What Quibi Got Wrong

Plus: What AI can tells us about making movies, what porn can teach Hollywood

It’s hard to imagine what more could have gone wrong for the launch of Quibi. The short-form, mobile-only streaming app set sail amid the worst pandemic in a hundred years that has left people with hours of time on their hands and decidedly un-mobile.

It bet heavily on a technical twist — its Turnstyle portrait-to-landscape viewing feature — that is now the subject of a patent infringement lawsuit that could prove costly, and it suffered a major privacy breach less than a month after launch.

It also baffled and frustrated early users by having no connection to TVs or any other non-mobile platform, and its ad-supported tier still costs $5 a month.

As a result, despite billions in advertising and promotion, including an expensive Super Bowl ad, Quibi has so far managed to attract only 1.3 million active users, most of whom are still on a free trial, and the app quickly fell out of top 100 list of iPhone app downloads.

In an interview with the New York Times last week, Quibi co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg blames the poor showing so far on Covid-19.

“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” Katzenberg said. “Everything.”

But there was a lot wrong with Quibi even before the Covid lockdown.

The initial lack of a connection to the TV was both a monumental miscalculation (which the company is now scrambling to fix) and a tell. It was a strategic decision premised on the idea that a service provider can dictate to consumers long-habituated to all-platform access to content what the use-case must be and which device they must use for it.

It’s the same way of thinking that led the record industry to believe they could continue to force consumers to buy high-margin CD albums even after Napster had empowered consumers to disaggregate the bundle. It’s as if Quibi’s big-name Hollywood backers have learned nothing about consumers and digital services in the nearly three decades since.

Quibi also raised $1.75 billion before launch and used it to pay A-list talent to create original programming based on the untested premise that consumers want to watch professionally produced long-form content cut up into 10-minute chunks.

In short, there was nothing at all organic about Quibi. Its content is un-viral by design, there is no way to engage with it apart from passive consumption, and it’s not designed for binging.

Compare that with TikTok, which came out of nowhere less than three years ago and has amassed 2 billion viewers worldwide. The platform is mobile-friendly by design but its content is designed for engagement. Unlike Quibi, it’s seen a surge in users since everyone was forced to stay home and is now attracting the same sort of A-list talent to create content organically that Quibi has paid so handsomely for.

Quibi needs to go back to the drawing board.

RightsTech Roundtable

Think "nobody knows anything" in Hollywood? Think again. The latest RightsTech Roundtable featured Tobias Queisser of Cinelytic, Inc discussing what it's possible to know using AI and advanced data analytics.


Googling antitrust

Google may finally face the music over its dominance of the search and online advertising businesses. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Justice Department and a group of state attorneys general are each preparing to file antitrust lawsuits against the tech giant, perhaps as soon as the summer. The state case is focused largely on Google’s domination of the online ad business, while the feds are focused on both advertising and Google’s alleged abuse of its dominant position in search to harm competitors of its other business segments.

‘Wretched’ box office news

Indie horror film The Wretched led the North American box office over the weekend, scaring up $85,000 at 21 drive-in theaters. To date, the flick has earned $296,954, all at the drive-in, since opening May 1. With indoor movie houses closed, long-empty drive-ins continue to make a comeback, now with socially distanced parking, hand sanitizer and strict limits on restroom access. Drive on.

Sex education

With the major studios and independent producers groping for ways to safely re-start production in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hollywood might want to take a lesson from the adult film industry. At the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1990s, the porn business in Los Angeles developed and adopted its own testing system and database to prevent the spread of the disease on set. “When we first starting talking about COVID, we felt very well prepared because we have a whole history of testing within the industry as well as contact tracing and production shut-downs,” said Mike Stabile, spokesman for the Free Speech Coalition, which represents the major porn studios. “This is obviously a different type of virus, this is a different type of threat, but we understood in general how it would work and what we’d need to do in order to protect ourselves.” That’s not screwing around.

Out of office

We’ll be on a break the week of May 18th. See you back here after Memorial Day. Stay safe.


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