Apr 6, 2020 - Economy

Short-form streamer Quibi launches mid-pandemic


Quibi, the mobile-only video subscription streaming service, made its highly anticipated consumer debut Monday, launching its new app globally in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: Executives say that they are confident in the app's launch at this work-at-home moment, even though the short-form video product was built to be consumed on the go.

What they're saying: “I kind of find that with my workday now, I’m looking to take small breaks more than ever before," said Quibi CTO Rob Post in a briefing with reporters last week.

  • "I think our use case is these in-between moments, whether you’re on the go or not. I think now more than ever, our use case is consistent," said Post.

The pandemic has forced Quibi to scramble to the finish line from home. Like most other American companies, Quibi employees started working from home three weeks ago, still determined to meet their April 6 launch debut.

  • While many of Quibi's documentaries and entertainment shows at launch have already been produced, its "Daily Essentials," 5- to 6-minute news and information shows, are now mostly being shot in the homes of the show hosts.

Axios has demoed the app over the past few days. Here are our takeaways:

  • Quibi's flagship "Turnstyle" function, which changes video from vertical viewing to horizontal viewing as you rotate your device, is as seamless as the company has billed it to be, albeit the functionality is a little clunkier on older iPhones.
  • Quibi has put several mega-stars out front, making them tough to miss. Within seconds of scrolling through the app, we encountered a satirical show starring Chrissy Teigen, a documentary starring LeBron James, and a revamped version of MTV's 2000s hit "Punk'd" starring Chance the Rapper.
  • The video quality is good and consistent, but the library of 50 shows seems jarringly small compared to the endless feeds of content that users are used to getting on platforms like IGTV and even to an extent Facebook Watch. Quibi hopes to have 175 shows by the end of its first year.
  • The cast and crew pages for each show are very useful and go far beyond what consumers are used to getting on traditional streaming services, combining the viewing experience with an IMDB-like function that could bolster engagement. Users can tweet at actors or follow them on Instagram directly from the Quibi app.

Between the lines: Asked whether Quibi was considering limiting its video quality to avoid using too much bandwidth, something other video companies like Netflix and YouTube have done during the coronavirus crisis, executives say they've been in touch with mobile carriers, but don't think that will be an issue.

  • "In order for us to deliver a great user experience, we need to deliver high-quality video, but right now we're not doing any throttling based on network conditions," said Post.
  • Our thought bubble: This makes sense given how little video traffic Quibi is expected to stream at the onset of its launch, compared to years-old legacy video streamers that are global like Netflix and YouTube.

The big picture: Quibi's launch serves as a litmus test for other streamers that were planning to launch this spring.

  • AT&T executives say they still plan to launch its AT&T's new streaming service, HBO Max, this spring.
  • Comcast's NBCUniversal plans to launch its new streaming service, Peacock, in July.

The bottom line: Like many new upstarts, Quibi's goal more recently has had to shift to providing an essential service during the coronavirus. This has helped to motivate the company to meet its launch date, despite the challenging circumstances.

  • "What we do is insignificant compared to true heroes," said one executive. "But we do hope that putting something entertaining into the world in this moment provides inspiration."

Go deeper ... More details about Quibi's content and business strategy from Axios' reporting:

Note: Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg is an investor in Axios, through WndrCo.

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