Quibi ended its video streaming service this week, ending an extraordinary year for the company.
At the start of 2020, it was seen by some as the future of “snackable” entertainment on smartphones.
The shows were shot in such a way that they could be watched in full screen in portrait and landscape mode, with users able to switch in a snap.
And the company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars of the nearly $ 2 billion (£ 1.5 billion) it raised to create a library of exclusive content short and small.
Many media companies signed up, including the BBC, which had its own news show on the platform.
But somewhere along the way, things got very bad.
I spoke to three of Quibi’s content creators.
They are all still working in the industry and have therefore requested to remain anonymous.
The interviews below have been edited for brevity and clarity.
‘Jonathan’ is a writer who worked on a daily entertainment show
I was not the only one who was skeptical from the very beginning. Why would people pay money for shorthand content that they can already get for free?
Once it started it was pretty clear that things weren’t going well.
We started production about a week before New York City closed because of Covid. We planned to build a studio – it was going to be a much bigger show. And so very quickly we had to pivot.
At first, I felt lucky to have a job. Everything was so chaotic.
First off, it was like, “Oh, we’re gonna be a news show.”
In the end, it was a fun pop culture entertainment show. I mean, he was trying to get celebrities to come on the show. We pivoted several times.
Jeffrey Katzenberg – the co-founder of Quibi – was very involved in the series. We were far from their greatest show and he was giving us ratings – he was hands-on.
Oh absolutely. I can’t imagine the CEO of Netflix calling the production teams to give his personal perspective.
There were executives in Quibi from whom we received notes. And then we got various notes from Jeffrey Katzenberg.
They were still trying to figure out what was working, and I think in the end the answer was just that Quibi himself was not working.
It was as if the Quibi executives had no idea who their audience was – so they did a little bit of everything.
It always comes down to content, there was nothing that appeared on Quibi.
Basically, nothing has gone viral in a good way.
Maybe if they embraced the silliness a little more, laughed at them, it would have worked out better.
Clearly I should have realized from the start that they didn’t really know what they were up to.
But that probably wouldn’t have stopped me. I don’t regret it at all. I was able to do things that I was proud of.
‘Michael’ was a producer for a news show on ‘Daily Essentials’
There was a great feeling that it could be something different. I thought the premise was pretty good.
In terms of money, I was not the “big talent”.
They were getting millions of dollars to do something, so they didn’t care if it was successful or not.
But for me, I wanted it to be successful.
When the decision came that we were still going to launch despite the pandemic, there was a decent amount of concern.
Concern, but also hope, because people will be at home. Everyone was going to watch stuff.
When we saw the first numbers on the App Store it was good news, as you could see there was interest very early on.
The part that was worrying for us started to hit more at the start of the summer. Are people watching what we are doing?
And there weren’t a lot of responses from management.
So you were worried that Quibi would not publish the audience figures?
Honestly, for me a bit, and I knew that worried others.
And so, when the news came that Quibi was shutting down, it wasn’t surprising.
It was that kind of relief, because we had heard so many of these rumors before. Reports of declining subscription rates and issues with management.
In the end, it didn’t work because when you charge for something that can be found – to some extent – elsewhere, it’s a tough sell.
Management did not fully understand its audience. If you’re targeting these young viewers, you have to know what they want – and I don’t think they have.
There was this joy of seeing this thing fail.
But there were so many people – publishers, producers, a lot of people – who lost their jobs. People forget about it.
‘Julian’ was an actor in a drama series
I was super excited about the idea and concept of Quibi.
Nowadays, people consume entertainment in a multitude of different ways.
I thought shortened content like this made a lot of sense.
When you create an entirely new platform like this, the sky is the limit.
They had invested in a number of celebrities to carry the shows and provided opportunities for creators of incredible shows.
Look what Amazon and Netflix did – I thought Quibi could be around for a long time.
I think one of the main things Quibi was trying to capitalize on was that people were watching on devices while they were on the go. Waiting for a bus. Sitting in a cafe.
Sadly, having started in the days of a global pandemic has been devastating.
The concept is a tough sell anyway. You know, there is already so much content out there.
So what’s the one thing that is going to attract people to Quibi? The idea of the short and quick form.
I’m not sure if that was enough to make it work, but we’ll never be able to tell because of its launch date. It wasn’t fair to see if it was a viable thing.
In response, Quibi provided the following statement on behalf of its chief executive Meg Whitman and chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg:
Although the result did not correspond to any of us, there are a number of things we did.
We opened the door for Hollywood’s most creative and imaginative minds to innovate from script to screen, and the result was content that exceeded our expectations.
We challenged engineers to create a mobile platform for a new form of storytelling.
And we were joined by 10 of the world’s top advertisers, who have enthusiastically embraced new ways for their brands to tell their story.
Quibi [failure is] probably for one of two reasons: because the idea itself wasn’t strong enough to warrant a standalone streaming service, or because of our timing.