In August of 2018, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and DreamWorks Animation co–founder Jeffrey Katzenberg created the video startup NewTV. The startup aimed to create “snackable” short content for smartphones, quickly receiving over $1 billion in funding from big names like The Walt Disney Company and WarnerMedia before any content had even been announced.
After being renamed "Quibi"—short for “Quick Bites”—and drumming up hype for months, the company officially launched in April 2020. They boasted an extensive variety of highly respected Hollywood talent and impactful, bite–sized storylines. Despite this, barely six months after launching, the service announced that it would be shutting down at the end of the year.
The service was pitched as a revolutionary new entrant to the streaming wars. Instead, it became the first major casualty. This begs the question: Just what went wrong with Quibi? Despite launching with high hopes and nearly $2 billion in investment funding, the short–form streaming service ultimately failed to raise subscribers—an issue that was likely triggered by the nature of the app’s content and exacerbated by the COVID–19 pandemic.
The mission statement of Quibi was clear from the beginning. Designed as a way to entertain the masses during short breaks in the daily routine, Quibi promised to “make any moment extraordinary with incredible storytelling delivered right to your phone.” The service hosted some of the most well–known talent in entertainment in both its production and marketing, with celebrities like Chance the Rapper, Liza Koshy, and Kevin Hart being just three names on Quibi’s star–studded roster.
In addition to celebrities hosting the service’s unscripted programming, Quibi also hired A–list talent to create and star in their productions. Liam Hemsworth was hired to star in a multi–episode revival of The Most Dangerous Game; Kiefer Sutherland helmed a short–form revival series of The Fugitive; and Steven Spielberg was even in the process of producing a horror series that could only be viewed on the app at night. Unfortunately, despite earning 10 Emmy Nominations—the majority of which were attributed to the actors starring in these productions—the programs that reached the point of release on Quibi failed to captivate audiences, with most of them garnering mixed–reviews at best.
All of this highlights a painful truth: Money can’t buy what the people want. If there’s one thing that Quibi’s short lifespan has taught us, it’s that short form streaming cannot—and evidently, will not—replace the types of programming that we already know and love on familiar streaming platforms. Quibi prided itself on minature productions to entertain its viewers, but it’s become painfully clear that consumers just don’t want this. In its first three days of launch, Quibi rose to the top of the app store. However, after the trial period, Quibi lost 90% of subscribers.
Ultimately, it failed to retain the staggering majority of those who took the chance on the experimental platform. This is because Quibi didn't deliver any programming at its launch promising enough to draw in a massive influx of subscribers. In contrast, Disney+ captivated millions at launch with the exclusive release of The Mandalorian. While there are those that still defend the quality of Quibi’s platform and programming, it appears that much more attention is given to the drama surrounding Quibi than the content within the service itself.
While a service like Quibi is a risky venture even in normal times, the failure of the streaming service was definitely exacerbated by the COVID–19 pandemic. The on–the–go streaming principle was simply unfeasible during a time where viewers were—and still are—stuck at home. Social distancing has left many viewers with an unprecedented amount of downtime between virtual classes or work, providing copious amounts of time to watch a show on Netflix or Hulu, eliminating the need for portable entertainment. Quibi might have gone differently in a world where people could comfortably watch a show during a subway ride, but the reluctancy to go out and about doomed the platform from its launch.
However, even in a COVID–free world, I simply wouldn’t see myself using a service like Quibi. The co–founders of Quibi cited COVID–19 as the sole reason for the app’s failure, but there’s really more to it than this. The “10 minutes or less” of entertainment during my downtime is realistically be reserved for browsing social media, catching up on texts or emails, or calling a friend for a quick FaceTime check–in. If I was really craving something to watch for a few minutes, I could watch YouTube or TikTok—for free. The fact that Quibi’s programs weren’t good makes the streaming service even more forgettable. Quibi’s journey in the streaming war was almost as short as the content that it produced, but it offers crucial insight into the world we live in and how streaming can–or can’t—affect that.