Quibi is no more. That’s the word coming down from insiders close to the events unfolding at Quibi Holdings LLC ground zero, spreading across the internet like wildfire as of Wednesday, October 21. Efforts to save Quibi were made in recent weeks, with co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg even hiring a restructuring firm to figure out next steps after multiple failed attempts to find a buyer, per Variety. Katzenberg released a statement later in the day, saying,
Quibi was founded to create the next generation of storytelling. We have assembled a world-class creative and engineering team that has created an original platform fueled by groundbreaking technology and IP, enabling consumers to view premium content in a whole new way. The world has changed dramatically since Quibi launched and our standalone business model is no longer viable. I am deeply grateful to our employees, investors, talent, studio partners, and advertisers for their partnership in bringing Quibi to millions of mobile devices.
To this, the company added in a statement that due to “the changed industry landscape and ongoing challenges, it was clear that the business would not be able to continue operating for the long-term on a standalone basis.”
Now we’re here, watching the nascent streamer close up shop after less than a year on the market (via The Wall Street Journal). Six months is barely enough time to make an impact. Yet, in this specific case, it’s just enough time for this endeavor to make a lasting impact that will be felt for years to come. It was daring (perhaps a little too daring) to build a major streaming platform that boasted shows that were broken up into five to 10-minute chunks which you could only view on your phone as the future of streaming. Then again, when those shows feature or come from the likes of Christoph Waltz, Kevin Hart, Queen Latifah, Stephen Soderbergh, Sam Raimi, and Catherine Hardwicke, you’re more likely to sit up and take notice.
While it hurts to see Quibi close after less than a year, the red flags were there from the beginning. Shuttering seemed inevitable and not because Quibi opened its doors at the start of a pandemic, as Katzenberg told The New York Times. At launch, Quibi enticed subscribers with the offer of three months free before committing to one of its two subscriber tiers ($4.99 with ads, $7.99 to go ad-free). It was a too-good-to-be-true offer considering most services throw a free week at you before you have to make up your mind. Combined with other inviting aspects of Quibi’s set-up, the offer no doubt helped bring in around 910,000 subscribers in the first days of launching, according to a July report from The Verge. That number dropped significantly, with The Verge sharing a third-party report that only 72,000 subscribers stuck around after the three-month trial. That conversion rate is different from the 5.6 million downloads of the Quibi app the company claimed they’d secured since the April launch. It’s a number that flies in the face of reporting I did just one month earlier exploring the revelation Quibi was on track to miss its Year 1 subscriber goal and only sign 2 million subscribers rather than the hoped-for 7 million. The exact number of subscribers at any given time were fuzzy, but from an outsider’s perspective, the confidence in Quibi’s success was sorely lacking just a few months in.
Even weirder than the subscriber numbers was the implication that sizable quantities of people were willing to download Quibi to their phones to watch these bite-sized shows. Quibi was only available to use through your phone at launch, with no option to stream through various TV apps until earlier this week (via Variety), a moment too late. It makes sense to bank on an idea which could easily appeal to users used to scrolling and watching 15-second to one-minute long videos on TikTok, or shortform television via Snapchat, or even their friends’ Instagram Stories for hours on end. But why would a person pay for shortform content when average folks were creating equally as fun, engaging work on TikTok or Instagram? Even if a person would spend the same amount of time mindlessly watching content on their via Quibi as they would, say, TikTok, the evidence that Quibi was offering the kind of must-see content required for that kind of time commitment never materialized.
While Quibi could have worked in theory, as Collider’s own Dave Trumbore pointed out, there were far too many obvious reasons for its failure to retain subscribers. Limited access to the Quibi platform coupled with a user’s inability to screenshot and share content from Quibi (a move which could help shows grow a social following) and the inability to gain the kind of positive name recognition you want for your start-up all chipped away at Quibi over time. Add to this my own personal sticking point: Breaking up a show into seemingly arbitrary chunks does not good art make. If I asked you to name a Quibi show people were talking about non-stop at the level of, say, Stranger Things or Big Little Lies or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I’m fairly certain you’d be stumped. Quibi had cut itself off from the standard paths to success necessary for a streaming platform to make a name for itself. Now, all we know is Quibi barely managed to hang onto something in the ballpark of 100,000 paying subscribers. As always, though, the numbers are unclear.
In the end, it all seems to be an expensive gimmick. Which brings me to my final note: This entire Quibi venture began with $1.75 billion in its pocket. That’s the amount of money Katzenberg and Whitman raised to make Quibi a reality. $1.75 billion. Apparently, the remaining funds will be repaid to investors. But six months later, what is left?