Quibi is Hollywood’s biggest short-form failure, but not the first

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The demise of mobile streaming platform Quibi, just six months after it went live, is the latest example of Hollywood’s struggles to build a business out of shorthand content.

Quibi may be the best-known and best-funded attempt to unravel the short puzzle, but it is far from the only one. The media industry is littered with the carcasses of short-form streaming platforms.

Some of the most prominent busts include Verizon Communications Inc. of Go-90, which ended in 2018 after less than three years; Full screen, an adventure between AT&T Inc.

and the Chernin Group which ceased to exist last year; and Vessel, co-founded by Jason Kilar, former CEO of Hulu and current WarnerMedia, and closed in 2016 after less than two years.

Quibi’s talk was short episodes, or “chapters,” of long content that people on the go could watch on their phones during, say, their commute to work or queuing at a food truck. He spent a lot on original shows and attracted many big name stars including Anna Kendrick and Kiefer Sutherland. The subscription fee was $ 4.99 per month for the ad-supported version and $ 7.99 ad-free.

“Their mistake was to think of the cell phone as a television,” said David Craig, producer and professor at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California.

Hollywood was eager to embrace the concept, although many privately doubted its potential for success. Quibi had deep pockets and was run by two big hitters: Jeffrey Katzenberg, a former executive at Walt Disney Co. and co-founder of DreamWorks, and Meg Whitman, a former CEO of eBay Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. was enough for producers to take a risk.

“These things pop up in Hollywood all the time and the agents see it as a huge paycheck,” said one producer who sold a show to the fledgling platform.

There is universal agreement that there is an appetite for short form content, as evidenced by the success of social media platforms such as ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok, Facebook Inc. of

Instagram the alphabet Inc. of

YouTube, which thrives on such tariffs. But it remains to be seen whether this holds true for big-budget entertainment, especially one that people have to pay for.

Additionally, users can stream big budget content from services like Netflix Inc.

or AT & T’s HBO Max on their phone and hit pause when they need a break.

Quibi “wasn’t built around one type of content reaching an underserved community,” said Jordan Levin, managing director of Rooster Teeth, a fan-driven video platform that, like HBO Max, is a part of. by AT&T WarnerMedia.

Quibi also lacked content capable of breaking into popular culture, despite receiving 10 Emmy nominations and winning two trophies.

“A subscription platform has to be successful to be successful,” Chris Silbermann, managing director of talent agency ICM Partners, said in an email. “Hulu took off after“ The Handmaid’s Tale ”, Netflix to new levels after“ House of Cards ”and“ The Mandalorian ”for Disney +. Quibi didn’t have enough time to develop a cultural touchstone that made it a staple.

Quibi was led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman.

Photo:
robyn beck / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

One of Quibi’s missteps was aimed at delivering high-end programming to an audience – millennials and millennials – who have grown up embracing user-generated content, especially on mobile devices, observers said.

“I know Quibi spent all that money to produce high quality content, but… it doesn’t necessarily matter to Gen Z,” said Jayne Charneski, founder of consumer intelligence firm Front. Row Insights & Strategy.

The big names also don’t have as much of an influence on the Under-35 crowd, said Olivia Moore, 26, of CRV.

“The mainstream celebrities Quibi has recruited, like Liam Hemsworth, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Lopez, are not as attractive,” she said. “Generation Z-ers would rather watch Charli D’Amelio pass out while having his blood drawn than pay to access a scripted show featuring millennial actors with whom they are not linked. ”

There is shorthand content on platforms like Netflix and HBO Max, including “Love, Death & Robots” and “The Not Too Late Show with Elmo,” which are typically 15 minutes or less. But they are a complement to the main draw: long-lasting shows.

Particularly inopportune was the launch of a service for use by people on the move just as a pandemic was causing the country to lock down. But the fact that Quibi wasn’t initially available to be watched on TV at a time when much of the country was at home hasn’t helped.

In a letter to employees and investors announcing the shutdown, Mr Katzenberg and Ms Whitman said they felt the service was both a victim of the pandemic and perhaps not solid enough of a concept.

A Quibi spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Some of Quibi’s shows are likely to find new homes elsewhere.

“Some of the projects purchased by Quibi are well done and will have the opportunity to be redeveloped and find accommodation on other platforms,” ​​said Chris Jacquemin, partner and co-head of digital for the talent agency WME .

Reclaiming the rights for programming created for Quibi can be tricky. Quibi’s typical license agreement is for seven years, with a caveat that after two years a creator can sell their show elsewhere as long as it is no longer in abbreviated form. In other words: turn the six 10-minute episodes into a one-hour program.

Although Quibi has said it has closed in part to return all the money possible to investors, programmers who want to get their shows back will likely have to negotiate deals.

“They will do what will bring them the most money in the pockets of their investors,” said a studio manager.

The action thriller “Most Dangerous Game”, produced by ViacomCBS Inc. of

CBS, and was one of the most popular shows on the platform, has attracted interest from other streamers before, people familiar with the matter have said.

“Most Dangerous Game” creator Nick Santora said the plan is to turn the series into a high-end film series similar to the “John Wick” franchise. Although Quibi was short lived, Mr. Santora has no regrets and believes there is a future for the genre.

“I found it incredibly stimulating to tell a story in bite-sized pieces. It honed my skills as a writer and showrunner, ”he said. “I think there is an appetite for good storytelling, however long. Some of the most famous stories of all time are short stories. ”

Write to Joe Flint at [email protected]

Corrections et amplifications
Quibi’s name was misspelled as Qubi in one case in an earlier version of this article. (Corrected October 24)

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