Disruptive mobile video streaming platform Quibi seemed to have everything in place to succeed until the coronavirus pandemic came along.
The thinking behind the new SVoD service seemed sound enough: a lot of people watch video while they’re commuting or standing in a queue, so they need short clips optimised for consumption on small smartphone screens. When it launched ten days ago CEO Meg Whitman insisted that launching in the middle of a pandemic of biblical proportions wasn’t a problem, but the signs since then suggest otherwise.
Maybe Whitman thought the disappearance of commuting, especially on public transport, would be offset by the sudden need to queue to get into shops. But reports increasingly paint a different picture, of a lack of buzz and memes as commentators grow sceptical about mobile-first as a positive differentiator.
Adding fuel to that fire is the fact that Quibi has just lost its Head of Brand and Content Marketing, Megan Imbres, who is the fourth senior exec to leave the ship in the past year. “It feels like an opportune time of transition where I can take some time to identify my next challenge,” Imbres reportedly wrote in a note to staff, just a year after joining from Netflix.
Perhaps in an attempt to focus public attention away from that news, Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg granted Reuters an exclusive interview in which he insisted “Under the circumstances, launching a new business into the tsunami of a pandemic, we actually have had a very, very good launch.”
Katzenberg conceded, however, that having his entire target audience confined to quarters was pretty far from ideal. A further indication that the launch may be somewhat short of very, very good is the announcement that Quibi is introducing the facility to cast onto TVs, which would appear to defeat the object of the service somewhat, and presumably wouldn’t have been introduced under normal circumstances.
For an expert view on the matter we spoke to Omdia Analyst Ed Barton, who focuses on the entertainment sector. We’re still looking for the big growth indicators,” said Barton. “The download numbers aren’t great and the immediate pivot to make the shows available on the big screen doesn’t reflect confidence in the mobile-first model.
“Their biggest challenge is they have yet to unearth a service defining hit on the scale of Breaking Bad or House of Cards, something that makes their service mandatory to the zeitgeist obsessed mainstream viewer.”
As ever, content is king, but Quibi may have been hoping to avoid the spending arms race being fought by Netflix, HBO, Amazon, etc thanks to its novel format. That hope now looks forlorn and if Quibi wants to stay afloat long enough to survive the perfect storm of its launch, it may have to massively increase its investment in unique programming.