A daily newsletter guide to what is happening on your screens - TV, streaming, movies, games, VR, AR
Dan Barrett is an industry commentator & TV critic. He does radio - 4BC & ABC GC and co-hosts the Screen Watching podcast. He's a former Mediaweek deputy editor and content creator for SBS.
Quibi's biggest sin
After two and a half months of Quibi... why the f**k would we still be watching?
The idea of Quibi was simple: It’s TV on your mobile that is short enough to squeeze into little moments throughout your day.
And that makes some sense. It’s a library of short form expensive-looking TV shows that are all very nicely made. I can understand why that idea would have been enough to get respected executives interested in accepting a meeting.
Yes, platforms like YouTube already offer short-form video, but that’s not entirely reason enough to say a better content offer couldn’t convince a subscriber base to part with a few dollars every month.
But Quibi made one HUGE mistake. The biggest sin one can make with mobile: Quibi looked at mobile as the device and not the experience.
It was classic old-person thinking. They looked at the phone as a portable TV to carry around and watch TV-type content on the device when you have a few minutes here and there. But that’s not what mobile is.
Mobile screens are a distraction. The touch screen is a portal into the distraction. Mobile is intimate, personal, and thrives on constant engagement. Viewers don’t just watch - they scroll, they click, they reply back.
Hands-on with Quibi
The thinking around Quibi was that subscribers would pull out their device and start consuming. But do people actually want to watch high-quality short form video during those moments? Who goes into watching high quality content as just a frivolous time-wasting exercise? Especially if there’s a danger of being interrupted midway through it.
This was how Quibi consumption was envisioned:
I am waiting for a lunch order? Here’s Floored - a 7 minute minute dance competition game show where the floor moves under the dancers.
I’m eating lunch? Here’s a serialised drama series about a teenage boy who lives his life adjacent to a murder mystery in the house next door.
Oh, you’re waiting for that phone call so you can go home at the end of the day? Fill that time with (hopefully) Shape of Pasta - a doco series about a guy visiting nonnas across Italy.
In essence, it’s just short-form Netflix. Quibi chiefs Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg have done nothing to make Quibi feel like an experience that is tailor-made for mobile.
The first time you load up Quibi, you’re overwhelmed - an experience counter to the idea of quickly filling your time with watching something.
My own experience:
I started with the narrative drama shows. I watched Most Dangerous Gameand Dummyand The Stranger and #FreeRayShawnand 50 Shades of Fright.
And I watched some of the news shows - BBC News Around The World, NBC News The Report, Polygon’s gaming news show, Vox Answered, Last Night’s Late Show’s, and Rotten Tomatoes What To Watch…
And then I delved into some of the other random shows on the platform like Murder House Flip, Shape of Pasta, Punk’d, Sexology, Barkitecture, and that show with Chrissy Tiegen as a Judge.
I watched a whole lot of content. And boy did I quickly find myself getting bored.
In watching the content I couldn’t escape the most obvious question: What was Quibi doing that people couldn’t already get through Netflix? Sure, there were a few high budget dramas with huge stars like the second best Hemsworth brother and the second best Stark daughter from Game of Thrones, but every streaming service has big celebrities starring in TV shows now.
Something that felt unique (the only thing, actually): I loved the short, serialised chapters. It left me wanting more thanks to tidy cliffhangers and I looked forward every day to the next chapter. It was akin to the movie serials that played in cinemas pre-television.
I was hooked - a few days in and I was super keen to find out just how dangerous that game was being played by Hemsworth #2 (the answer: Most).
Anna Kendrick’s comedyDummy was actually very good. It was clever, smart, and daring. The dark and dirty humour of it translated perfectly to the mobile screen.
But of the rest of it, even the stuff I enjoyed, I wasn’t very engaged with.
While watching Quibi I kept playing with the rotation on the screen, watching it flip from landscape to vertical.
I kept touching the screen to see the progress bar.
And that’s where the problem is - for a mobile-first product it didn’t have mobile-friendly content. Yes, the video was formatted the right way to watch on a phone. And shows were appropriately short. But that, in itself, does not mean Quibi was a mobile friendly platform.
Mobile is about constant engagement. It’s clicking (links, likes, upvotes/downvotes, etc). It’s reading. It’s watching.
For a product designed to keep you busy during a couple of quiet minutes, Quibi needed to quickly suck you in the same way mobile games and social media networks do. The competition for Quibi was never YouTube - it was Candy Crush, Three’s, or the mobile Super Mario Kart.
The actual experience of using Quibi - it feels way too analogue.
What Quibi needed to be was HQ
When Quibi launched it promoted its Turnstyle feature. Viewers could flip their phones seamlessly between portrait and landscape and it wouldn’t miss a frame or make viewers wait for a buffer. A technological achievement to be sure, but it wasn’t something that most viewers would ever notice. It should always have been *A* feature and not *THE* feature.
And now cast your mind back to HQ. When that video quiz show platform launched its main feature was the interactive quiz software layered in over the top of the hosts. As viewers we knew the software was an active component of the program because it used to break down all of the time, making users all too painfully aware of it.
To watch HQ… to play HQ… was to engage with the products core feature. And it was compelling. Twice a day viewers would pick up their phone after getting a push notification and play together in real time. Engaged with the screen, pressing away for 0-20 minutes at a time. It was exactly the sort of engagement that Quibi should have been aiming for.
Why aren’t Quibi shows interactive? It doesn’t have to be HQ (but heck… how much could HQ and its tech cost to buy these days? Just re-route the second season budget of doghouse building reality show Barkitecture). But it needs to have the same engaging spirit of HQ. Keep the viewer continuously engaged.
Why is Quibi creating content partnership arrangements with CBS brand 60 Minutes, and not laying down the cash for a daily interactive game of Wheel of Fortune?
Why not play around with branched storytelling like Netflix has done with Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and this year’s Kimmy Schmidt interactive episode - it’s perfect for Quibi and its mobile environment.
And it’s not only scripted narratives that can use branched storytelling - when Chrissy Tiegen is next in court, why not have her go to the audience for the verdict. The episode then just pulls the video result that reflects whatever verdict the audience voted on via their screens?
But it goes beyond simple screen engagement. There’s no audience engagement beyond those times where people have a few minutes to kill. Why doesn’t Quibi offer supplemental material to increase engagement?
During the show Dishmantled two contestants have a dish of food blasted into their faces - they then need to recreate what they think the dish was by the tastes they recognised from the food that landed in their mouth. (Yes, this is a real show). But why does the experience end with the episode finishing?
Why can’t I, as a viewer, also access the recipes for the food featured on the show - both the initial blasted dish and the two on-the-spot recreations? A recipe keeps me engaged in the app and it gives me a fun (brand-aligned) story to tell my friends when I make one of the dishes for a dinner party.
HQ never broke beyond its initial show - the main quiz that was mostly hosted by Scott Rogowsky and later Matt Richards. It tried to branch out with HQ Words and international versions, but those shows never quite built traction. In part this was because there was too little variance between the style of the shows. But there was also limited opportunities to be invested in the games and their hosts outside of the featured programs (which, let’s be honest - that sounds a lot like Quibi too).
But the engagement mechanism worked. The overall idea of HQ was sound - it was intended to be a network of interactive games and experiences. As far as the actual engagement went, HQ is the closest that online video has gotten to the addictiveness of Candy Crush.
What does Quibi do now?
During all the finger pointing and blaming for the failure at launch of Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg has said it was a mistake to launch during the pandemic, but if anything the activity during the pandemic has revealed what is missing from Quibi.
Aside from interactive engagement, Quibi needs to introduce a sense of intimacy with viewers. If you’re going to deliver content on a personal consumption device like a mobile, you need to get personal. People don’t watch YouTube because of movie trailers, music videos, and short films - they watch for vloggers and other hyper-personal content.
The flawed thinking with Quibi was that YouTube already exists, so the point of difference would be to spend large sums of money on the content and deliver a premium experience. But that has only turned Quibi into a short-form Netflix wannabe. If Quibi want to keep the perception that it is a premium service, it can show off its money by being the one thing YouTube is not: focused and curated.
Over the past month we have all seen a culture-shifting series of protests take place on the streets of every major city across the US. This is an event being captured on mobile devices and shared via mobile. It’s the exact same audience Quibi purport to be talking to, recording the entire experience on Quibi’s home turf: mobile. But that Quibi app doesn’t factor into any of this.
Why wasn’t Quibi on the streets talking to its audience? Telling their stories. The only coverage of the protests was delivered through daily news wrap content produced through partners like NBC News, the BBC, and 60 Minutes.
Old school legacy media partnerships are not exactly known for their ability to pivot.
[The above navel-gazing 60 in 6 show produced by the Quibi 60 Minutes team is just awful]
At the time where everyone was on their mobile phones watching established systems of power confronted in violent skirmishes on the street, Quibi was expecting everyone to watch a recap of what happened the night before on the late night talk shows?
Quibi has no idea what the f**k it is or why the f**k anyone would want to watch it.
What does Quibi need to do now? Quibi needs to work out if it can meet the challenge that mobile represents.
Quibi needs to be personal.
Quibi needs to be interactive.
Quibi needs to be responsive.
Quibi needs to be entertaining.
Right now Quibi is none of those things.
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