hours of my time versus 12 to 14 hours.
John: Yeah, could see that. Their original on-the-go pitch got killed by current quarantine situation. So they pivoted to “take a break” but I don’t know if that’s the right pitch either. When everyone gets back to work as usual, there’s a fight for attention between them and podcasts — one they can maybe win in Boston, New York, Chicago, DC… places where a lot of folks take public transportation. But that’s dead in the water in driving cities like Los Angeles (where I’d bet a lot of their ideal audience lives).
Leaving the conversation format, and just expanding on these ideas above. bit more: Quibi wants to change the way you consume content, but it’s tough to argue it really shifts much. We watched video on our phones, and it’s debatable how much we need premium short-form over a highlights clip on NBA.com or a funny TikTok that made us laugh more than any of the first three episodes of the Punk’d revival did.
Having big names and big budgets will get people to try it out, because there are great storytellers involved and ultimately, people will watch quality content. The constant question now is will they pay for it, though, and that’s the issue Quibi faces once this 90-day period is up.
While you’re fine with having the short-form videos on your phone to watch, and you’ll tune in if you have nothing else to do, do you need it? Will you survive, ultimately, without these short shows — especially as the world around us continues to push consumers toward taking a more critical look at their budgets and assessing what’s necessary and what needs to go? Without really setting the world on fire with one or two of these shows, it’s hard to see the audience Quibi wants prioritizing this over prestige cable, groceries and a stack of bills they may or may not have trouble paying right now or in the near future.
We’ll see if that electrifying content ever materializes. But for now, Quibi should focus on user experience and encouraging as much viewing as possible. Young people love watching video on their phone, while Gen X and older audiences likely don’t, at least for an extended amount of time. So provide an AirPlay option for those people. Categories and organization are basic quality-of-life upgrades. And for their own sake, it would be beneficial to just have the videos start up right after one ends. Once you have a moment to consider whether or not you want to watch another six or seven minutes on Quibi, the app’s already lost.
Quibi’s not doomed, but it has challenges in the near-term, and that puts its longer-term fortunes in doubt. It can change. But we’ll see if the audience it’s courting can.