Quibi is dead — at least as a going concern. But there’s still a tremendous amount of great on-demand video content to consume. Read on to learn all about the alternatives.
In a hurry? If you just want to get your hands on the old Quibi content, there’s good news! Roku bought it all. Go check them out!
Quibi, a portmanteau of “quick bites” that is counterintuitively pronounced “Qui-bee” (instead of “Qui-bye”), has been variously called “the future of TV,” “the first casualty of the Streaming Wars,” and “a spectacular flop.”
What is — was — it? What did it do? Why did it fail? Let’s dive into the rise and fall of one of the most hyped, anticipated projects of 2020 that took only seven months to go from Hollywood project darling to abject failure. And learn the best alternatives.
What Was Quibi?
Quibi launched with three different types of content, the main rule being no video could run more than ten minutes.
- Movies in Chapters was, as you would expect, a longer scripted story arc played out in 7-10 minute installments.
- Unscripted & Docs was where you find game shows, cooking and travel programs, documentaries and docuseries, and other unscripted/reality shows.
- Daily Essentials featured 5-6 minute snippets of news, weather, sports, late-show recaps, movie trailers, horoscope roundups, and meditation videos from NBC News, BBC, Weather Channel, Telemundo, ESPN, Rotten Tomatoes, Polygon, TMZ, and Fandango.
The service cost $4.99/mo for service with ads or $7.99/mo to remove them. It was initially intended to have a 14-day free trial, but this was widely extended to 90 days around launch.
A Brief History of Quibi
Quibi was originally founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg (formerly of Walt Disney Studios and DreamWorks). Katzenberg had been in show-biz for almost forty years. As a result, he was able to persuade investors, every major studio, and a lot of big names on both sides of the camera to invest in and create content for his project. He recruited Meg Whitman (formerly of eBay and HP) as CEO.
Quibi launched on April 6, 2020, in the US, and after an encouraging first day, quickly dropped out of the top app lists on all platforms. By the end of May, the service gave up its aspirations to be mobile-only (Android/iPhone) and updated the app to allow casting to a TV screen.
In June, Quibi execs were asked to take a voluntary pay cut. In July, the 90-day free preview from launch expired. Only a tiny percentage converted to paid subscribers.
In August, Quibi experimented with a free ad-supported version in Australia and New Zealand. In October, it finally released actual apps for TV platforms, literally a day before it announced the service — now down to 500,000 subscribers — would permanently go dark on December 1.
In January of 2021, streaming platform Roku announced it was purchasing the entirety of Quibi’s library. They were rebranded as “Roku Originals” and released on The Roku Channel, and several have already been renewed. Which brings us to: whatever are we going to watch now with the 6-10 minutes between moments of our lives?
We are living in the glory days of on-demand streaming. One reason for Quibi’s failure is simply that there was so much competition. But some services are better Quibi replacements than others.
Rumor has it that Roku, one of the oldest hardware streaming platforms, is joining the original programming party. The Quibi content it purchased is just the beginning. Roku’s own “The Roku Channel” is a free ad-supported service containing both live channels and on-demand shows.
Featured Roku Originals (all of which originally premiered on Quibi):
- Die Hart
- Most Dangerous Game
- Reno 911!
- Chrissy’s Court.
YouTube is, of course, the granddaddy of free user-generated (mostly) short-form content. Sure, much if not most of it is complete schlock, but there is also a lot of great content. You know: if a thousand monkeys typed for a thousand years… Plus, without YouTube, we wouldn’t have RickRolls, and where would we be then?
Webseries on YouTube (out of thousands):
- Discover Puerto Rico with Lin-Manuel Miranda
- The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl
- Marble Hornets
- Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis
- Baman Piderman
Hulu, along with Netflix, was one of the first on-demand streaming services. Because of their origins as a joint venture between several media companies, they have a huge library, including originals like The Handmaid’s Tale and Only Murders in the Building, but the big thing that sets them apart is next-day episodes of on-going TV shows.
Hulu’s on-demand service starts at $6.99/mo with ads, or $69.99 if you pay yearly. Spring for no commercials for $12.99/mo.
Disney+ has so much name recognition, it practically sells itself. Marvel and Star Wars thrown in don’t hurt, especially with breakout hits like The Mandalorian and WandaVision. This has helped it to become a powerhouse of the on-demand streaming world in just two years.
Paramount+ features a wide assortment of content from CBS and Viacom along with a strong sports lineup. It also features the complete library of Nick and Star Trek.
Plans start at $4.99/mo (with ads) or $9.99/mo (no ads, CBS live streaming, expanded sports coverage).
A streaming service from a major media company that’s free? Holy guacamole, it is! NBCUniversal’s streaming service has an ad-supported free option, though you have to subscribe to unlock all the content ($4.99/mo) and pay even more to remove ads ($9.99/mo). But where else are you going to watch back-seasons of Yellowstone?
Quibi was conceived as a mobile-only platform for short-form videos like TikTok or YouTube but with the production quality and prestige storytelling of Netflix or HBO. In short, it was about what you would expect from two somewhat techno-literate sixty-somethings looking to break into the Millennial and Gen-Z demographic.
The core belief of the endeavor was that young adults have short attention spans and like their smartphones and Netflix, so mash that all up and you’ll automatically get Profit.
It’s a cautionary tale of the hubris of skipping any kind of market research or testing when handling a $1.75 billion project. At least we still have the shows, for what it’s worth.
Is Quibi still around?
No, Quibi no longer exists as a service. But the shows survive. They were acquired by Roku. At least 30 of them have already debuted in 2021. They reportedly were watched more in their first two weeks on Roku than they were during the entire (admittedly short) lifetime of Quibi. Kevin Hart’s Die Hart was the first to be renewed by Roku.
Why did Quibi fail?
Quibi failed for many reasons. Katzenberg himself consistently blamed the pandemic, though he admitted at the very end that it could also have been the concept itself. The pandemic certainly didn’t do them any favors, but many analysts contend that even without the coronavirus, Quibi was never going to get off the ground.
There are many suggested reasons:
- While viewers are willing to watch stuff on their phones, most people prefer to watch on their TV.
- When stuck in quarantine, when you have a few minutes of downtime, the TV is right there.
- Most people never even heard of it, or, if they did, didn’t know what it was or why they should get it (even though a ton of money was spent on marketing and advertising).
- The refusal to allow screenshots, making of gifs, or any social media sharing crippled any viral buzz or word-of-mouth marketing.
- The content was widely considered not good enough to justify its price. Unmemorable and mediocre, it relied too heavily on its star power. Instead of bringing Netflix-level quality to the TikTok crowd, all they succeeded in doing was charging Disney+ prices for TikTok-quality content.
- It launched around the same time as Disney+, Apple TV+, Peacock, and HBO Max. It was comparably priced to them, but had no storied back-catalog like Disney or breakout hit like Apple TV+.
- It seemed to forget that it was competing against Snapchat, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, WhatsApp, Twitter, Vimeo, Twitch, and Instagram — all of which are well-established, popular, and free.
- It was way too slow and late to adapt to its misjudgments and the changing circumstances affecting entertainment.
How did anyone think Quibi would work?
In an interview with Vulture, published at Quibi’s launch, Jeffrey Katzenberg said:
Six or seven years ago, all music was free and available. You could type any title into your device and without any friction at all, you could pull up any one of 35 million titles. Yet there are now 187 million people who pay $10 a month for either Apple Music or Spotify. It’s not different music. It’s not music that was not available to you before. It’s not at a higher fidelity. What is it? Well, it’s playlists. It’s recommendations. It’s a set of features that actually make the consumption of music very, very easy for us.
He then describes HBO and its meteoric rise in original content:
They eliminate commercials. They free the form and format, so they were not confined at 30 or 60 minutes. They’re no longer beholden to standards and practices, so they could make things like Sex and the City or Sopranos or The Wire, which you could not put on broadcast TV. There was nothing wrong with broadcast TV. People loved it. But HBO did something that was highly differentiated, enough so that people felt it was worth paying a premium for. And that’s frankly what we are doing to the world of short form today. In the same way that they [said], ‘It’s not TV, it’s HBO,’ I would say, it’s not YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat — it’s Quibi.
It’s actually not that crazy or far-fetched. In theory, anyway. Maybe it just needs to be well-executed.
What was “turnstyle”?
Technology-wise, Quibi’s main gimmick was “Turnstyle.” It enabled you to dynamically change the view of the show based on the orientation of your phone. For example, it could show the background of a character in landscape mode but then zoom to a closeup in vertical mode. It was an interesting concept that never quite had a chance to get off the ground.
What devices was Quibi compatible with?
At first, Quibi was only compatible with mobile devices. After expanding from this unfortunate start, Quibi ran on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Android and iOS mobile devices, Android TV, and LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio Smart TVs. Interestingly, Quibi did not run on Roku devices. It does now though!