Quibi launched today (6 April 2020) at perhaps the worst time it possibly could. If you don’t know what Quibi is I don’t really blame you, 4 out of the 5 T-Mobile employees I spoke to this morning didn’t know what it was either (and they’re giving it out for free).
Quibi is a yet another video streaming service competing with the behemoths of Netflix, Disney+, and Prime Video for your money; however, Quibi is doing this a little differently. Quibi’s entire gimmick is that, much to its detriment, it delivers “bite-sized movie quality” shows. Quibi, which is a terrible name by the way because no one really knows how to pronounce it, airs 10-minute shows meant to be consumed via a phone.
When I first saw news about Quibi I thought “what a terrible idea”, an opinion which hasn’t changed much. People have a lot of sporadic down time throughout the day. 30 minutes for lunch, 20 minutes on the train, 15 minutes waiting for pre-workout to kick in, 10 minutes between classes, etc. These short free periods are what Quibi is trying to capitalize on. This concept by itself isn’t a bad idea, in fact I think it’s a very good idea. People don’t want to start up an hour-long episode only to have to turn it off midway through because their lunch break is over. 10 minutes is long enough that with a skilled writer and director you can deliver a compelling narrative. Quibi’s main problem however if it’s laser focus on this very niche market.
Persuit of this market has led to some strange decisions which I think will ultimately hurt Quibi. One of the first decisions I find strange about Quibi is that its phone only. There’s no TV app, no Chromecasts support, no web browser interface, heck there’s not even a tablet app. It’s only for use in your phone, and Quibi has no intention of making anything else available. To some extent I understand this; similar to Netflix and other streaming medium, if you have the option to watch on your 6″ phone or on your 65″ 4K TV what are you going to pick? This is pure speculation but I’m going to guess that most people would rather wait to watch something on a TV over a phone. And when you finally do get home would you rather watch a bite sized show or something a bit longer? While I have no proof, I really think this decision-making process is what’s at the core of Quibi’s decision to make it phone only.
Another strange decision is Quibi’s absolute refusal to allow multiple profiles. Quibi had made it pretty clear that their intent is for each person to have their own account (at $4.99 a pop). That means for the average American household of 4 people Quibi will run you $20 a month to watch 10 minutes episodes on your phone (more on that later). Quibi is one person, one stream, period. In today’s day and age this is really a very baffling decision to exclude families in this way. There’s no option to upgrade to a family account (ala YouTube premium) either. Each person has to get their own subscription.
The price point of Quibi is really bizarre as well. Quibi comes with two plans; ad supported and ad free. Now before I really begin discussing the price, I want to comment on how absolutely ludicrous ads on a paid service are. Ads on a paid service are simply the publisher’s way of being incredibly greedy. You’re already charging a subscription,tacking ads on top of it an infuriating move. Infact it’s the reason I never have, and never will, actually subscribe to Hulu. Back on topic though, Quibi’s “ad supported” plan costs the user $4.99 a month (remember there’s no sharing), while the ad free plan costs $7.99 a month. $7.99 a month! That’s $1 short of the basic Netflix package. Granted the Quibi stuff is HD while basic Netflix isn’t. I’m not a financial analyst but it thinks Quibi’s price is monumentally stupid. $5/m for 10-minute videos with ads seems like a terrible deal. If T-Mobile wasn’t giving me a year of this for free, I would definitely never pay that. I really think a lot of people are going to be in the same boat as me, $5 a month is too much money for not enough content. If Quibi was $2 a month for 1 person (no ads) and $6 a month for 4 people I’d be more inclined to consider it. As it stands right now, no way.
One final thing I want to complain about regarding Quibi is data usage. Quibi seems to be really heavily targeting users who are away from home looking for short experiences. Away from home often also means away from Wi-Fi. One of Quibi’s unique features, which I’ll talk about later, is the ability to dynamically change the scene by rotating your phone. Portrait and Landscape mode both show slightly different versions of what you’re watching; however, the way this works consumes more data. Essentially what Quibi does is that it streams two videos at the same time, one in SD and one in HD. When you rotate your phone, the videos switch and the SD becomes HD and the HD becomes SD. This double stream means that you rotating the phone changes the stream seamlessly without forcing a pause to buffer. The consequences of this however is that Quibi uses about 20% more data per 10 minutes than HD Netflix or YouTube do since Quibi is loading two videos at the same time. If Quibi is trying to target people during their down time that also generally means targeting people who are on mobile data. With Cellular carriers still charging outrageous prices for data overages I don’t see a large interest in streaming videos like this.
I know I’ve been awfully negative about Quibi so far, because I don’t see it lasting the full year, but I do want to highlight some things Quibi does well. Don’t worry this will be shorter, because there’s not much.
I mentioned it previously but it’s worth talking about here. Quibi videos change based on the orientation of your phone. Aspect ratios change and so too does your understanding of the world in the show. In landscape mode you might get a better view of the environment but in portrait mode you might get a better shot of the person. This idea is really neat and actually executed well. In my tests it worked rather seamlessly; but it’s a gimmick. I just don’t see a world where something like this enhances the experience more than it detracts. If I have my phone in the wrong orientation am, I going to miss a critical bit of environmental storytelling? Is there a benefit to putting my phone vertical when the onscreen character is texting or could that message exchange be better illustrated with on screen bubbles appearing? Call me old school but I just don’t see a use case where rotating my phone is going to deliver a better experience than already established film techniques.
That’s about all I really have to say on the subject of Quibi. It’s a good idea that’s overpriced, suck in the past, and relying to heavily on a gimmick to set it apart from it’s piers.
Let me know you think I’m the comments below.