After months of relentless ads and over $1.75 billion in backing, Quibi, a new short-video streaming service, finally launched Monday morning.
Founded by Hollywood big-man Jeffrey Katzenberg and headed by former Hewlett Packard and eBay CEO Meg Whitman, Quibi is looking to fill in the extra minutes in the day, with bite-sized, 10-minutes-or-less episodic and daily shows.
Alright, now that the Wikipedia blurb is done, let’s dive in.
I’ve spent the better part of this morning perusing Quibi’s library and messing around with its app; when everything is less than 10 minutes, you can surprisingly cram in a lot of shows.
My initial reaction is: mixed, but mostly meh. It’s clear that some of that nearly $2 billion dollars went into production, with a lot of shows featuring some big name actors that likely come with sizeable paydays. And there’s just wide enough of a variety of shows that you can likely find something that at least keeps you entertained, from HBO-like dramas to TikTok-esque randomness. I immediately went for Flipped, a comedy starring Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte that has been one of the main advertised shows leading up to Quibi’s launch. I gave it the first three initial episodes before I decided it wasn’t doing it for me, so I switched over to something else. Survive might be worth a second episode, and The Most Dangerous Game seems interesting.
And it’s not just episodic shows and series. There’s plenty of talk shows and daily rundowns from names like Rotten Tomatoes, TMZ and E!. Even Chance the Rapper has his own talk show. And when everything is 10 minutes or less, I feel more inclined to give it a show the full runtime before deciding if I want to continue or not, rather than bailing only a few minutes in. I mean, what’s 10 minutes of my time really worth?
But as I hopped around from show to show, it quickly became clear a glaring issue with the shows here: Quibi’s gimmick is restricting its content creators. The idea that all videos on the platform can be watched both horizontally or (if you’re wrong) vertically is clever, sure; each episode effectively has two edits of the same show, with the vertical one usually taking wide shots from the horizontal and instead cutting in close on an actor. It works about 90 percent of the time, but the other 10 percent, it’s noticeably distracting. One of the pillars of filmmaking is shot composition and framing, what you show and what you don’t. A filmmaker may, for instance, choose to hide a object in the far edge of a frame, away from the speaking actors, but that object later becomes important. So should the vertical edit show the speaking actors? Should it awkwardly pan to bring attention to the object? This spits in the face of proper filmmaking.
Look, I know it’s hard. Because I didn’t have to turn my phone sideways to watch the video, I often found myself keeping the phone vertical. But please, for the love of all that is good in this world, turn your damn phone sideways when you are watching videos. Vertical video is a sin.
Even beyond that, Quibi’s 10-minute-or-less requirement stifles the storytelling from a pacing perspective. Trying to Frankenstein what would usually be 30-minute or hour-long episodes on cable or other streaming platforms into 10-minute bites often leads to accelerated plots and exposition dumps, and at the end of 10 minutes, you either feel like they crammed 45 minutes of backstory into 8 minutes of word vomit, or the opposite and you realize that in 10 minutes all the characters did were move from one location to another.
Which has me wondering, does Quibi really serve a purpose? Is there really a problem here that needs a solution, this idea that we need a platform to fill those extra few minutes while we ride the train or take a lunch break? Setting aside the over-saturation of content in the market today (and ignoring the half of Quibi’s library that just feels like YouTube vlogs), who’s to say that, since we only have 10 minutes until the subway reaches our stop, that we need an episode to begin, play out and end all in that short span of time? Someone could just as easily start up a 30-minute episode of something on Netflix, but digest it in 10-minute increments, right? Because ultimately, with the pacing of the shows, that’s what I feel like I’m getting with Quibi. Sure, I watched three episodes of Flipped, but I really feel like I only watched one. So what does that accomplish?
Unfortunately for Quibi, the platform is not launching in the environment it was made for. With people stuck inside under COVID-19 quarantine, there are no morning commutes anymore, no more quick lunch breaks, and so the void that Quibi was targeting just doesn’t exist right now. Quibi works best as the video equivalent of a podcast or a Twitch stream, something you might put on as background noise while working on another task. And while I suspect the content creators would hope that people are focused solely on their show when viewers click on an episode, Quibi is little more than a time-void-filler, a light snack of content and a shot of dopamine that no one will remember five minutes after the video ends. It’s not something you would binge in one sitting, nor is it something you would probably come back to on a regular schedule, despite many shows having new episodes released daily to encourage you to do so.
Now, while I’m sure that’s not what the show runners, the big actors and the executives at the top were hoping for Quibi’s content, that’s not to say it couldn’t work. If the stars align just right, the COVID-19 issue might subside by July, just in time for Quibi’s 90-day free trials to expire and for people to potentially invest actual money into the platform. Once the world returns to normal and people have only a few minutes of free time, Quibi might find its place alongside the podcast and the Trending section of YouTube as the go-to for quick content. But for now, in a world where we all now have too much free time, Quibi can’t satisfy.