With 10 months to go until the launch of their new streaming service, Quibi, DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman told a packed auditorium at the 2019 Produced By Conference Saturday that their company’s planned chapter structure was similar to those in Dan Brown novels like “The Da Vinci Code.”
Plenty of attempts have been made to create a streaming platform tailored for mobile phones, but none so far have succeeded. But Katzenberg and Whitman’s combined track record at companies like DreamWorks and eBay has convinced investors to let them give it another go. So far, Quibi has acquired $1 billion in funding with which they hope to do something that no other streaming platform has done before: launch without a pre-existing library.
“This is a completely new platform, with a completely new opportunity to tell stories in a different format,” Whitman said. “People are watching up to 60 minutes a day of video on their phones, and that figure is only going to get bigger with the arrival of 5G.”
Katzenberg explained that the series that will launch on April 6, 2020, will be released in daily, 10-minute chapters, providing a hopefully happy medium between the immediate, bing-watching season releases of Netflix and the weekly, traditional episodic format of broadcast TV. He compared the company’s chapter system to the short, five-page chapters in Dan Brown novels.
“Dan Brown has spoken about having these 464-page novels with very short chapters, so that if his readers didn’t have 30-40 minutes to sit down and read a big section, they could still have a good reading experience with however amount of time they had,” he explained.
“The basis of what we are doing is rooted in what television has been doing for 70 years: having a moment in an episode that makes you go ‘wow!’ and a bridge that makes you want to come back for the next chapter. The goal for us is to do it with a new time constraint and a new format.”
Of course, YouTube and its creators have found a way to build such a devoted base in that format over the past decade. But Quibi wants to go a step further and build short-form series with as many big-name filmmakers as possible. The company is teaming up with MTV to bring back two of the channel’s most famous reality shows, “The Real World” and “Punk’d,” in a mobile short-form format.
Meanwhile, director Antoine Fuqua and Sony Pictures TV are creating an exclusive crime drama for the platform called “#freerayshawn,” starring Laurence Fishburne and “If Beale Street Could Talk” star Stephan James. Other creators and studios like Guillermo del Toro, Anna Kendrick, Blumhouse and, most recently, Steven Soderbergh have also come onboard to create original content.
While other streaming companies like Netflix have added clauses in their original programming contracts preventing them from being shopped around for a certain number of years after they are cancelled, Quibi is giving Fuqua an opportunity to make a long-form version of his film after it has spent a certain period of time on the streaming service.
“Fuqua will have editorial control over the project, and after his film has been on the platform for two years, he will be able to re-edit the film into a feature film version that he can sell anywhere he wants. That’s important because the narrative pacing for an uninterrupted, two-hour film is different than a series broken into ten-minute chapters,” Katzenberg said.
“We feel we’re making something really unique because creators can own their IP. The more successful a project is for Quibi, the more successful it will be for the filmmakers in the long term.”
In the coming months, Quibi will roll out a $470 million marketing campaign to get potential subscribers onboard, offering a free trial and a subscription price of $4.99/month. Millennials (age 25-35) will be the target demographic, with hopes to also catch older members of Gen-Z (age 18-24). The big question, however, is whether younger consumers will be willing to add mobile streaming to their list of subscriptions at a time when home streaming is becoming increasingly varied and there are free options like YouTube and social.
“Up until April 6, everything we are doing is based on instinct, and after that, everything will be based on the data,” Katzenberg said.
“We will find out after launch […] are people engaging with the ads? Do they prefer comedy on their phones or are they up for something more dramatic or heavier?” Whitman added. “Does something scary work on mobile streaming? The truth is we don’t know, but we’re interested to find out, and that’s why we’re doing this.”