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Quibi quick to blame Covid for short-form streaming fail

Image credit: Dreamstime

Jeffrey Katzenberg, a former Disney CEO and co-founder of Dreamworks Animation, clearly thought he’d struck gold when he formulated the idea of Quibi, a platform composed of short-form video content designed to be consumed on-the-go.

Now, Katzenberg is nearly 70, so maybe we should cut him some slack, but short-form video content? That can be watched on the go? There’s another niche platform that already serves that purpose and if he’d done a little research maybe he would have come across it: it’s called YouTube.

YouTube is now 15 years old with the financial backing of Google - arguably the internet’s biggest player -propping it up should it not make a profit (yes, it’s still not entirely clear whether YouTube is actually a profitable business in its own right). YouTube also serves an incredibly broad range of niches and, most importantly, is free.

Quibi (a portmanteau word derived from 'QUIck-BItes') on the other hand was asking viewers to cough up $7.99 a month to watch such delights as 'Fierce Queens', which bizarrely tried to present an animal documentary through the lens of the #metoo movement, as if feminism is a concept relevant to animals; 'Nikki Fre$h', a comedy, hip-hop version of Gwyneth Paltrow’s 'Goop' that no one was asking for; 'Gayme Show', which you can figure out from the name; 'Thanks a Million', where self-congratulating celebrities give (despite the title) $100,000 to someone in need; and a reboot of early noughties show 'Punk’d', where Chance the Rapper (replacing Ashton Kutcher) once again pulls “hilarious” pranks on “celebrities”.

Katzenberg clearly had the cash to get Quibi off the ground - Reese Witherspoon was reportedly paid $6m dollars for approximately one day’s work in her role narrating 'Fierce Queens'. 'Thanks a Million' surely didn’t come cheap either with its bevvy of stars including Jennifer Lopez, Kevin Hart and Kristen Bell.

Even with all the money in the world, Quibi would never be able to compete with YouTube, which already has stars flocking to it for free to promote their own careers and a pre-existing audience of around 1.3bn.

YouTube wasn’t the only platform Quibi had to compete with either. TikTok also fills a similar niche, with even shorter videos that require an even shorter concentration span than Quibi’s 10-minute vignettes.

There was also the ever-present risk that if Quibi found even a modicum of success, Netflix, Disney+ or Apple TV would likely eat Quibi's lunch by creating their own short-form content platforms to directly compete, serving their pre-existing audiences numbering in the millions.

Unfortunately, Quibi also launched at possibly the worst moment in history for such a service. Its USP as a platform to entertain people during their commutes was completely wiped out when Covid-19 hit and everyone stopped going to work. The firm also prevented its programmes from being watched on anything but smartphones when in reality its subscribers were sitting around at home all day wondering why they couldn’t use the service on their massive TVs.

Quibi finally saw the error of their ways and launched apps on Apple TV, Android TV and Fire TV… on Tuesday (20 October), just one day before they announced the shutdown of the entire platform. Very helpful.

In May, following Quibi’s rough start, Katzenberg said: “I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus.”

While Covid surely played a part, his inability to take ownership for any failure that the platform might face is surely emblematic of the hubristic thought process that led to its very creation in the first place.

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