Are Quibi's 'quick bites' appetizing enough for advertisers?
Quibi had a famously flawed launch in April that challenged its whole business proposition. Who needed mobile viewing when no one was leaving their homes amid pandemic lockdowns? And now, even the feature that is core to its name is facing questions. A prominent gripe about Quibi—short for “quick bites”—is just how short its shows are.
There have been complaints from early viewers, saying the episodes don’t lend to binge-watching. Of course, that’s because Quibi viewing was always meant to be the opposite of binging. The idea for the service was that it could be consumed in small doses with up to 10-minute episodes. But many of the assumptions baked into Quibi’s core principles were upended by its launch during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Their bet on a mobile-only, short-form entertainment environment hasn’t paid off,” says one ad agency executive, who works directly with brands that invested in Quibi. There are ongoing talks with the service about how it will evolve to meet the new realities of how it is being consumed, the exec says. Instead of mobile-only, Quibi already sped up its plan to make videos available for streaming on TVs.
Early advertisers of Quibi, brands that have been key partners since its launch, say they are in continuous talks with the company to consider how the service can improve and perhaps become a bigger draw. One of the suggestions that has emerged is longer episodes, and while Quibi may be reluctant to make such a dramatic change, it could tweak the user-experience to make the flow of viewing less clunky.
A Quibi spokeswoman says the service will retain its short shows, which is one of its main differentiators. Some viewers may complain on sites like Twitter, but the feedback has been mostly in favor of the short format, the spokeswoman says.
Quibi, founded by Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and headed by CEO Meg Whitman, has some prestigious shows headlined by A-list talent. Though it’s been slow to catch on with viewers, it has been a hit with critics. Quibi landed 10 Emmy nominations for short-form programming. "I Promise" won best short-form series at the African American Film Critics Association.
Before its launch in April, Quibi signed 10 big-name advertisers including, Progressive, T-Mobile, Google, Taco Bell, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Walmart, General Mills, Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo, representing about 25 brands. Those ad deals run through April 2021.
Quibi is negotiating with the sponsors that say the app has not reached its viewership goals, according to two advertising partners, who spoke on condition of anonymity. In those talks, Quibi has shared some details of how it plans to move forward with slight alterations to its original vision. For instance, Quibi has tested a free, ad-supported version in Australia. It is experimenting with how many ads it runs, too, with the possibility of playing two commercials before shows instead of one, according to the advertisers.
Just weeks into its April launch, Quibi was already bowing to the new pandemic realities by speeding up its product plans, introducing the ability to stream shows to TV sets—an acknowledgment that people were watching content at home. Quibi also started distributing shows on other sites like YouTube to gin up interest in its top programs like “The Stranger,” “Most Dangerous Game” and “Dummy.” And, last month, it even screened “The Stranger” at a drive-in a drive-in movie theater as a promotional event.
The agency exec says that it feels like the app missed the target. Quibi tried to revolutionize video, investing in primetime TV-calibre programming, but reserving it for mobile phones. Now, Quibi is streaming to TVs and needs to enable binge-watching, almost the same as any streaming video service, the exec says. “It is a bit confusing, it goes against the ‘quick bite’ model. It feels like bit of a reach."
Quibi has a powerhouse roster of celebrities creating shows, including Reese Witherspoon, Chance the Rapper, Anna Kendrick, Kevin Hart and Liam Hemsworth. Parts of Quibi’s remake of “The Princess Bride,” shot by stars working remotely under quarantine conditions, are available on YouTube.
Some of the loudest criticisms on Twitter about Quibi are its short shows.
Joseph Landes, chief revenue officer at Nerdio, subscribed to Quibi to take advantage of a two-week free trial. Landes says he enjoyed the show “Most Dangerous Game,” but he found the eight-minute installments were a turn off.
“I felt like I couldn’t get into a rhythm, I couldn’t get comfortable sitting back and watching something,” Landes says. “It was annoying to have to keep loading up the next episode, the next episode, the next episode.”
Like many viewers, Landes unsubscribed when the free trial was up. Quibi launched out of the gate with 1.7 million downloads in a week, offering free trials in the hopes of converting paid subscribers. Quibi offers two tiers of service, a $4.99 plan with ads and a $7.99 plan without. Antenna, a third-party analytics company, reported that 27 percent of Quibi's first batch of viewers, who received a 90-day free trial, converted to paying subscribers.
A marketing executive at one of Quibi’s launch sponsors says that viewership ticked up in recent weeks, after Quibi revamped its marketing strategy to focus on promoting individual shows rather than the broader service. Still, the marketing exec says Quibi will likely fall short of delivering the number of ad impressions it promised. “They haven’t delivered on the first round of advertising,” the marketing exec says. “It wasn’t worth the money we paid them.”
Ad deals with Quibi were expensive, in the millions of dollars, which generated $150 million for the company in its first year. Quibi is being a good partner, however, the brand exec says, by working with advertisers to make good on shortfalls. For example, it could give some dissatisfied brands extra ad placements in its second year, the exec says, but details had not been solidified.
Grant Slezak, director of sales for the Americas at Bitmovin, a streaming technology provider, says Quibi has a solid lineup of programming, but it was hampered by its rigid adherence to mobile devices from the start.
“They have some ingredients to be very successful, but the biggest challenge was initially limiting where audiences were able to view content,” Slezak says. “When we are working with clients, that’s the opposite of what they’re trying to do. They want to make content available everywhere, so no matter where the audience is they can reach them.”