I, like many of you, have found myself bombarded by advertisements for the new short-form streaming service, Quibi. It all started with a strange, and kind of terrible, Super Bowl commercial. The thirty second advertisement featured bank robbers making a break for their getaway vehicle only to be left hanging by their driver who assures them he “will be there in a Quibi”. From there, another robber breaks out his cell phone and appears to squeeze in a few moments of Chance the Rapper’s Punk’d revival while he waits. The audience is then left with a narrator that promises “Quick bites. Big stories”.
As an early adopter of basically… everything, I felt obligated to learn more, and it didn’t take long to surmise that Quibi’s short-form, episodic, and mobile-exclusive offering probably wasn’t for me. I was wrong.
At face value, Quibi is little more than original programming paired-down into episodes consisting of 10 minutes or less. The shows and films are meant to be viewed in short bursts–allowing you to take full advantage of life’s in-between moments. Or… you know… on the toilet. A quick peek at the launch lineup revealed roughly 50 titles featuring A-list celebrities, social media influencers that I’ve never heard of, and traditional media outlets looking for yet another way to tell you just how terrible the world’s current events truly are. If that sounds kinda shitty, get ready for this–you can only watch it on your phone! Do you have a Chromecast or Airplay device connected to your screen? Maybe a Roku, Fire Stick, or Apple TV? Doesn’t matter. You’ll be watching these, sometimes multi-million dollar productions, on your phone.
All of this sounds pretty terrible, I know. I don’t even want to watch a movie on a laptop–let alone a phone. But since they launched with a 90-day free trial, I figured “Fuck it. Let’s see what they’ve got”. I put on a pair of somewhat decent noise cancelling headphones, found a dark and comfy room of my house, and hit play on the first episode of a new show called When the Streetlights Go On. That first episode lasted 8 minutes and 31 seconds. That’s how long it took me to become a believer in Quibi.
I binged the two remaining episodes while occasionally alternating my phone from its landscape position to portrait–and then back again. Each time making note of the way more or less of a particular shot can be seen depending on the orientation. I’m not quite sure why it’s so mesmerizing, but it is. Believe it or not, of all the things I noticed, the fact that it wasn’t playing on my TV ranked near the bottom of the list. But Quibi’s greatest strength lies beyond software tricks and unrelenting marketing. The biggest thing it has going for it is killer content–but that might not mean what you think. It’s not the the shows or movies available on the platform are the “best”–it’s that the content available is a perfect fit for the mobile-only platform.
Horror titles like Sam Raimi’s 50 States of Fright or The Stranger prove that genre content can exist on the small screen without requiring traditional viewing environments. I consider myself to be a home theater enthusiast, and I believe that getting the most out of the content you’re watching requires, at times, significant financial investment. But Quibi isn’t releasing content that requires that level of immersion to enjoy it. Granted, there are only a handful of examples at this time, but each one is delivering a tale that feels right at home on mobile devices and in episodic chunks.
As it stands, Quibi is a bold attempt at innovating mobile video, but it’s going to take time to see if they are able to cultivate the number of subscribers needed to become financially viable–or if they can continue releasing content quickly enough to satiate that growing subscriber base. I have my doubts on the latter. And while I am thoroughly enjoying the content itself, I do believe there is work to be done to remove the shackles of mobile exclusivity and allow paying subscribers to watch the content wherever they please–and that includes on their televisions. It turns out, I really like bite sized content, and I have found myself catching up on shows in ways that I never would have done or attempted before. I’ve also found myself awkwardly holding my phone in the air while friends and family crowd around my iPhone to watch an episode of Punk’d. That’s a horrible experience for consumers and a bad look for Quibi.
It’s early days for the new streaming service, and Quibi seems acutely aware that viewer attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Here’s to hoping they can address the existing shortcomings and continue cranking out quality content before people simply forget and move on. Subscription fatigue is a real thing, and we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Forking out another $4.99 (with ads) or $7.99 (without ads) is going to be a hard sell unless there’s an abundance of content available for viewers of all walks.
Already watching shows on Quibi? Shoot us a message on Twitter @ModernHorrors and let us know what you’re watching! You can start your free 90-day trial now on Android and iOS devices.