will quarantine kill quibi?

Quibi's largest appeal is filling in gaps in our boredom— so what happens when there are no gaps to fill?

Quibi, the newest streaming service to hit the digital space, soft-launched on April 6. The SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) is the brainchild of Jeffrey Katzenberg, founder of DreamWorks and former chairman of Disney. Quibi’s name derives from “quick bites,” as it was designed with the busy viewer in mind: each episode is ten minutes or less in length. Celebrities from Bill Hader to Rachel Brosnahan have hopped on board, and with a $1.75 billion pre-launch budget, it promises top-quality content. So, despite the perfect formula, why isn’t Quibi feeling the love?

By its design, Quibi’s largest appeal is filling in boredom gaps—waiting for the bus, catching the subway—but the pandemic math is simple: with the world at a standstill and non-essential travel discouraged, there are no small gaps to fill. Americans suddenly have extra hours at home to digest longer content. They’re checking off movie lists and full seasons of shows. Restricted to phone-app-only, Quibi stands at a disadvantage to television-accessible SVODs like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Those who are quarantining with family members or roommates are more inclined to stream together in front of a large screen.

Quibi’s compressed episode lengths seem to assume the viewer has a fleeting attention span. The creators are obviously playing toward the TikTok generation, where seconds are more valuable and plots progress in an instant. These shows demand rapid-fire edits and constant action. Take a procedural reality show like Chrissy’s Court or Dishmantled: each episode establishes the rules, sympathizes with the cast, and completes the emotional arc within six to ten minutes. Too many structural patterns in a row become tiring. It’s not a sustainable binging model.

But SVODs don’t consider watch time in their financial assessments; revenue is solely reliant on subscriptions. During its growth, Netflix relied on licensed content to draw subscribers in—not that we’re knocking its 52 billion streamed minutes of The Office in 2018 to the side. Providing recognizable content establishes viewer trust and allows SVODs to later release original content. In fact, because of its massive spending ($15 billion in 2019), Netflix still nets in the red. But Quibi, like Apple TV+, arrives with no mass-appeal shows, so both have struggled to meet their rivals. Like Hulu, there are two tiers of monthly subscription plans, with ads for $4.99 or ad-free for $7.99. A 90-day free trial offers a sample with the hopes that they’ll hook you in.

However, there are a few outstanding characteristics of the app. Quibi has capitalized on the vertical aspect ratio that modern filmmakers have struggled to tame for years. Shows flip from vertical to horizontal seamlessly, including captioning and graphics. Certain shows lend themselves to one way of viewing, but this allows the audience a very powerful sense of control. Episodes can be downloaded for offline streaming, which comes in handy while underground in a train or subway. New episodes drop daily and new shows weekly from their backlogged catalog. And Quibi’s range of genres goes above and beyond conventions. To test it out, I watched the first two episodes of a smattering of Quibi shows.


Chrissy’s Court: Supposedly a legally binding transaction, Chrissy Tiegen judges petty offenses in her typical over-the-top style. From one perspective, it’s a cheesy attempt to make light of the American judiciary system. From another, it’s just one more way for Tiegen to show off husband John Legend.

Most Dangerous Game: Cancer-stricken Dodge Maynard (Liam Hemsworth) is offered to participate in a deadly scheme to clear his family’s debt. The drama’s on-the-nose dialogue is akin to a CW show, but the cliffhangers work so well. Surprisingly, the short episode lengths don’t feel rushed.

Dishmantled: This show takes an abstract approach to a cooking competition that places ingenuity over skill. Two chefs are challenged to recreate an exploded dish based on taste and blown-up bits. Tituss Burgess and his rotating celebrity guests reward the closest guesser with a cash prize.

Singled Out: Keke Palmer hosts this NSFW dating show based on the idea that your next bae is already a scroll away. All of the contestant’s potential matches are found in their social network and are narrowed down through a series of confusing rules. It’s trashy and vibrant; don’t watch in public.

Murder House Flip: DIY home improvement/true crime crossover fans, this one’s for you. Two annoying hosts disrespectfully redesign a mansion for a couple that doesn’t mind a few dead bodies buried under the lawn. It requires a high attention span and a lack of sympathy for mass murder sites.

Nikki Fre$h: Nicole Richie gives her all as family-friendly rap artist Nikki Fre$h in this playful scripted satire. Nikki and her queer cowboy sidekick spread their wordplay through such hits as “Bees Tea” and “Parent Trap.” It’s a refreshing, self-aware comedy that promotes environmental conservation and health consciousness.

Quibi entered the streaming sphere in a turbulent period that has no foreseeable end. Due to coronavirus concerns, the launch party was canceled and the release date was almost pushed. It’s unlikely that new shows or second seasons will premiere as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has predicted large gatherings—including production sets—will be banned until 2021. It will compete with HBO Max in May, NBCU’s Peacock in July, and Discovery/BBC later in 2020. But there’s hope. Quibi builds upon the GenZ and Millennial affinity for short-form platforms like YouTube and TikTok. Its casting and concepts appear to be more LGBTQ+ conscious and there are obvious attempts to break traditional media molds. If it survives beyond the national lockdown, Quibi may pave the way for a new standard of mobile media.

Ollie Barry is a digital video editor and sound designer from New Jersey and an alum of Boston University. Find them online as @officialmomdad.



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