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April 03, 2020

Two And Ten

A pair of Hollywood heavyweights are betting cell phone viewers will click on Quibi, where the A-list content will top out at ten minutes a pop.

Graham Flashner
  • Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg

    Ian Spanier

Call it next-gen Netflix. call it HBO for your cell phone.

Either way, the streaming marketplace is about to get even more crowded with the April launch of Quibi, a new mobile-centric platform headed by film mogul–entrepreneur Jeffrey Katzenberg and Silicon Valley über-exec Meg Whitman.

Quibi — a blend of "quick" and "bites" but pronounced "kwibby" — promises a streaming experience like no other, with premium short-form video content ranging from scripted and unscripted series to talk shows, lifestyle programs, news and sports. No episode will exceed 10 minutes.

Imagine YouTube with A-list Hollywood talent and budgets. Quibi's per-minute cost of programming is $100,000. They've commissioned scripted series from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Steven Soderbergh; unscripted shows from Trevor Noah, Chrissy Teigen and Tyra Banks; and news and sports content curated by the BBC, ESPN and NBC.

Unlike Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other streaming platforms, Quibi won't be viewable on laptops or tablets; all content is created exclusively for mobile phones. Subscriptions will cost $4.99 a month with ads and $7.99 without.

In a world where viewers are already inundated with more long- form content than they have time to watch, Quibi is betting that its target audience — millennials 25 to 35 — will embrace shorter content designed to be consumed during what Whitman calls "those in-between moments" from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"You're on a commute, you're waiting in line for your coffee, waiting for a meeting to start, for a friend to arrive… and for those moments, we will create very high-quality, fabulous stories for our audience," Whitman explains. "Quibi helps you make the most of your moments on the go."

Katzenberg sees their brand of elevated short-form content as "the third generation of film narrative," a lineage that began with motion pictures and evolved into television, where audiences learned to process stories divided into multiple act breaks and episode arcs.

Now, he says, "We're taking this tried-and-true, tested skill set and applying it to a new form: two-hour movies in chapters that are seven to ten minutes in length."

Katzenberg likens the advent of Quibi to the impact HBO made on the free TV landscape. "In the late '80s and early '90s, broadcast TV was at its pinnacle," he says.

"Seinfeld, Friends and Home Improvement had more than 40 million people a week watching. HBO came along and said, 'It's not TV, it's HBO.' They had a subscription model; because of that, they could afford to make content that an ad-supported platform couldn't do. That's what Quibi is doing."

But will it work? Depending on your perspective, Quibi is either a visionary game-changer, or a risky venture in a saturated marketplace where Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV+ and the forthcoming HBO Max and Peacock are engaged in the so-called "streaming wars."

Katzenberg stresses that Quibi is not in direct competition with those platforms. "We view Quibi as complementary to, not a competitor of, the new and existing streaming services," he says. "The studios are our partners and have given us access to their talent and showrunners because they think this is the next big growth opportunity."

Hollywood has also provided a heavy influx of cash. Investors such as Disney, 21st Century Fox, NBC Universal, Sony Pictures Entertainment and China's behemoth Alibaba Group have helped Quibi raise an initial $1 billion.

In addition, the company has stockpiled $150 million in upfront ad inventory, with major sponsors like Google, PepsiCo, Progressive, Procter & Gamble and Walmart.

Lacking the brand equity and extensive library of, say, Disney+, Quibi is banking on a formidable talent roster — and a bundling deal with T-Mobile for starters. Rich Greenfield, an analyst at LightShed Partners, says, "Their biggest challenge is that Quibi's starting from a base of no subscribers. Netflix had a DVD base; Amazon has free shipping; Quibi is literally starting from a base of zero.

"On the other hand," he adds, "all the data indicates that cord-cutting is accelerating and that people want to stream great content… and most people have never seen the level of content quality in short-form video that Jeffrey has created."

Veteran TV producer Phil Gurin (Shark Tank, The Singing Bee) concurs: "Crafting content in more bite-size, digestible pieces sounds of the moment, and sounds 'right on' for our short-attention-span generation." ...

For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of emmy magazine, on newsstands or here.

This article originally appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2020


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