- Quibi, the mobile-video startup that raised $US1.75 billion to revolutionise TV for smartphones, was supposed to be the next big thing in streaming.
- But it failed to find its niche and after a string of headaches announced it would shutter its service on December 1, eight months after it launched.
- Read what’s been going in inside the streaming startup.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Quibi, the mobile-video startup that raised $US1.75 billion to revolutionise TV for smartphones, was supposed to be the next big thing in streaming. But it failed to find its niche and after a string of headaches announced in October that it would shutter its service on December 1, eight months after it launched.
The company, led by CEO Meg Whitman and founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, was originally designed around serialized, 10-minute videos â€” or “quibis,” short for “quick bites” â€” made only for smartphones, for $US8 per month or $US5 with ads.
It was touted in its marketing for the convenience of viewing during “in-between moments” of the day when people are on the go or scrolling through social media.
But Quibi launched in a very different world than it was conceived in. The service hit snags right away, as the coronavirus pandemic forced people to spend more time at home.
Despite trying during its April launch to entice signups with a 90-day free trial, the startup was unable to find a niche willing to pay for its short-form programming. CNBC reported on Oct. 21 that Quibi initially projected it would have more than 7 million subscribers after its first year, but had just 500,000 subscribers around the time of publication, citing people familiar with the matter.
The pandemic wasn’t Quibi’s biggest problem
Lockdown orders weren’t Quibi’s only problem, though Katzenberg told The New York Times in May that the pandemic was to blame for “everything that has gone wrong.” Streaming viewership on other platforms like Netflix and Hulu soared amid stay-at-home orders, underscoring Quibi had deeper flaws, such as its strategy to retrofit traditional-TV formats for mobile phones.
But insiders told Business Insider that when it came to content, Katzenberg, a Hollywood icon who led Disney in the 1990s and cofounded DreamWorks Animation, called most of the shots.
Katzenberg wanted to distance the programming on Quibi’s subscription app from free, social-media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat.
“If it can be on YouTube, it can’t be on Quibi,” Katzenberg is known to say, sources close to the company told Business Insider. But that thinking also injected a rather traditional view of TV â€” centered on big stars and familiar concepts â€” into what is meant to be a modern platform for the millennial generation, some Quibi insiders said.
Quibi launched with 50 titles, including “movies” told in parts like “Survive” starring Sophie Turner and “Most Dangerous Game” with Liam Hemsworth, as well as scripted and alternative shows like a reboot of “Punk’d” hosted by Chance the Rapper and “Chrissy’s Court” with Chrissy Teigen.
While shows like “#FreeRayshawn” earned Quibi Emmy’s recognition, none became the kind of breakout hit that could’ve helped Quibi survive.
Sources also told Business Insider that Quibi dismissed some pitches from influencers who have millions of followers on YouTube because they felt too similar to other content that could be found on social media.
Quibi bet that daily news and lifestyle shows would make the platform a habit for its target audience of 25- to 35-year-olds. That programming didn’t land either, even with Quibi’s frequent and detailed notes to the production partners it commissioned its shows from.
Some insiders and entertainment-industry sources questioned why Quibi didn’t embrace social media more to promote its programming, like it did to market its brand. Most of Quibi’s early ad buys were digital, though it also aired TV ads during pricey events like the Super Bowl and the Oscar.
The company eventually leaned into social media to promote its shows. It added in July the ability to share its content on social media, following user and media criticism. And it started working with a blogger network to create content around its originals.
But it was too little too late, like Quibi’s other course correction efforts, which included adding tools to cast video from mobile phones to smart TVs and launching apps for connected TV devices like Apple TV and Fire TV.
In the end, Quibi couldn’t prove there was a market for minutes-long episodes of shows and movies that users could only watch on their phones.
One investor said the company should have tried harder after raising all that money.
“I would have wanted them fight more rather than giving up so quickly,” Anis Uzzaman, the CEO and general partner of Pegasus Tech Ventures, said. “Or if they were going to give up so quickly, then I would have wanted to give up with more money in the bank.”
Quibi is winding down
Quibi is now in the process of winding down.
The service shutters on December 1. And Quibi is trying to find buyers for its limited content rights, as well as its technology (which faces a patent lawsuit) in the hopes of returning more money to shareholders. Execs already said the company would return $US350 million of its cash on hand to investors. Quibi may have to make amends with advertisers, too. It booked $US150 million in advertising, selling out its first full year of inventory months ahead of launch. Whitman told Business Insider in January that Quibi won over top advertisers like Procter & Gamble and Pepsi with the allure of millennial audiences in a brand-safe environment and the advancement of mobile entertainment and ad formats.
Then there’s Quibi cadre of roughly 200 staffers, who are now or will soon be free agents, including former executives from companies including Netflix, Snap, and Hulu.
Quibi may have flamed out spectacularly. But it won’t be the last company to try to innovate in the entertainment industry, which is being reorienting itself around streaming.
This post was originally published on April 6 and last updated on November 2.
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