Quibi Qualms: 3 Key Concerns That Cloud Its Future

Quibi Qualms: 3 Key Concerns That Cloud Its Future
Cheyne Gateley/Variety Intelligence Platform

It feels a little weird to believe Quibi doesn’t have a chance.

It seems wrong to bet against Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, the chief architects of the new mobile-centric streaming service launching April 6th. They’ve won so many times over the course of their respective careers in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

To say they can’t do it again is like being pessimistic about the Tom Brady-era Patriots when they’ve got the ball on their own 20-yard line, down a few points with just a few minutes left in the game. Katzenberg and Whitman have silenced skeptical naysayers plenty of times before.

The cliche you’ll hear about Quibi is, it all comes down to the content. Say what you want about the quality of the original programming, but the sheer volume of pedigreed producers and on-camera talent that has been lined up for launch at Quibi is simply staggering.

But the cold, hard truth is all the original programming $1.75 billion in funding can buy doesn’t make or break this venture. Because when you explore both the strategic choices Quibi is making, as well as the market dynamics it will face, there is no road to viability for Quibi as currently constituted.

Let’s walk through three essential problems:

The price point doesn’t work. $4.99 per month with ads, $7.99 without ads is roughly comparable with the pricing for more established streaming services with much more content to offer on a sheer per-minute basis. NBCU’s upcoming Peacock service, for instance, has the same with-ads price point, and Hulu and CBS All Access costs just $1 more.

Maybe that’s not an entirely fair comparison considering Quibi considers itself a different kind of service than the others, with a distinctive “on-to-go” mobile-centric use case. But that really doesn’t matter; unfortunately Quibi is coming to market at the worst time given the high volume of other streaming services asking for the same pile of U.S. consumer dollars.

The increased cost consciousness of consumers during the pandemic only compounds that problem. Maybe if Quibi were free, it would have an edge here, but alas not.

As for “on the go” viewing, launching to a largely homebound population sitting out the coronavirus isn’t ideal. Viewing “on the go” isn’t a dire need at a time when there isn’t much place for people to go!

Short-form content is already in ample supply on the biggest social-media platforms. Much of it is the opposite of ultra-premium, the user-generated videos that practically built platforms like YouTube, what was once dismissed as “cats on skateboards.” Less heralded is costlier content that is far from ultra-premium but certainly good enough to be formally programmed by companies like Snap inside the Discover section of Snapchat, or in the wing of Instagram known as IGTV.

With programming that is at least comparable in quality level to Quibi situated inside apps that already have massive audiences in proximity (as opposed to having to build those audiences from scratch as Quibi will have to), you have to ask whether it’s remotely possible for Quibi to attract sizable, paying audiences. Just because they are spending more on content doesn’t guarantee an advantage over much bigger platforms that already have partly millennial audiences on hand watching free.

Long-form content isn’t necessarily disadvantaged on mobile. Surely some unaccounted-for portion of the subscribers who can access Netflix or Disney Plus via mobile apps are perfectly fine watching long-form content in piecemeal increments; they can make their way through a given episode by stopping viewing midway when they lack the time, then picking up where they left off at another time with the ease these apps allow.

And in the event that Quibi is correct that content needs to be customized for short-form consumption, what would stop, say, Hulu from either beginning to program short form to its already established base of viewers, or even chopping up its existing originals into shorter form?

But… Katzenberg and Whitman are no fools. If the writing is on the wall for Quibi, they’re reading that and pivoting their business accordingly after giving their first strategic bets a shot. Which is to say: They have a Plan B for Quibi that may decide the company’s fare more than the Plan A that seems so challenged.

That’s what will have to be in order for Quibi to have a chance to survive.