About 18 months ago, I was told by Hollywood insiders I know that Jeffrey Katzenberg was working on a concept where he would develop high-quality stories in short bites. What was described to me was short novella’s that focused on delivering them on smartphones.
AT CES this year, Katzenberg and his partner in this venture, former HP CEO Meg Whitman, talked about their Quibi Venture. In their keynote, they told this CES audience the following:
“What’s the next big opportunity in entertainment?” asked Jeffrey Katzenberg, founder of Quibi. “We’re living through another revolution in entertainment. Mobile phones are the most widely distributed, democratized entertainment platform the world has ever seen.” Collaborating with A-list celebrities and directors the likes of Steven Spielberg and Reese Witherspoon, as well as major news and sports studios, Quibi promises fresh and original content that is different from what the streaming and entertainment industry already has. “We fill a niche [other platforms] don’t. We provide content for people on the go,” said Meg Whitman, CEO of Quibi, who was also previously CEO of Hewlett-Packard and eBay.
When I first heard of this venture, my first thought that Quibi was for the short attention span generation. Some people indeed have short attention spans, but this is not the target audience Quibi is going after. The Quibi concept is not new. If you have traveled in China, Hong Kong, or many other Asian countries over the last 15 years, you would have seen people during their commute watching videos on their smartphones. For over two decades, Chinese content makers have been creating soap operas or novellas that are in short chapter form.
An average commute in Asia is one hour to one and a half hours, and this means they have a lot of downtimes. And for many, they stand up the whole time as these forms of public transportation always pack people in like sardines. I suspect that one of the audiences Quibi is targeting are commuters around the world who have similar experiences and downtime.
The CE article about the Quibi keynote explains the platform they created for the short videos:
“The Quibi team built the platform to suit user experiences, decreasing the amount of time spent scrolling through options and optimizing those in-between moments that are perfect for short quick bite videos. The Quibi feed — the main screen on the platform — is where users can find content that is curated for them through meta-data. All content is also downloadable for all plans, and there is even technology to make sure the stream plays under intermittent networking. From left-handed scrolling to portrait-orientation-specific gestures, the Quibi technology takes into account the smallest of user details. “We are obsessing over mobile video like no one else,” said Rob Post, Quibi Chief Technology Officer. Katzenberg said that Quibi aims to have in its first year 175 original shows and 8,500 quick bites of content, ranging from comedies and dramas to dating shows and news”.
Another audience that Quibi will be attractive too is people who stand in lines for long periods. (Think DMV) Instead of twiddling their thumbs or trying to read a book, they could watch short videos or play games on their smartphones.
There are two things I find extremely interesting about Quibi.
- The first is the focus on the most ubiquitous video delivery platform that exists today. There are 3.5 billion smartphones in use now. In many countries, just about everyone has a smartphone and most sport Apple’s IOS or Google’s Android mobile operating systems. In the industry, we use the term TAM to describe Total Available Market, and in Quibi’s case, smartphones represent that largest audience ever for short-form videos.
The second thing is their commitment to creating high-quality stories in concise time frames. They will tell stories, make documentaries, and other forms of video that can be broken into chapters or can tell an entire story in about 12 minutes.
Telling real stories and delivering satisfying viewing content in short times is a challenge, but Quibi is up to the task. They have brought in top talents, like Steven Speilberg and others, and I have no doubt that they will deliver engaging, high-quality stories and docuseries once they come to market on April 20, 2020.
I admit that I have been skeptical about the idea of creating and delivering meaningful content in short bursts or chapters. But I was reminded that an average TV show offers its programs in the same way. A 30 minute TV shows have only about 22-23 minutes of actual program content cut into 3-5 minutes segments, and the rest of the time is taken up by commercials. Bing Bang Theory and Friends are great examples of this. Each section focused on a specific character and their personal lives and their impact on the group ensemble. Each segment told a story in its own right and then the last scene tied the show together under an underlying story thread.
If you look closely, at Facebook’s Watch feature, they deliver meaningful content in short segments, too, with a 3-10 second video ad in the middle. I am personally hooked on UK based talk show host Graham Norton’s interview segments. He is brilliant and gets his list of Hollywood and British stars to open up and tell great personal stories about their lives and work. I also like the best of America’s Got Talent performances as they show ordinary people doing exceptional performances. Both shows last about five to seven minutes.
Another app from Google convinced me that the idea of creating short content that is very meaningful is more than possible. Called Tanji, this program delivers DIY and other material and tutorials that teaches and informs in under one minute. Its tag line is “Learn Something New Every Day.” At the moment, it only runs on IOS and gives lessons on Art, Cooking, DIY, Fashion, and Beauty and Lifestyle. I spent some time with this app, and besides learning new things, it has real entertainment value too.
I don’t think that short videos from Quibi, Facebook, or Tanji will replace longer form streaming video. Still, I do believe they have a place in a market where people are mobile and end up having dead time in which viewing shorter form content would be attractive. They may also be used as a pure entertainment medium over smartphones and watched on demand.
The revenue model of YouTube and Facebook’s short videos are concise ads in the middle of these video bites. On the other hand, Quibi will be subscription-based, like most dedicated streaming services.
While there are skeptics of Quibi, I am more positive about its role in the market and its potential. Whether it reaches the heights of Netflix and Amazon’s Prime is a bigger question. I believe it will find its audience among smartphone users, especially and can be profitable in its own right over time. The same goes for the short videos we see on YouTube and Facebook.
People have hectic lives these days, and many do not have the time to sit down and view long-form videos. It is for these folks Quibi my strike a chord and become a go-to site to consume video in shorter form and be quite successful with this audience.