Are viewers willing to add another $4.99-$7.99 per month to their streaming budget for short-form content that’s only available on their phones?
Quibi, at long last, has arrived — and the TheWrap has your early look at the app.
The new mobile-only streaming service, led by founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman, debuts following a seemingly never-ending string of show announcements over the last year. With $1.75 billion in funding, Quibi has lined up a star-studded slate that includes shows from Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Lopez, LeBron James, Will Smith, Reese Witherspoon, Kendall and Kris Jenner, among others. Episodes will only run 10 minutes or less, in a move aiming to differentiate Quibi from the pack and cater to viewers on-the-go.
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Quibi’s road to launch hasn’t been completely smooth: Multiple executives exited the company last year, and, amid the coronavirus pandemic, plans for a glitzy launch party were scrapped last month. The company also is being sued over Turnstyle, the app’s backbone technology that allows viewers to seamlessly move between vertical and landscape video.
Quibi now becomes a high-profile test of whether viewers are willing to add another $4.99-$7.99 per month to their streaming budget for short-form content that’s only available on their phones. (Quibi is offering a 90-day free trial through the end of April, along with a year of free access to T-Mobile customers.) With that in mind, let’s run through some initial Quibi impressions.
The App Experience:
Overall, Quibi’s design team did a good job with its app. It’s sleek, easy to navigate and comes with a few nifty features.
After a brief signup to start, Quibi opens to its “For You” section, highlighting which of its 50 available shows it thinks you want to see. The algorithm takes a little time to kick in; the first show Quibi recommended I watch was “I Promise,” a docuseries based on the school LeBron James opened in Ohio. I get why, after entering my age and gender, Quibi might’ve pushed it my way. But even though I’m a diehard Lakers fan and a big fan of James, a show that seemed like a nice PR campaign didn’t look that appealing. The “For You” section became a little more dynamic after I used the app for a few days, though, recommending new episodes of shows I had watched on the app.
Alongside the “For You” tab are three sections at the bottom of the screen: “Browse,” which lets users search by show name and genres, while also featuring a curated look at shows trending on the app; “Following,” which houses shows users have indicated they want to be kept up-to-date on; and “Downloads,” which includes all the episodes users have opted to download, allowing them to watch offline. Pretty simple stuff, but that’s a point in Quibi’s favor. The app is fairly dummy-proof.
Users can scan for new shows on the “For You” or “Browse” tabs by scrolling up and down, similar to someone looking through their Twitter timeline or Facebook news feed.
A few things that stood out to me:
— The advertisements weren’t overwhelming. Shows tend to start off with a 15-second ad, and if users jump out, then back into an episode, they may see a 5 or 10 second ad.
— Quibi’s volume control, which you can find by tapping the screen during an episode, is featured on the right side of the screen and is vertical, rather than horizontal. If users are more comfortable using their phones with their left hand, Quibi gives them the option of sliding the volume control over to the left side of the screen.
— Another useful feature: If users are watching one of Quibi’s “daily essentials,” which includes quick-hit news shows from outlets like NBC, TMZ and Telemundo, each episode has a table of contents feature that allows them to skip ahead to a part of the episode they might prefer.
— Quibi made a big deal of its Turnstyle technology, and understandably so: Shows look crisp, whether you’re watching vertically or horizontally. But I doubt many first-time users, who haven’t been following Quibi closely, will care that much. It’s a nice feature that sets it apart from watching content on Snapchat, HBO Go or Amazon Prime Videos, which only let you view a show in one direction, but it’s not something that will have users getting their credit cards ready.
This is where it gets a little dicey.
At first blush, everything seems top notch: The shows have star power; the production value is high; and the presentation is strong. So what’s the problem? Frankly, the shows weren’t that compelling.
This isn’t to say they were all terrible. Some were fairly entertaining. “Most Dangerous Game,” for one, was promising. The action-thriller stars Liam Hemsworth as a terminally-ill former athlete who’s desperate to help his pregnant wife; he soon accepts an offer from a “facilitator,” played by Christoph Waltz, for big bucks. The catch: He’s about to be hunted for sport. After Waltz makes his pitch in the first episode, I found myself fairly interested in seeing what happens next. (About half a dozen episodes are available for users to binge right off the bat.)
Quibi’s “Punk’d” reboot was passable, with Chance the Rapper doing a decent job filling in for Ashton Kutcher as the show’s prankster-in-chief. The first episode features Megan Thee Stallion having an unexpected run-in with a “gorilla” turned loose. Fun times. Jennifer Lopez’s “Thanks a Million,” meanwhile, does a decent job of pulling on your heartstrings, with good samaritans getting $100,000 and being asked to pay it forward. And for people who enjoy “Forensic Files” and “Flip or Flop,” Quibi’s “Murder House Flip,” where designers revamp homes people are living in that were once the site of a tragic event, isn’t terrible.
But they’re also not shows I found myself scrambling to watch more of before falling asleep.
And some other series were just rough. “Chrissy’s Court,” where Chrissy Teigen is judge and jury, fell into this category. The show had a “The People’s Court”-meets-“Maury” kind of vibe, which on paper sounds good. But the debut episode quickly moves from quirky to unfunny. The gist: Joey, an older gentleman who sings at restaurants, was asked by a young man to sing a rap song. Joey, who vaguely resembles the late Robert Evans, turned the guy down and was so startled by the face the guy made that Joey knocked over his $999 speaker; Joey now wants the young man to pay for the speaker. Before you know it, John Legend is in the court room crooning alongside Joey and the wheels have fallen off.
The daily news shows are fine, but they didn’t seem that much different than what’s been done on apps like Snapchat in the past.
Of course, this is just the input of one man in his late-20s. There are still plenty of big-name shows coming by the end of the year; a few standout series will likely emerge. Still, I found myself expecting a couple more shows featuring big names to already be on the app, ready to go. I doubt I’ll be the only user who is surprised Spielberg’s “After Dark” horror series isn’t available, for example. And what was available, while at times mildly amusing and always well-produced, wasn’t earth shattering.
Quibi comes across like the young star athlete who appears to have all the pieces, but you’re left wondering if he or she will put it all together.
To recap: The company is being stewarded by a proven entertainment kingpin and a business guru. Its app is understated yet first-rate. The company has plenty of money. It has a grip of Hollywood A-listers signed on. And on top of that, people are desperate for content right now while quarantined.
Yet the question remains: Will enough viewers feel they have to pay for another subscription to keep watching these shows? Judging from the initial slate, I’m skeptical.