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Quibi Shifts Gears Following Rough Start: Katzenberg Blames Underperformance On Coronavirus



New Subscriber Count Underwhelming

Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman launched Quibi on April 6th. The latest project from the two well-experienced entertainment moguls, Quibi is a streaming service designed for the smallest of screens— namely, smartphones and other mobile devices. The subscription based platform’s initiative is to provide short bursts of entertainment for people on the go, keeping content between seven and ten minutes long apiece.

Quibi entered the streaming war with a lot of hype, propelled by a massive marketing campaign and a line up including several noteworthy filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, Steven Soderbergh, Sam Raimi, and more. Many industry insiders had high hopes for the novel platform, even after it decided to stay true to its April 6th launch date amidst the coronavirus.

Sadly, that decision might be coming back to haunt Quibi, as the service came out over a month ago and has so far severely underperformed. The service cost roughly $1.4 billion to create— most of the money coming from Hollywood studio investors and the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba— and according to the New York Times, it has garnered under 2 million active subscribers in its first month. At a price of $4.99-$7.99 per month, this is a long way from breaking even.

Read more: “Quibi Embraces Smallest Screens and Biggest Talent in New Mobile Streaming Service

Despite knowing the risk of launching Quibi during COVID-19, Jeffrey Katzenberg is now attributing the site’s underperformance to the pandemic. In a New York Times video interview, he unambiguously stated, “I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus.”

The founder’s rationale is that the platform is best consumed for people with busy, mobile lives. Quibi provides content catered to people on tight schedules, with news and entertainment served in quick doses. Under the current quarantine, however, people are more sedentary than ever before. Katzenberg continued to the Times, “My hope, my belief was that there would still be many in-between moments while sheltering in place. There are still those moments, but it’s not the same. It’s out of sync.” 

This makes sense, but is called into question when considering the success of other streaming sites during the lockdown. Established platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ have benefitted immensely from people staying at home. With theaters closed, lots of content is getting expedited to streaming and these sites are serving as the last lines of entertainment during these isolating times. Netflix has added 15.8 million subscribers in 2020, and Disney+ 4.5 million in the month of April alone.

Of course, Quibi lacks a lot of what these preexisting services have to offer. It does not possess the name brand recognition of a Netflix or Amazon, nor does it have have the vast, familiar library of Disney+. Despite its impressive rolodex of attached producers and a few reboots of popular shows, Quibi has had to build from the bottom up with original programming.

No Blockbuster (yet?) and Now A Changed Attitude Re: TV

Unfortunately, on top of all the circumstantial roadblocks facing Quibi as a company right now, its shows have not been well received either. Many critics and consumers are not buying into the concept of watching content on a phone. Even though Quibi invested lots of effort into creating “turnstyle” technology for a seamless vertical/horizontal viewing experience, the final product has been underwhelming. A review from The Vulture called the technological attempt’s outcome, “a sad cropped, vertical version of a show that looked better in widescreen.”

Now, Quibi is looking towards the future. With so much money and human capital tied up in the project, it has no choice but to keep moving forward, trying to rebound and improve upon itself.

Read more: “Five Stories perfect for our time

Marketing-wise, Quibi plans to start advertising for individual shows. Up until now, the platform has marketed itself as a whole, with celebrity-endorsed commercials promoting the overall site rather than specific programs. Going forward, Quibi will create more ads centered on particular shows, much in the same vein as Netflix and Disney+.

The site will also be updating its terms of usage. For starters, Quibi users will no longer be tethered to their phone screens. Subscribers will soon be able to watch Quibi shows on their televisions. This was always something that Quibi aspired to in the longterm, but wanted to get its customers used to the small screen standard first. Given the users’ apparent aversion to mobile viewing, though, Quibi is accelerating the process.

Moreover, Quibi content will be sharable on social media going forward. At first, Katzenberg and Whitman wanted to keep all of Quibi (including screenshots) behind its subscriber paywall. Those walls are now becoming permeable, as Quibi demands more traction. Allowing users to share Quibi shows on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter will help spread its popularity and get more people talking about it.

Evidently, Quibi is undergoing some changes at the moment. Regardless of the peculiar situation, the bottom line is that Quibi has not been so successful out the gate. Things will probably get even more competitive in the coming months as NBCUniversal’s Peacock and AT&T’s HBOMax enter the streaming world. Consequentially, Quibi executives are changing their approach immediately, lest the Quibi craze be over before it even begins.

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