Quibi in the time of COVID-19: That dog don’t hunt; Later? Maybe

quibi survive

Have you tried Quibi, the mobile-only streaming play that just launched?

I’m two days into my 90-day free trial and, alas, the likelihood of me paying for Day 91 is, well, slim and none… unless I forget to cancel the auto renewal (making a calendar reminder now).

It’s not the content, in general. I see worse content on traditional liner TV (yes, Quibi does have some real stinkers, but some is pretty good).

Quibi has done a very good job with the technology. Assets stream smoothly to my iPhone, the platform launches quickly and delivers good video and sound.

It’s not even the idea that the service doesn’t believe we have attention spans longer than Golden Retrievers… and I’m an expert at that as I have two of them.

Quibi is pay-TV in miniature

No, the problem is that Quibi is just another example of the media establishment not recognizing that consumers are walking away from traditional liner TV. In Quibi’s case, it’s simply trying to scale the issues that consumers have with liner TV – and pay-TV in particular – down. But, in the process, it’s become some of the worst in pay TV in miniature.

Yes, it has star-studded content. And, yes, the content in many cases has been created and directed by some of the best in the business.

But every episode, every piece of content, gets an ad stuck in front of it. And, unlike with pay TV, I have no DVR on my phone that allows me to skip them. Even if I’m trying to binge the available episodes. It makes an experience that’s – unbelievably – less enjoyable than traditional TV.

Take, for example, one of Quibi’s launch day movies, “Survive.” It’s a grim, gray tale of survival after a plane crash on a snow-covered mountain. Yes, you’ve seen the premise before, but it’s got some twists that make it more than just another copycat.

But here’s the thing… with a traditional movie on pay-TV you’re likely to get a bunch of commercials in between “acts,” (in the best of worlds). With Quibi, you get a commercial before every episode, an episode being whatever fits in a sub-10-minute scene, or “chapter,” as Quibi is calling it.

Quibies’ corrupt creative tension

And, far from creating cliffhangers as you move through the chapters/episodes/scenes, it creates a somewhat disconnected mess of content that deserves better. I can only imagine writer’s heads exploding as they realized that script they crafted with just the right amount of creative tension between acts — and a continuity that makes butter look bumpy — is now going to be cut up into 15 “chapters” instead of three acts.

For that, you’re asked to pay $4.99/mo. after the trial. You can pony up an additional $3 a month if you want to get the content with no ads.

Again, I liked the content I watched. But I didn’t get the impression Quibi was helping to fill my occasional 10-minutes of available time throughout the day. It was more like pandering to my perception that I only have those 10-minute breaks and need to fill them. Because, after all, taking a few minutes to just enjoy free time is pretty much wasteful, right? Gotta fill. Gotta fill. Gotta fill.

But, I digress, it’s that attention thing, I guess.

Quibi launch by the numbers

Quibi had a pretty good Day 1, with, depending on your source, either “more than 300,000 downloads to mobile devices” or “more than 700,000 downloads,” with the 300K a number provided by Sensor Tower and the 700K from App Annie. Either could be right, but Quibi’s not saying yet.

Compare that to the first day Disney+ was available (it saw 4 million installs in the first 24 hours in North America), and it looks not quite rosy.

There was one issue, reported Tech Crunch, a short outage – about an hour – that made the app unusable for some. But, as TC points out, “it’s a reminder that reliably delivering streaming video is hard, even for a startup that’s raised $1.75 billion.”

How stable is the content supply?

The service launched with 50 shows this week, all of them made up with multiple chapters, or Quibies as the service calls them.

Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, in a Fortune Magazine interview, said Quibi plans to roll out 5,000 to 6,000 Quibies a year, at a maximum of 10 minutes per chapter, that’s about 1,000 hours of content. That’s a pretty ambitious content goal… and it should help subscribers keep from getting bored.

But here’s the rub, and it’s a big one: Where does production on all of those chapters stand? Are they already in the bank? Or, like most of Hollywood, did Quibi create its first “season” of content and then take a hiatus?

The coronavirus has locked down much of the world, and in the process much of Hollywood. Even top-dollar shows for the major networks and streamers are in hiatus (thank God we’re moving into summer and the normal seasonal re-run period). And there’s not much doubt that those big-buck productions moving ahead in the line of others, probably bumping “lesser” projects (spending lesser amounts of money) to the back of the line.

How does that effect as-yet-to-be-shot Quibies? I’m sure execs are watching the calendar, and their place in line, moving on a daily basis.

The bottom line

What’s the future look like for Quibi?

Well, for the next 90 days, it should fare well, after all it is free. But will it survive the coronavirus? That’s a tougher call.

Watching a dozen Quibies on my mobile phone had me stealing lustful peeks at the 80-inch screen I have hanging on the wall.

Will consumers who are stuck at home for however much longer really want to watch content on their smartphones when they have quality content to turn to at their fingertips… on the big screen.

The content is made expressly for mobile devices… it’s not made to be cast to a larger screen, so, cross that off the to-do list.

Part of Quibi’s value proposition is that it believes its target audience, 18-44 year olds, are massive consumers of shorter-form videos (that 10 minute chapter). And that’s true. But a lot of that viewing is of sports highlights, movie trailers, product videos and user-generated content from friends or UGC recommended by friends.

In the end, to use a North Carolinian phrase I’m fond of, “That dog don’t hunt.”

Stay tuned… and stay well.

Jim O’Neill is Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn