Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Thought's on Quibi's muted launch, from A Friend with a Quibi show

When my twitter feed hasn't been full of people tweeting about Trump and the pandemic, I've seen a lot of tweets about Quibi and it's less-than-spectacular launch. It was the first of three major new streaming platforms set to launch in the year (HBOMAX arrives next month, and Peacock later this summer), so it would seem to be the canary in the coal mine as far as how much content can be put into the market before the audience stops consuming it.

The numbers haven't been great, the platform never seemed to have a breakout hit and all the conversation about Quibi seems to be ABOUT Quibi rather than about the shows. CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg did an interview in the New York Times where he blamed COVID-19 for the muted response. He said: "I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus. Everything. But we own it... If we knew on March 1, which is when we had to make the call, what we know today, you would say that is not a good idea... it’s regrettable, but we are making enough gold out of hay here that I don’t regret it."

I'm not sure I share this perspective. For two months, most of the country has been stuck at home starved for new content. Netflix added over 15 million subscribers in the first quarter of the year - more than double what they had projected. Correlation doesn't always equal causation, but that's an interesting data point.

This late March article from the Verge claims, "While the television industry as a whole saw a 20 percent increase last week compared to the month prior, HBO Now saw the highest usage on its platform since summer. The percentage of people binge viewing series has increased 65 percent, while movie watching is up 70 percent on HBO Now."

The captive audience is there. I don't think coronavirus was a huge factor. I think the biggest issue is Quibi made it too much work to access their content. You can only watch on an iPhone or an Android. You can't watch on Apple TV and you can't Chromecast it to your TV. Plenty of people stream to their phone, so this didn't need to be a fatal error, but I think when you're building an audience the more barriers to entry there are, the fewer people will go to the trouble of going through them.

I reached out to a Friend with a Quibi Show and here's what they had to say when I suggested that having a captive audience at home should have been a boost rather than a detriment, here's what they had to say:

"The service was always designed to be on the go. It’s the only possible way it made sense. I’ve got 10 minutes to kill. So... all of at home with HOURS to kill, we’re choosing longer things. I watched all of the baseball doc, which was 18 hours long. Same with Last Dance.

"BUT... had they actually done what they said they were going to do... they could’ve weathered it. They kept talking about being SHORT FORM HBO AT THE START and instead they did YOUTUBE, BUT YOU PAY." 

This friend had their own thoughts on what went wrong:

"#1: Their ads ignored the content and focused on the concept. "Shows are REALLY short," they told us, which is akin to the doctor telling you "don't worry about the shot...it'll be over fast." No one wants a shot. And no one is inspired by how quickly something will be over. TV is concept. Cool concepts sell. And they may have a TON of cool concepts, but they didn't seem want to tell their potential audience about it. Just IT'S FAST!

"#2: After sitting in rooms with artists and saying they were going to do high-end, short-form TV... they led with glorified YouTube entertainment...which we were going to have to eventually pay for. And it wasn't even clever YouTube entertainment. It was a judge show and a prank show...which have been around since the 80s.

"#3: All they cared about was star fucking. What's the show about? What's the draw? Who cares, it's from X with Y and Z. Moreover, while saying they were doing high end TV, they did movies. They handed control to whomever was the most namey person on the call sheet regardless of smarts or vision.

"#4: And yes... the pandemic. You can't launch 'TV you can watch on the go' when there's nowhere to go.

"BUT... #1-#3 were the REAL issues. And #4 was the nail in the coffin." 

Definitely solid points there. Even if Quibi doesn't think any of these were magic bullet issues to be concerned about, I hope their internal post-mortems look deeper than just assuming COVID-19 was a once-in-a-lifetime fluke that derailed an airtight plan.

And the reality is that even if that WAS the case, COVID-19 is a reality for every other service looking to launch in the next year, so someone is going to have to figure out how to achieve success under those circumstances. It's natural selection, the future of streaming will have to adapt or die.

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