Apr 6, 2020 - Economy & Business

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.

Go deeper

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Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Tuesday across the U.S. for the eighth consecutive day, prompting a federal response from the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: Even with early curfews in New York City and Washington, D.C., protesters are still out en masse. Some protesters in D.C. said they were galvanized by President Trump's photo op in front of St. John's Church on Monday and threat to deploy U.S. troops in the rest of country if violence isn't quelled, NBC News reports.

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Photo: Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images

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What we're hearing: Aides say he hasn’t ruled out its use at some point, but that he's “pleased” with the way protests were handled last night (apart from in New York City, as he indicated on Twitter today) — and that for now he's satisfied with leaving the crackdown to states through local law enforcement and the National Guard.

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Workers — especially millennials and Gen Zers — are paying close attention to the words and actions of their employers during national crises, such as the protests following the killing of George Floyd in police custody.

Why it matters: American companies have an enormous amount of wealth and influence that they can put toward effecting change, and CEOs have the potential to fill the leadership vacuum left by government inaction. More and more rank-and-file employees expect their bosses to do something with that money and power.