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Quibi is finally here: A new streaming video service bets big on short-form video

Published Apr 6th, 2020 3:08AM EDT
Quibi shows
Image: Quibi

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  • Quibi is a new paid streaming video service that launches today in the US and Canada, offering short TV episodes and movie chapters you watch exclusively on your phone.
  • You can sign up for a 90-day free trial, after which the service — led by Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman — will cost $7.99/month (or $4.99 for a version with ads).
  • The launch slate includes new TV shows and movies from A-list talent like Reese Witherspoon, Sophie Turner, and Steven Spielberg.

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is the name of a new streaming video service that launches today and that most of you probably haven’t heard too much about yet (with, you know, more pressing pandemic-related concerns right now and all), but here’s the thing: While it costs $7.99/month (or $4.99 with ads) and represents yet another paid subscription to squeeze into your budget, I’m planning to give it a try for one reason, and one reason alone. Despite the fact that I’ve got plenty of other streaming entertainment options that Quibi will never come close to supplanting.

I’m not trying it merely because it’s the brainchild of Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood impresario whose involvement is one of the main reasons why everyone in the industry is watching to see how this bold new media startup will fare. Nor am I game to give this a try because it’s already spent more than a billion dollars on launching a service that has around 50 shows to start with and will work up to almost 200 by the end of year one. Along those lines, Quibi is very much going the something-for-everyone route, rather than the curated approach of a service like Apple TV+, which means there’s a ton of content from tons of names you’ll recognize, everyone from Sophie Turner and Reese Witherspoon to Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Lopez, Sam Raimi, and lots of other A-listers.

Instead of all that, however, it’s the hook at the center of the service — that this is all short-form content you can consume in “quick bites” (where the name Quibi comes from) — which intrigues me the most. Why? Because TV content is too damn long, for the most part. There are way too many shows (great shows, to be sure) that are 40+ minutes long, and when all those shows start stacking up in your queue — I don’t know about you, but it frustrates me to the point of just not wanting to deal with it at all.

And thus, we have Quibi. So, the million-dollar question: Should you sign up and give it a try?

As I write this, it’s early Monday morning. Although I’ve played with the service a bit, I’m reserving my judgment for now because I’m going to try it and report back whether I’ve found it compelling enough to earn a place in my regular media consumption diet. I will say at the outset that one reason I believe it has an incredibly high mountain to climb is the fact that the idea of easily-consumable, quick TV show segments that you can watch a few minutes of while waiting in line somewhere sounds good, in theory — but I’m not sure I can see much on-the-go consumption of Quibi happening. It’s not scannable, the way Twitter is. And if you wait to get home when you can finally sit down on the couch to enjoy it, aren’t you more ready at that point for a full episode of something like a Netflix series?

As to the question of whether you should sign up for it now, I’ll be generous and say it can’t hurt — for at least two reasons.

For one thing, if you sign up today you can enjoy it all you want free for 90 days. If you’re a T-Mobile customer, the deal is even better: A whole year of Quibi for free. As T-Mobile explains in a news release, “customers with two or more voice lines at standard rates on Magenta and ONE plans with taxes and fees included — along with discounted First Responder, Military and Magenta Plus 55 plans — or small business customers with up to 12 lines” are eligible for the offer.

The highlights: The big idea behind Quibi is that every episode of every original show is 10 minutes or less. Even Quibi’s full-length, original movies are broken up into 4-10 minute chapters. New episodes will drop every day, as Quibi wants to become part of your daily routine. There’s also a regular offering of daily content like news-related programming, which is another way the service wants to burrow itself into your daily habits.

“I’m proud of the engineering team we’ve assembled and what we’ve collectively built and achieved to get to this moment,” said Quibi’s chief technology officer Rob Post. “Quibi is not only creating something entirely new for the way people will find delight and entertainment in their daily lives, but technology is at the heart of unlocking these new experiences and enhanced storytelling.”

Here’s a quick look at the new streamer, by the numbers:

  • On Day 1 (Monday, April 6) Quibi is launching in the US and Canada with around 50 shows.
  • One of the big knocks against a streamer like Apple TV+ is that its heavily-curated slate means viewers can go a bit of a stretch without any new content being added to the service. Quibi, meanwhile, will have some 175 shows with 8,500 cumulative episodes by the time its first year is done.
  • It will cost $7.99/month (or, if you don’t mind ads, $4.99/month).
  • At launch, exclusive ad partners include Progressive, Discover, General Mills, Procter & Gamble,
    AB InBev, Taco Bell, Pepsi, T-Mobile, Google, and Walmart.

In a pre-launch briefing for members of the press that BGR attended, Quibi chief product officer Tom Conrad acknowledged the extraordinary moment we’re all living in right now — and how much of a gamble the launch of something like Quibi would be in a more normal world, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic when everyone is quarantined at home. (And, it should go without saying, when everyone is already locked into media consumption habits dominated by existing services like Netflix).

While these are “unprecedented times,” he insisted that “there’s a long tradition of technology inspiring new forms of storytelling” and that Quibi is the fulfillment “of a dream that started five years ago.” The team behind the service, Conrad continued, built the whole thing from the ground-up specifically for the phone, based on a philosophy that treats mobile “as an entirely new experience, separate from TV and film.”

He added that the roughly 50 shows Quibi is launching with include its so-called “movies in chapters” as well as unscripted reality series and scripted shows. And even though the coronavirus pandemic has forced productions at other streamers like Netflix and Disney+ to grind to a halt, Conrad noted that “We have a bunch of shows either finished or in final post-production, and that library will allow us to deliver on our planned release cadence well through this year.” In fact, Quibi actually has enough original material in the pipeline to keep things humming along through Halloween.

Here’s a roundup of some of the early reactions from the Twittersphere as the team behind Quibi turned on the service in the wee hours late Sunday night:

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.