It will go down in history as one of the great failures of the digital age. Almost $2 billion spent on a Hollywood-backed, highly-polished, mobile-only, episodic streaming video service that will be long forgotten with no sense of loss whatsoever.
We talked about Quibi on the Byteside podcast a lot more than it probably deserved. It just seemed like such an ambitious project that didn’t really know what problem it was trying to solve in the market. Who felt like they were lacking in high production value entertainment to fill the 5 minutes gaps in life?
Quibi – QUIck BItes – somehow believed something that only a Hollywood executive could believe. That if only there was great bite-sized Hollywood content out there, people would abandon user-generated content and social media to fill those gaps and pay for a new streaming service instead.
The fact they believed having both portrait and landscape edits of the shows was a selling point? Seriously. It was extra work for novelty benefits that had nothing to do with entertainment value.
“Quibi is not succeeding. Likely for one of two reasons: because the idea itself wasn’t strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service or because of our timing.
Unfortunately, we will never know but we suspect it’s been a combination of the two.”
Oh, we know…
Meanwhile, TikTok absolutely exploded during the pandemic. No commute required. People clearly still enjoyed finding cool things to watch on their phone. But the idea that somehow ‘real’ TV shows would beat UGC is now laughable.
So what’s the lesson? In those moments in between, we want to be distracted. We don’t need deep, engaging stories and entertainment. In fact, even the idea that we need to be committed to a mini episode for 4-6 minutes feels too committal.
There’s a huge difference between Distraction and Attention. Many services seek our attention, but we ourselves are often seeking distraction. We give attention carefully, but we find pleasure in distractions that can also be safely abandoned at a moment’s notice.
That we often disappear down rabbit holes of distraction for hours on end doesn’t change the fact that we could stop at any moment if the need arose.
There was one production on Quibi that stood out for me as exactly the kind of content it should always have been aiming for.
Home Movie: The Princess Bride
This was a COVID-era production featuring umpteen Hollywood stars delivering home video versions of the classic film. After every few shots, the actors in each role changed. It was scrappy, fun, and utterly adorable, and it was something that no one but Quibi could have made.
Quibi should have realised that what was so much more valuable than production values was access. It had the right backers and producers to ring practically every Hollywood star in the business to do some fun short projects that would be delivered in a more trusted environment than a TikTok or YouTube or wherever else.
Home Movie: The Princess Bride is high-class distraction content that makes you want to come back and see what comes next. It’s based on content we already know well so there’s no dramatic arc we are meant to keep up with or worry about forgetting if we don’t circle back to finish watching until a few days later.
I can imagine a Quibi that is full of this UGC-style entertainment but starring our favourite actors being a bit silly and having fun. Like a service entirely made up of original late night talk show skits that you cannot find through any other service.
But what we got was a list of entirely generic dramas, reality shows and news bulletins. And they wanted monthly fees because somehow these ones were better than the ones we were either already paying for through Netflix, Stan, Amazon and friends, or the entertainment we could get for free by catching up on our social media feeds, TikTok and YouTube.
Chalk this one up to overestimating the value of 'excellence’ in production and underestimating the importance we place on things that engage us but do not require much brain power to engage with. The war for our attention is real, but it’s distraction we crave most from our mobile screens.