The Death of Quibi

We hardly knew you: The mobile-only streaming service was only six months old

Quibi, the streaming service that specialized in mobile-only, sub-10-minute episodes, died Wednesday after its co-founders announced they would be shutting the app down. It was six months old, or, in Quibi terms, about 26,280 episodes of content.

Quibi is survived by founders Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, who posted an open letter Wednesday about their decision to shut the service down.

“Quibi is not succeeding. Likely for one of two reasons: because the idea itself wasn’t strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service or because of our timing,” the letter reads. “Unfortunately, we will never know but we suspect it’s been a combination of the two.”

Quibi

Katzenberg and Co. may never know if Quibi’s death was a combination of the pandemic and a shoddy product, but audiences gave their opinion right off the bat: it’s the product. Quibi failed to hit its subscriber growth targets and couldn’t convert its free trial users into paid subscribers in the first six months, despite a hefty chunk of change fronted by investors. The startup raised $1.75 billion from Alibaba, the Walt Disney Co., NBCUniversal and AT&T’s WarnerMedia and also sold $150 million worth of advertising before the platform even launched.

That wasn’t enough for viewers. Quibi, like most streaming services, is cagey with what analytics it releases to the public. However, Katzenberg told the New York Times in May the service only saw 3.5 million downloads.

“The circumstances of launching during a pandemic is something we could have never imagined but other businesses have faced these unprecedented challenges and have found their way through it. We were not able to do so,” the open letter continues.

Those other businesses include TikTok, a mobile-only video app that has thrived during the pandemic despite repeated inquiries into its national security and a threat from President Trump to shut it down; HBO MAX, which premiered in May; and Peacock, which premiered in July.

All of those other services either had previous users (TikTok), migrating subscribers and existing library content (HBO) or a vast library of old content and new shows (Peacock).

Quibi, on the other hand, had billions to burn and spent it all on entirely new content and a new, confusing way of watching TV episodes. It had no legacy content aside from Punk’d and some other 2020 updates of outdated shows. Hopefully everyone involved on those shows got their money before this ship went under. The shows that did exist often took too much time to find their footing or weren’t suited for the app’s “turnstyle” technique of watching on your phone.

Quibi even launched at a time when many states were under stay-at-home mandates. If there ever was a time for the American people to stay at home and watch stuff on their phones, it was spring 2020. Don’t blame the pandemic for the failure of your expensive, harebrained scheme. People just didn’t want to watch Quibi.

You know what will be interesting, though? The inevitable oral histories and books and movies that will get made about Quibi. Now that, I’d watch. I’d even watch it on my phone.

 

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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