Hands on with Quibi - 2020's newest streaming service demanding your attention. And money.
It's day one with Quibi - is it worth the hype?
Yesterday Quibi launched at the worst possible time. A global quarantine shutdown is not an ideal time to get people watching a service that is branded as something you can watch while out and about.
A brand new mobile streaming service (the only way you can watch it is on your phone), Quibi is built around the idea of watching short videos of less than 10 minutes. It’s a mix of reality shows, scripted dramas, comedies, and magazine-style shows. The idea is that viewers can watch something in-between doing other things during the day. Or at least that was the idea.
It’s worth noting that Quibi has launched globally with a 90 day free deal. Usually, it will cost US$7.99 for a no-ad version and $4.99 with ads. In Australia, the no-ad version will cost $12.99 per month. Yeah, you read that right. $12.99.
Yesterday I was incredibly skeptical about Quibi, but wanted to keep an open mind about it. The best products are those that immediately sell themselves. I remember sitting down with Netflix for the first time and it all immediately made sense to me. Could Quibi offer me that same moment of clarity?
No. It did not.
The launch of Quibi was without fanfare - rather it came with a whole bunch of questions:
Do people really want to pay for another streaming service?
What is Quibi offering that people aren’t already getting for free from services like YouTube?
Do people really want to fill the gaps in their day with short videos? Aren’t people happy enough just scrolling mindlessly through their Instagram feeds for a few moments here and there?
Why would I watch Quibi?
Quibi is a streaming service in search of a purpose. Nobody is out there asking another general entertainment streaming service, let alone one that is just replicating what other services are already doing.
Next month WarnerMedia will launch HBO Max into the US. That is a streaming service that actually seems to have a point - it’ll offer content from the deep library that Warners has been building for the past 97 years, which includes some of the worlds most beloved intellectual property. NBCUniversal will be doing something similar with its streamer Peacock.
Both HBO Max and Peacock will enter the market with a service that people have a pre-existing desire for. Quibi enters with no pre-existing IP. But, it does have one huge thing in its favor: celebrities.
The one reason, and maybe only reason, people will be checking out Quibi is that it has a bunch of shows with known talent both in front of and behind the camera. On launch day it has shows featuring: Chrissy Teigen, Jennifer Lopez, Chance The Rapper, LeBron James, Will Forte, Kaitlin Olsen, Eva Longoria, Will Arnett, Tituss Burgess, Lena Waithe, Nicole Richie, Usher, Liam Hemsworth, Christolph Waltz, and Sophie Turner. It will soon also include movies (split into chapters) and TV created by people like Guillermo del Toro and Steven Spielberg.
Quibi does have one other gimmick going for it: ‘Turnstyle’ viewing. Videos have been produced so that they can be watched in both portrait and landscape viewing. When you flip your phone around, it will immediately switch with no interruption to your viewing.
From a tech-nerd perspective, it’s a good gimmick. From a viewer perspective, it offers very little benefit. I’m sure a creative will eventually do something cool and innovative with this, but most viewers aren’t going to continually be switching the perspective on their phones.
What can I watch? And would I want to watch it?
Quibi launched with a lot of content.
It has movies, which are split into short chapters. The only one I have watched so far is the first 3 chapters of Most Dangerous Game, which features Christolph Waltz and friends hunting Liam Hemsworth for sport. The quality of it was very similar to a Blumhouse movie (it’s a relatively cheaply shot genre film).
I did watch a few episode’s of Chrissy’s Court, which is a reality show with TV personality Chrissy Teigen as the host of a People’s Court/Judge Judy style show. Her mother is the bailiff and the court cases are all mundane, but partially silly. It was pretty fun, but not really something I’d ever watch with regularity.
Punk’d is back, only this time hosted by Chance The Rapper pulling pranks on other semi-famous people. CTR is a really charming on-screen presence and I actually liked how easily Punk’d translated into an 8-minute format. Really - how much more time does a prank stunt show need?
And that’s what I actually liked about the reality shows I did see on this. Most reality shows are stretched into hour blocks with repeated scenes and filler moments. It fit the short-form nature of it all very well in a way that movies as chapters felt a little too short and disruptive to narrative flow.
The news programs are no different to the branded news shows being made for other platforms like Facebook Watch or YouTube.
Quibi promises approx 7000 individual episodes by the end of the first year, but keep in mind how many cheaply produced daily news shows they’re making - that’ll be well-over half of its output. From the couple of news shows I’ve watched, while they’re really nicely produced, none feel essential or all that informative.
These are the launch day shows on Quibi:
Most Dangerous Game
When The Streetlights Go On
Run This City
Shape of Pasta
Gone Mental with Lior
Murder House Flip
Skrrt With Offset
Thanks a Million
You Ain’t Got These
Speedrun by Polygon
Last Night’s Late Night
The Daily Chill
Sexology with Shan Boodram
The Rachel Hollis Show
Around The World by BBC News
The Nod with Brittany & Eric
No Filter by TMZ
Fresh Daily by Rotten Tomatoes
Trailers by Fandango
Close-up by E! News
All The Feels by The Dodo
For the Cultura by Telemundo
Is Quibi worth it?
My immediate thought is that it isn’t. US$7.99 a month or AUS$12.99(!!!!!) is on-par with what people are paying for services like Netflix (on the lowest priced plans) and with that subscribers are getting high budget productions of proper-length TV and movies. If the price point was considerably lower, it’d be a really tempting proposition. I would happily throw $3-4 at something like this every month.
But the other question is: Are the shows good? And if they are, would you miss them if you weren’t subscribing? And this is the real metric on whether a subscription is worth it. My answer here is that I’m not sure.
Personally, I’m not drawn by reality/unscripted TV all that much. And the only show on the schedule at the moment that I’m into is Murder House Flip. I’ve enjoyed the first three chapters of Most Dangerous Game and would like to see how that is going to play out (even though I have seen at least 30 different versions of The Most Dangerous Game before). Today, I don’t think that I’d be inclined to want to pay for the service. But, who knows three months from now? All it takes it to get a couple of movies or shows that catch my fancy in the exact right way and I might start viewing things differently.
The thing with Quibi is that there’s something about it that feels like it’s half a product. We have seen so many platforms launch content arms with shows that are very similar to this. YouTube is a dedicated video site that has shows like this, but you can also watch movies there, music videos, trailers, manifesto rants, podcasts, etc. Facebook has Facebook Watch, Snapchat has its video portal, there’s IGTV on Instagram… I keep wanting to click through to the other Quibi services.
It also feels like this is a platform that is maybe lost on being a general entertainment service. Would it make more sense as a dedicated reality show service? I could almost see this as an MTV-branded app with just short form adaptations of MTV shows. I could even see it working as a delivery platform for BBC World News. or CNN. Heck, even porn videos would be well served by a Quibi like platform (expect a clone platform within months, I reckon).
The technology and platform on Quibi is great - I’m just not sure Quibi is best served by being Quibi.