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With $2 Billion and a Captive Audience, How Did Quibi Fail? 3 Possible Reasons

By: Jacques Spitzer, CEO

Things you can’t buy: Attention, interest, and success. Just ask Quibi.

The short-form video streaming service was supposed to be revolutionary. The hype was huge, and the timing was historic. After a buzzworthy Super Bowl ad in February 2020, Quibi raced toward its April 2020 launch. The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March made Quibi all the more appealing. As video production, sports and virtually all entertainment came to a halt, Quibi looked to fill the void. But it couldn’t and didn’t. With $2 billion in funding, a star-studded lineup and an epic window of opportunity, Quibi announced in October that it would shut down by December.

As someone who lives in video advertising and consumes hours of video a day on just about every popular platform, I never signed up for Quibi.

It got me thinking, why not?

And more importantly, what can we learn from it…

1. Ask vs. Offer

While Quibi itself had a buzz, the content didn’t. I never once heard someone say, “You need to watch this show on Quibi,” like I’ve heard with podcasts and shows on other streaming services. But that wasn’t necessarily a deal-breaker; I was certainly intrigued by some of the trailers. But when I considered what happened when I had visited the site, I was reminded that I was immediately asked to download the app and sign up for a free trial before paying $4.99 per month with ads or $7.99 per month without ads. I didn’t even know if I wanted to watch a show yet and they were already asking me to download something and presumably put my credit card number in. It was a barrier for me.

They asked before they offered, and I didn’t have enough interest to commit once money came into play. A few months of no strings attached free browsing might have made the paywall less imposing and helped people find Quibi’s programming more compelling. It only really takes one or two shows to hook people, just ask my HBO bill for the entire time Game of Thrones was airing.

2. Device Disconnect

We might need to cut Quibi some slack. While the pandemic seemed like the ideal time for a new video platform to keep everyone entertained, it undermined Quibi’s core concept.

The name, Quibi, came from the words, “quick,” and “bites.” The whole idea was that you could watch short, 10-minute-or-less episodes of scripted and unscripted content on your mobile device during the course of your day—maybe two episodes on a train to work, an episode at lunch, etc.

The coronavirus confined us to our homes, where we have our large TVs that we love. With smart TVs proliferating upward in quality and downward in cost, paying to watch content on a smartphone seems silly. CNET wrote, “After it launched without any support to watch Quibi’s programming on televisions, the company scrambled as users complained about not being able to watch its shows on the biggest screen in the house.”

Still, I don’t quite think the pandemic alone killed Quibi. Even in normal times, I’d be willing to bet that most people would have wanted to watch Quibi on their big, bright screens at home while sticking with free and casual content on their phones. I have Netflix on my phone, yes. But I generally watch Netflix on my TV.

3. Format Flaw

Quibi’s short episodes were its key selling point, and that selling point simply didn’t click. In a world of one- and two-hour episodes, a constant stream of snippets actually sounds pretty unsatisfying. Quibi had planned to put out 7,000 of them in its first year.

That would be like having tapas for dinner every night. Eventually, the nibbles would make you want a main course. Two hours of Quibi means you’re clicking through some-15 episodes, compared to one or two immersive episodes of any other hit series. If for no other reason than to expand the offering, Quibi could have benefitted from having a few flagship shows with longer running times.

That would be like having tapas for dinner every night. Eventually, the nibbles would make you want a main course.

Everyone has a cell phone, most of us consume video, and we all had nothing but time on our hands to dig into Quibi. Yet, I found myself watching virtual H-O-R-S-E basketball tournaments, Australian rules football, Japanese baseball, sitcom reruns, and even cornhole, instead of Quibi. I’m interested to hear from other marketers on why Quibi couldn’t take off.