Quibi, We Hardly Knew Ye

I mean, we knew it enough to mock it. Twice. But the point is, we won’t be getting to know it any better, because it is shutting down a mere six months after launch.

In a Medium post, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman said, “we feel that we’ve exhausted all our options. As a result we have reluctantly come to the difficult decision to wind down the business, return cash to our shareholders, and say goodbye to our colleagues with grace. We want you to know we did not give up on this idea without a fight.”

But in a kind of surprising moment of clarity, they also say: “…Quibi is not succeeding. Likely for one of two reasons: because the idea itself wasn’t strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service or because of our timing.”

The idea itself wasn’t strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service.

That’s the answer. When it launched, I called it the Juicero of entertainment apps, mostly because I really like bringing up Juicero, but also because Quibi is the perfect example of a product built for an imaginary problem.

10-Minute Television

There’s very little room in the market for more entertainment apps as it is, so any new one you create has to solve a user problem that isn’t being addressed. And no one was saying, “man, I wish I could watch well-produced dramas in 10-minute increments, on my phone and only on my phone, with no way to share them with my friends and family.”

Yeah, I know. I can probably dial back the disdain a bit since the company is dead, but they spent nearly $2 BILLION dollars creating a barely understandable app with no real value proposition beyond famous directors’ names. And they thought that was enough.

Quibi wasn’t fulfilling a niche that existed, and wasn’t compelling enough to create a new one.

Launching a mobile-only streaming service in the same month most of the world went on home lockdown was a questionable decision. Launching it with no way to allow users to watch the exclusive content on their home televisions, or even desktop browsers, was a worse one. And creating all this fancy, new, irrationally short content without giving users the ability to share it, or interact with it in any way or even create different user streams on the same account…well, all of that is why after December 1, you won’t have to try to figure out how to say Quibi anymore.

Kwi-Bee? Kee-Bee?

If your customers don’t even know what something is, why should they download it?

And while there’s a well-known adage that you shouldn’t ask customers what they want, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a clear idea of the problem you’re trying to solve with your product. Telling users to “like this because it’s fancy” is a losing proposition in a world where we are all faced with a dizzying array of options on which to spend our limited time and money.

And another thing — Quibi wasn’t creating new, groundbreaking content; it was producing shows that had already been passed over by HBO and Netflix. Don’t give people premium hand-me-downs and expect them to watch with rapt attention.

Deep Breaths

I’m not even sure why I’m so mad at Quibi, except that as someone who works in an industry so laser-focused on giving users what they need and doing so in a way that is elegant and intuitive and useful, I find it astonishing and infuriating that this company, with its board of luminaries, got it so very, very wrong.

Quibi’s investors included JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, Disney, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, ViacomCBS, AT&T’s WarnerMedia, Lionsgate, MGM, ITV, and Entertainment One. And it seems incomprehensible that at no point did one of them say, “wow. This…no.”

It’s like when your rich aunt gets you something expensive but super uncool for Christmas. Not that I have a rich aunt, but I assume. Just because they have the money and the credits, doesn’t mean they have the insight.

Users want TikTok (yes, it still works) and Insta and other interactive, self-driven entertainment platforms on their phones. Users, whether they’re locked down or not, now want entertainment they can shape and control; entertainment they can share; entertainment that solves the problem of alienation and loneliness during the lockdown.

Or all the time.

Who knows, maybe that’s a reaction to the overwhelming feeling of chaos in the world. It lets users control their little, 5.8-inch worlds, and maybe add something beautiful to it.

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