The easiest question to answer about Quibi is the one I most often ask myself: what is Quibi, anyway?
Quibi is short for “quick bites” – although you don’t pronounce it “quih-bye” (to rhyme with “rib-eye”) but, instead, “quih-bee”, to rhyme with the name “Libby”. It’s a new streaming service designed from scratch for mobile devices, and some of the names behind it include media mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg (who worked at Disney Animation during his rebirth, then started Dreamworks Animation and has been instrumental in making films such as Shrek and Prince of Egypt) and CEO Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay.
There is a lot of money behind Quibi: as The Verge pointed out last month, the service had raised nearly $ 2 billion in start-up capital before anyone saw a single programming frame. With so much money in his chest and with people like Katzenberg and Whitman involved, you’d expect Quibi to be new and original, incredibly innovative, or at least packed with great programming.
Quibi is none of that. Its main objective is to present short programming, so that each episode of each of its shows lasts less than 10 minutes, and many are much shorter than that. (I watched a few in five minutes.) Quibi’s adoption of short content is supposed to be his new murderous idea, the must-have that will require you to pay $ 5 a month to watch with ads and 8 $ per month to watch without. (Vox Media, Vox’s parent company, creates programming for Quibi. I haven’t seen Speedrun, its daily broadcast on Monday first.)
But in practice, Quibi fails to differentiate itself from many other streaming services. At best, it’s like a YouTube you have to pay for.
Quibi’s programming ranges from restarting reality shows to bland scripted shows to Nicole Richie laughing at herself
I spent most of a working day watching many of the new Quibi series. The service sent me viewers from almost 30 shows, usually offering three or four episodes each. (Several programs that will run daily, to report or comment on the news, were not available, for obvious reasons.) Offers ranged from the reality competition series to game show reboots, scripted dramas to a fake documentary. very strange. They were almost all mediocre. Some were terrible.
The most notable titles for many who sign up for the Quibi 90-day free trial will be two remakes of old MTV shows – the farce Punk’d (hosted by Chance the Rapper in this incarnation) and the dating show Distinguished (hosted by Keke Palmer and Joel Kim Booster). Neither program is bad, exactly, but neither program explains why it was relaunched for 2020; if Quibi wants to ride the boom of nostalgia, we do not know immediately why the programs he resurrects will have the most immediate appeal to the 20 and 30 year olds who are already inundated with streaming services which are directly intended for them .
The other reality programming is … great, but it’s clear that no one has given much thought to why it should exist in Quibi’s “quick bite” format. Reality television is often fraught with concept – which means that a program can live or die depending on the clarity of the concept for a series or an episode – and in the execution time less than 10 minutes of Quibi episodes, generally all that remains is to introduce this concept before rushing through a quick conclusion. Many Quibi reality shows that I screened made me feel like I was getting interested just before they ended abruptly.
The script series doesn’t fare any better. All are structured less like episodic TV shows and more like a film arbitrarily divided into pieces. That’s probably the right approach – a 10-episode 10-minute Quibi show that will last 100 minutes, after all – but few programs have really thought about what it might look like. I more or less appreciated his rotation Most dangerous game, with Christoph Waltz as the smiling villain who wants to chase a man (in this incarnation called Dodge because he has to dodge all these murder attempts), and Reversed, an absurd comedy that I am not sure I can describe, but which uses Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson a lot.
And yet, these “pretty good” shows were stacked against a program called To survive, which I would call one of the most irresponsible TV shows I’ve ever seen. Halfway through the first episode of the series, its protagonist (played by Game of Thrones Sophie Turner) describes in detail detailed instructions for self-harm and suicide, in a way that makes self-harm and suicide vaguely attractive. It’s supposed to be dangerous and pissed off; instead, it works like an impromptu user manual that has seriously crossed the line for me.
The only Quibi show I enjoyed with all my heart was Nicole Richie’s fake documentary Nikki Fre $ h. It has something to do with Richie trying to make himself relevant again by doubling up as “Nikki Fre $ h” and becoming a rapper but also a beekeeper? It makes sense at the moment, but good luck explaining it to anyone. I just know that a major cameo in the third episode, the one I don’t dare spoil, made me laugh out loud – the only time a Quibi show got such a reaction from me.
So if Quibi’s shows are not worth it, is it the service itself? With the caveat that I have not really seen the interface that the new service will use – and maybe it will be extraordinary – I am convinced that there is nothing about Quibi that is not already done better elsewhere, and often for much less.
Quibi sells as revolutionary. But most of its innovations were launched by other departments.
The different screens that Quibi provided to the critics showed us each program in vertical and horizontal orientations, so that we can get an idea of the appearance of its broadcasts depending on how you hold your phone:
Each Quibi show was viewed from the perspective of someone watching in a vertical orientation, as well as from the perspective of someone watching in a horizontal orientation. But the narrow framing of the vertical orientation often leaves important visual information cropped anyway, or creates unintentionally disturbing images, like the competitor looming in the background of the photo above. Particularly in some of Quibi’s more documentary shows – where the camera has to flex to follow what’s going on – the vertical orientation has proven difficult to watch.
Some programs have found a fun way to present information in vertical orientation, sometimes using a split screen effect where several people on the screen at the same time appear in different frames stacked on top of each other. Here is an example of this format in the show Nightgowns, a boring but beautifully filmed series on the trail:
Rather than following the entire performance of the drag queen Sasha Velor – who would move the entire stage – the vertical orientation divides her in a way that gives you the feel overall performance while allowing the camera to remain mostly stationary. Unfortunately, this is the only Quibi show I watched that seemed to have thought about how such a performance would play out differently when viewed on a phone.
This attempt to accommodate vertical viewers, I think, will be the difference that most people notice when they launch Quibi. And it may seem incredibly innovative to many of them. I don’t want to sell Quibi here – the effort to think about how people holding their phones upright will experience its programming is welcome, even if it gives way too many shows that simply restrict all action in the center of the frame. But it’s not exactly New.
And that’s the big problem with Quibi: everything he does interesting is already better done by someone else. Many shows feel like smaller, shorter versions of the more successful Netflix offerings (for example, a show on how different doughs take their shape is okay and all, but it has a pretentious vibe that Netflix is similar Salty fatty acid heat luckily avoided). And shows that don’t look like imitations of Netflix are exactly the type of scripted padding that tends to eliminate new streaming platforms that need content.
But look beyond Netflix and you’ll find other streaming services offering even better results on Quibi’s main promises.
Quibi is a bunch of short content aimed primarily at young people – making it a bit like YouTube with more conservation, better production values and casual celebrities. It is not immediately known what Quibi Punk’d remake adds to the world what Logan Paul hasn’t done, other than the chance to see big names getting stuffed. Similarly, an overview of pop culture entitled Blackout is no different from hundreds of YouTube videos offering a fun look at obscure cultural moments, except that it is hosted by Will Arnett instead of an unknown narrator.
And YouTube, at least in its basic form, is free. It is also very popular with adolescents and 20-year-olds that Quibi seems to target. So Quibi basically works directly on YouTube with a service that will cost money, for programming that is rarely much better than the best that YouTube has to offer, but the features are facing you (and by “you” I mean say an adult who’s not caught up in the world of YouTube celebrity) might recognize more.
Then there is Snapchat, which remains extremely popular with teens and young people in their early 20s. Snapchat also offers original series – those that can only be viewed vertically, and which have been better designed to play specifically on a phone. These are TV shows or movies divided into smaller pieces, as Quibi shows often seem to be. And they are free.
Snapchat shows have deliberately thought about what it means to broadcast on a phone screen and how to best convey information. Using split screens on a Quibi program is still an attempt; on Snapchat, this happens in all programs.
And the Snapchat approach works, at least based on its internal numbers. Writes Kathryn VanArendonk of Vulture:
According to his figures, 218 million people use the app daily. With over 38 million viewers, Endless (previously called Endless summer), created by Michelle Peerali and Andrea Metz, is the most watched of the 95 original shows appearing on the platform in recent years. It’s now in its third season, and most of its audience is between 13 and 24 years old (according to Snapchat statistics, 90% of people in the U.S. in this age group have the app on their phones) . The company studied what works on a phone and what doesn’t, and from these lessons it invented mobile storytelling as a new art form.
Even if we assume Snapchat is over-reporting its numbers – as it probably is – there is still an impressive number of people, mostly young adults and teens, watching its programming. They’re the same people as Quibi’s target, and if they’re already watching Snapchat, it’s hard to imagine they’re being sucked in by Quibi. (I don’t know specifically as Snapchat shows, but they’re designed relentlessly to do what they do perfectly. I can respect that.)
So if the target audience of Quibi is mainly occupied by other applications, and if the service is not so innovative, and if its programming is mostly mundane, why are we talking about it?
Quibi’s media coverage highlights the broken ways we talk about technology and entertainment
In the spring of 2019, a new streaming service called Nebula launched what is called a gradual launch, online with a small amount of content with the idea that it would add more and more in the coming weeks. Nebula is another streaming service trying to make “YouTube but better”, and the concept behind it is literally paying top YouTube creators (with money pooled from the subscriber base of $ 3 per month of service) to do what they would like if they weren’t dependent on the whims of the YouTube algorithm. (I should note here that one of these creators, Lindsay Ellis, is a friend of mine. This is also the only reason I know the nebula exists, which will become important in a moment.)
I don’t know that Nebula presents herself as something different in the way of Quibi, but she definitely tries Something New. And yet, he received perhaps a hundredth of Quibi’s media coverage. If you search it on Google, you’ll find a handful of news articles on the service, then a bunch of confused Reddit threads asking what the Nebula is. Nebula has never contacted me to offer filters or access the site. This is unlikely to be the case. I guess whatever Nebula’s budget will not be spent on publicists.
Quibi – which, again, has nearly $ 2 billion in capital – was almost breathless when it was announced. He aired commercials during the Super Bowl. His shows involve big Hollywood stars. It’s the kind of streaming service that those of us who write about entertainment or technology are “supposed to” cover. But why? Why waste so much ink on something that seems so strangely underrated?
For me, Quibi is clearly inferior. It’s “YouTube more expensive” at best and “Snapchat but with worse quality control” at worst. It’s hard to imagine that many people who want to subscribe to another streaming service decide to add Quibi. It’s also hard to imagine that many viewers subscribe to a streaming service specifically for people who want to watch short videos while on the go, as this service is launched during a pandemic that forces everyone to stay the House. (The pandemic is not Quibi’s fault, of course; the service’s launch date in April 2020 was announced months ago. But now the pandemic is another thing that hinders Quibi.)
My point is that the reason why Quibi was covered so heavily has little to do with his ideas (which are paltry) or his programming (which is bad) or his business model (which is basically the same as all other commercial streaming models). The reason Quibi has been so widely covered is that a lot of money has been poured into it, and the people who started the service have already made a lot of money by doing other things. Therefore, this must be important, because a capitalist society assigns a value in terms of dollars.
I am aware that I am part of the problem. Look how many words I have written on Quibi, a service I obviously don’t like. This is because I know there will be Quibi ads everywhere, and I know that enough people will say, “What is Quibi? And click on this article to find the answer. This is how the system works.
But it is also a system that is so often hijacked by money that it has become functionally insignificant. In a world where news and entertainment were evolving at a slower rate than hyperspeed, I might have found a way to write about Quibi in six months, after I had had time to settle down and do part of some people’s lives. But in this world, the attention window for Quibi is right now, so here is this article. And in six months, another new streaming service will arrive.
I don’t know if Nebula is better than Quibi. I make know that there is nothing about Quibi that the other services are not already doing better. There are many niche streaming services out there, but none of them have the massive marketing budgets to get stuck in people’s brains like Quibi does.
Quibi has no de facto value because he has spent enough money to convince people that he is of value. It’s a faulty product, from a faulty premise, and the idea that it’s worth talking about because it caught your attention (and mine) is so much wrong with it America in the 21st century. Service is another naked emperor in a country full of them. So why are we looking for cool new fashions when the naked ass is visible from afar?