Quibi is betting $1.75 billion on its service for ultra-expensive, short-form videos., a mobile-only subscription video service that launched April 6 in the US and Canada, has been pumping up the hype for months. With the backing of all the major Hollywood studios and a seemingly endless litany of film, TV, music and sports stars making shows,
A week after launching, early intel about Quibi’s popularity is flowing in. Its mobile app, which is the only way to stream the service, was downloaded by about 300,000 users in the US and Canada on its first day, according to mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower. By the end of its first week, Quibi had been downloaded more than 1 million times, according to AppTopia, another analytics company.
So is that good or bad? The knee-jerk reaction is to gauge it next to Disney Plus, which launched in November. And Quibi doesn’t look great by comparison. Disney Plus had 4 million downloads in the US and Canda the first day versus Quibi’s 300,000. Disney Plus had 12.5 million installs in the first week, versus Quibi’s 1.15 million.
But Disney Plus and Quibi aren’t perfectly comparable. They both launched after months of hype, expensive marketing and large investments. But Disney Plus benefited from giant, built-in fandoms — think Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar, just to name a few — who were already eager to stream its huge catalog of programming. Quibi is building everything, including its fans, from scratch.
Quibi would be a risky bet even in normal times. But it’s also launching in the middle of the pandemic. The coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness known as , has upended the status quo around the world, locking down whole cities, states and countries, overwhelming health care systems and shutting down entire industries. Hollywood is no exception: Movie theaters are shuttered, film and television productions are on hold and big-budget films are delayed months.
People can watch Quibi at home, sure, but Quibi’s bet on exclusively mobile, short-form video was based on the premise that people would gobble up these “quick bite” episodes while on the go. But coronavirus has locked millions of people inside their homes, stifling how often people are out and about.
Quibi leaders say they believe people still need short breaks for entertainment. Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was the head of Disney’s movie division in the ’80s and ’90s and co-founded Dreamworks Animation, has said the coronavirus’ effect on people’s viewing habits isn’t necessarily an advantage or a disadvantage for Quibi. It’s just different.
“If all of our users are saying, ‘We really want to be able to watch this content on our big screen,’ then we’ll develop the capability to do that,” Whitman said in an interview four days before launch. She also said Quibi is willing to release episodes in a bingeable bunch all at once like Netflix, if that’s what suits subscribers needs best. (At launch, Quibi plans to release new episodes of each series every weekday.)
“We thought we could bring back some of the watercooler effect” that has been lost as audiences binge episodes out of synch with each other, she said. “But if our users say, ‘We want to binge it,’ then we can just load it all up on day one.”
Whitman also said Quibi has enough content built up to last until late November.
But Quibi is also ramping up in the middle of a wave of new streaming services, as tech and media giants all rush to be the one shaping the future of video. But that means Quibi will be competing for your subscription dollars against heavy-duty upstarts like Peacock and HBO Max, as well as established players like Netflix. And, of course, Quibi faces a Goliath in YouTube, the pioneer of online short video that now draws in more than 2 billion viewers every month., ,
Still, Quibi believes its unconventional strategy — very expensive, star-packed programming released in 10-minute-or-less episodes that you can watch only on mobile devices like your phone — will hit a sweet spot. It’s also brought T-Mobile on board to offer to some wireless customers.
Quibi has recruited a who’s who of stars to work on its programming, including Chrissy Teigen, Lebron James, Dwayne Johnson, Reese Witherspoon, Chance the Rapper, Kevin Hart, Jennifer Lopez, Idris Elba, Zac Efron, Tina Fey, Liam Hemsworth and husband-and-wife combo Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner (but on different shows), along with a bazillion others. They’ve also lured in big-name filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Antoine Fuqua, Catherine Hardwicke and Ridley Scott to make series.
So is Quibi worth your time and money? Read below for what we know so far, but basically: With a 90-day free trial if you sign up in April, you can try it for months to see for yourself without spending a thing.
OK, WTF is a quibi?
Quibi with a capital “Q” refers to the service, and all-lower-case quibi is the word the company invented for its short-form episodes, which all run about 10 minutes or less.
It’s a mashup of the words “quick bites,” since the videos are supposed to be bite-size morsels of video.
But don’t pronounce the end of quibi like the beginning of “bites.” If you can rhyme the word “alibi” with “quibi,” you’re pronouncing this made-up word totally wrong. You’re supposed to pronounce the end of quibi with a long e, like the end of “wasabi.” Obviously.
When is the release date?
Quibi launched April 6 in the US and Canada.
Quibi hasn’t publicized its specific international expansion plans, but said some other countries will be able to get Quibi’s ad-free US version if it’s available in their app store, without giving specifics. So if you live outside the US and Canada, check your Google Play Store and Apple App Store for the Quibi app to see what comes up.
However, Quibi’s leaders have said that Quibi was designed from the beginning to be a global service, with global rights to stream its shows. The company just hasn’t provided any timelines for when international expansion will happen.
How much does Quibi cost?
Quibi’s cheapest tier is $5 a month and includes advertising. Its ad-free tier is $8 a month. Quibi doesn’t offer annual subscriptions.
By comparison, Netflix — the world’s dominant subscription video service, which never has ads — offers its cheapest subscription at $9 a month in the US, one dollar more. Disney Plus costs $7 a month in the US without any advertising, a buck cheaper. And YouTube, of course, is free with ads.
In testing the Quibi app under embargo before launch, commercials were all so-called pre-roll ads — those that play before the show starts. And they were relatively brief. Quibi has said that the service will have about two and a half minutes of ads per hour.
Quibi is offering 90-day free trials for people who sign up anytime in April. That can save you as much as $24. You can unlock the trial by downloading the app from the Quibi website and signing up for the service before its May 1 deadline.
And T-Mobile is offering a free subscription to Quibi’s ad-supported tier to wireless customers who have two or more lines on a post-paid plan, in an deal called Quibi on Us. After a year of free Quibi, qualifying customers need to choose between whether Netflix or Quibi is included free with their wireless plan — you can’t get both comped. (The Netflix deal is worth $9 a month, compared with Quibi’s monthly value at $5.)
T-Mobile said that you have to sign up by July 7 to get the deal and that it applies to people with two or more voice lines at standard rates on Magenta and One plans with taxes and fees included — along with discounted First Responder, Military and Magenta Plus 55 plans. Small business customers with up to 12 lines also qualify.
What devices can stream Quibi?
Disappointed you can’t watch this on TVs? CEO Whitman said Quibi won’t be stubborn about the mobile-only strategy if subscribers demonstrate they need more flexibility. The company would be willing to widen its device support to bigger screens like TVs based on data once subscribers can start actually using the service.
What product features does the service include?
Quibi is loudly touting its mobile viewing technology called Turnstyle. It lets a program dynamically react when viewers flip between portrait or landscape mode. That means that no matter how you’re holding your mobile device, the video will take up the full screen, rather than minimizing to a small section. For most shows on Quibi, that means the program was shot and edited to crop well when you flip to portrait, the most natural way to hold a phone screen.
But some programs are using Turnstyle in clever ways: A thriller series called Nest shows the filmed action of the story when you look at it in landscape — but when you rotate into portrait, you can see what’s happening on the character’s device while the story is playing out. So as a character watches the camera feed of her smart doorbell through her phone, you can choose to either watch the actress reacting to the footage as she sits on the couch, or you can watch what she’s seeing on her phone in real time.
Beyond Turnstyle, here are some of Quibi’s more routine product details:
- Quibi’s highest image resolution is 1080p, so it lacks it Ultra HD or high-dynamic range formats that are very important for content you’d be watching on a television. Like most streaming services, Quibi has a ladder of lower resolutions that dynamically change to reflect whatever bitrate your device can handle.
- Quibi is meant as a personal service, so it doesn’t allow a single account to have different profiles for different viewers.
- As such, Quibi also limits every account to one simultaneous stream. That’s the same as Netflix’s $9 basic account, but other services like Disney Plus allow as many as four people to be streaming from one $7-a-month account at the same time.
- Quibi has unlimited downloads to watch anything on the service offline.
How is Quibi releasing its shows?
Quibi has said it will have more than 50 titles available at launch. Every Quibi series will release new episodes every weekday until that series is complete — and some ongoing daily shows have episodes drop on the weekend too. CEO Whitman has said that Quibi won’t be rigid about this release strategy, either. If subscribers demonstrate an appetite to binge, Quibi would be willing to drop full seasons at once, similar to Netflix.
Quibi has three categories of programming: Movies in Chapters, Unscripted and Docs and Daily Essentials. At launch, Quibi will have the first three episodes of its Movies in Chapters and Unscripted/Docs series available for mini-binges. Across these three categories, Quibi has said it will be releasing more than three hours of new programming every day.
Brand new series debut on Quibi every Monday. In the first year, Quibi will have 175 original shows, totaling about 8,500 episodes.
Of its three categories, Movies in Chapters are the service’s scripted shows, typically big-budget projects with big-name talent to match. These are programs like Survive, a drama about a suicidal woman who finds a new will to live after surviving a plane crash, starring Game of Thrones‘ Sophie Turner. Another one is Most Dangerous Game, a thriller reimagining the classic short story starring The Hunger Games’ Liam Hemsworth.
Quibi is making 35 of these Movies in Chapters this year, and the company has said it will release one new episode of Movies in Chapter daily on the service.
Unscripted and Docs are Quibi programming that are, well, unscripted shows and documentary series. It covers a range of reality-style shows; game shows and competitions; talk shows; food, travel and culture docs; and a variety of other genres.
Quibi has said it will release five episodes in the Unscripted and Docs category every day.
Finally, the company will be dropping 25 so-called Daily Essentials every weekday. They focus on news and information, as well as lifestyle programming like a daily horoscope, a recap of the previous night’s late night shows and meditation videos. These are also shorter than Quibi’s other kinds of programming; Daily Essentials are five to six minutes. The company has partnered with the likes of NBC News, the BBC, TMZ, Telemundo, Polygon and the Weather Channel to make Daily Essentials, as well as developing some originally.
Daily Essentials will have new episodes at least every weekday. Some titles release more than one episode daily, like an NBC News snippets that land twice daily; and other titles will drop new episodes on weekends too.