Quibi Is What Happens When Hollywood Overvalues Content And Undervalues Community
from the how-are-you-doing-fellow-kids dept
As you may have heard (and may still being bombarded by ads for) recently, a new video streaming service called Quibi launched to much fanfare. The fanfare was not around the technology or the content, mind you, but around the fact that there were some famous people involved (namely: former Disney/Dreamworks exec Jeffrey Katzenberg and, to a lesser extent, former eBay/HP CEO Meg Whitman — who had been a Disney and Dreamworks exec earlier) and the ridiculous fact that the company raised nearly $2 billion before it even had launched. There was some buzz about it leading up to launch… but mostly from the media which always falls for the story of the company that raises a ton of money and has some famous person in charge.
So far, however, Quibi appears to be yet another example of a point I made about Hollywood and the internet over a decade ago: entertainment execs have a long history of overvaluing the content and undervaluing users and what they want. Sometimes I’ve described this as overvaluing content and undervaluing technology (which plays into the whole Hollywood/Silicon Valley divide), but it’s actually something different than that, which is ably shown by the complete dumpster fire that Quibi has been so far. They spent silly amounts of money on content, and then seemed to focus the “technology” money on a completely pointless and weird setup where the orientation of your devices changes what you see (that is, if you hold your phone in portrait orientation, what you see is not just a scrunched up landscape mode, but something different). That seems like the kind of thing that a bunch of out-of-touch execs would sit around and brainstorm without any understanding whatsoever of how real people use devices. At best it seems like an attempt to try again with Verizon’s brain-dead Go90 service that no one ever used.
And, so far Quibi’s living down to expectations. Within a week of its launch, things were not looking good:
After a quick moment in the spotlight, Quibi has tanked in the US iPhone app rankings.
The streaming app had a strong debut last week as the fourth most downloaded iPhone app, but quickly fell in the rankings. Yesterday, it dropped out of the top 50, and today it’s the 71st most popular app in the US, according to data from analytics firm App Annie.
Quibi is now less popular than Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime Video among US iPhone users. It’s also ranked below an ASMR Slicing app, the Calm meditation app, and the Roku app that functions as a TV remote.
And it’s never a good sign when your head of marketing quits two weeks after launch… in the midst of a global pandemic.
Hell, even the content — which, again, was supposed to be central to Quibi’s strategy, and which they threw a ton of money at — isn’t wowing anyone:
The app itself functions as promised. The shows, though, are a mess. Quibi shows all share a few qualities: They?re short, with episode run times under ten minutes. Short doesn?t have to mean chintzy or trivial, but Quibi shows almost universally feel cheaper and less memorable than similar stuff on other platforms. The Quibi shows that are meant to seem like TV shows do feel like TV shows (Run This Town, Shape of Pasta, Murder House Flip), but their compressed run times and thoughtless cinematography just remind you of how much better they could be if they were TV shows. Camera angles and scene edits look identical to the visual design of a typical TV show, full of panning cameras and long shots, and it?s seemingly meant to signal that ?this is a serious, expensive TV show!? Instead, it signals that no one?s put much effort into thinking about what this should look like when played in a vertical format on a phone. The Quibi shows that seem closest to YouTube series (Dishmantled, Gayme Show, Memory Hole) fare better, but even those feel half-hearted, all shell and no inner oomph. The worst are the movies, like When the Streetlights Go On or Most Dangerous Game, which Quibi advertises as ?movies in chapters.? In their widescreen cinematography, the beats of each scene, the way they?ve been awkwardly crammed into tiny chunks, I swear you can still hear them screaming, ?I?m a movie!? even as Quibi shovels dirt over their short-form-mobile-storytelling graves.
Meanwhile, almost everything that Quibi has done suggests that they really don’t understand how to build a modern internet service, which starts and ends with building up a supportive community. Instead, Quibi seems to have taken some of their way-too-large-bank-account and focused on pissing off the few people who like what they do. First, they added some dumb DRM to stop people from taking screenshots (one of a few ways that content goes viral these days):
Quibi was designed from the ground up to be a mobile experience. A big part of what people do with their phones is share. They share photos from their lives on TikTok, information with strangers on Twitter, and swap memes with people on Facebook. Quibi wants to be part of that mobile universe. But by disabling the ability to let people share what they?re seeing, it has shut down a core experience that comes with being on our phones. For a self-proclaimed game-changing mobile experience, it isn?t very mobile-friendly.
Indeed, the inability to create any kind of meme-ification of Quibi content seems to be a recognition by Quibi execs that their content just isn’t very good. As Kathryn VanArendonk wrote at Vulture: Let Me Screenshot Your Quibi Show, Cowards:
Screenshots, memes, GIFs, and other small excerpts are essentially forms of quotation. They act as shareable pieces of larger works, sometimes with the goal of illuminating the work they come from, but often getting cut away from their original contexts, sent out into the world to stand on their own and gather their own meanings. GIFs are the most common out-of-context excerpts of longer video works, so expressive and self-sufficient that they can communicate an idea without carrying along any of their original framework. Screenshots can function the same way, often speaking more toward the context in which they?re being deployed than referencing the original work. They become their own form of language, but as they circulate and accrete new meanings, they also make the images, reactions, stories, and personalities from the original work more familiar, more of a bedrock part of cultural discourse. Carole Baskin?s ?Hey all you cool cats and kittens!? line quickly became a reference to Tiger King, for instance, but it?s also accrued its own implications separate from the show ? it?s a weird greeting, an awkwardly mannered way to start speaking, a intro with just a touch of self-awareness and also not nearly enough social awareness.
And then… apparently Quibi has money to spare on lawyers, rather than people who actually understand the internet, because they actually sent a cease-and-desist letter to what might be the only podcast that likes Quibi:
Rob Dezendorf and Danielle Gibson started a show formerly called Quibiverse, a fan space to discuss the various ?quick bite? content offered by the new streamer. However, the creators say that after 17 episodes, they were sent a cease-and-desist. Per Dezendoorf: ?They were like, ?Well, you can?t use the name Quibi, you can?t tell anyone that you?re about Quibi, you can talk about Quibi, but no one can know through your title and you can?t have any artwork that resembles our stuff.?? Gibson added: ?It just felt so surreal to get a cease-and-desist from a billion-dollar company, about our fan podcast, in the midst of a global health crisis.?
In the end, Quibi looks like it may be heading in the same direction as other such ideas that throw a lot of money at streaming content without actually understanding what makes an internet service work (such as a community of fans). As Paul Tassi at Forbes recently wrote, Quibi seems destined to be the service that everyone’s heard of and no one uses:
And yet, since Quibi?s launch during the pandemic lockdown, I have had zero, actual organic conversation about the service with?anyone.
None of my real-life friends have even heard of it, unless they?ve been mildly annoyed by the ads like I?ve been, but none are watching. The only people on my social media channels that have seen any Quibi shows are entertainment journalists where it?s quite literally their job to watch and report back what they find.
It’s sad how frequently this sort of thing happens, and it would be better if Hollywood didn’t always rush into things assuming it knows best (especially about technology) and assuming that all you need to do is throw a lot of money at content to make an internet service.