Sam Brooks takes a look at new American streaming service Quibi, and asks what sets it apart from all the rest.
So what is Quibi and what makes it different?
Quibi is a new streaming service based out of the US with one twist: you can only watch it on your phone. Or, to use the Quibi parlance, it’s designed specifically to deliver short-form scripted and unscripted content to your phone. The platform is the brainchild of former Disney and Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, and they plan to spend US$1.1bn on over 7,000 pieces of original content in its first year.
The name is a mixture of the word ‘quick’ and ‘bites’, and episodes are designed to be seven-to-ten minutes, rather than the usual 20-30 minute or 40-60 minute duration of conventional scripted television.
What’s on it?
Quibi aims to cover pretty much everything under the dual umbrellas of scripted and unscripted – comedy, drama, reality TV, documentary, news, game shows. It’s all of these things but in shorter chunks.
The shows are divided into three major groups:
Firstly, the marquee scripted titles, referred to as ‘Movies in Chapters’. These run between two and two-and-a-half hours each season, divided into a dozen or so daily episodes (or chapters). A new show of this kind will be released, on average, every two weeks. Added up, it roughly makes a movie, which Quibi has signalled may later be released on other services after a two-year exclusivity contract. Some of these will be self-contained, while others have the option to have further ‘chapters’.
Secondly, marquee unscripted titles will be called ‘Unscripted and Docs’. These include reality shows, documentaries and competition shows but will be mostly self-contained.
And finally, there’s ‘Daily Essentials’. Basically, the news. A variety of news organisations from around the world (NBC News, the BBC, Telemundo, CTV, and uh, TMZ) will produce daily news updates ranging from essential news to daily pop culture and lifestyle stories.
What are the big shows to look out for?
There’s a lot out there, but here’s what’s caught my interest (note how many fit the frequently applied description of Quibi as ‘joke 30 Rock shows come-to-life’):
- Fierce Queens: An animal docuseries following how female animals survive and thrive in the wild. Reese Witherspoon does the voiceover.
- Most Dangerous Game: Liam Hemsworth stars as an expectant dad whose cancer diagnosis forces him to take a huge risk.
- Memory Hole: Will Arnett walks us through obscure, forgotten pop culture moments from decades past.
- Survive: Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) stars as a suicidal woman who finds out she can’t commit suicide after her plane crashes.
- Nikki Fresh: A Nicole Ritchie mockumentary (maybe?) where she attempts to pivot to making a trap album for ‘moms and gays’.
- Murder House Flip: People try to flip houses where murders have occurred.
- Dishmantled: Titus Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) hosts this cooking competition show where entrees are blasted out of cannons onto contestants. After tasting them, they have to make what they think the dish used to be. I promise I’m not making this up.
- The Gayme Show: A game show where two gay men judge straight men to determine who is the gayest.
- Singled Out: A reboot of the classic MTV dating show, with a social media-related twist.
- Chrissy’s Court: Chrissy Teigen as Judge Judy.
- Punk’d: The same as it always was, but shorter.
You can find a full list of these definitely real shows right here.
That sounds like a lot of content.
Yes and no. While Quibi promises to provide 7,000 pieces of original content within the year, that includes everything from the movies in chapter to the daily news essentials, so it’ll add up fairly quickly. Still, it’s a promise of a lot of things to watch with your phone securely glued to your hand.
It’s worth noting that this is one of the reasons that Quibi has been the source of both punchlines and scepticism online; it’s so much content, and a lot of it, frankly, sound like fake joke shows from 30 Rock.
The other is its business model. To quote Bloomberg’s Hollywood Torrent newsletter: “It’s spending a fortune on programmes it doesn’t own, and is making shows for people to watch in their doctor’s office. Most people already have plenty to do when they are idle (YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, texting, email, games), and almost all of it is free.”
Do I have to hold my phone horizontally?
Katzenberg has promised that Whitman and her team of “50 product and engineering” people have been figuring out ways to make viewing shows on Quibi easier than, say, watching Netflix or YouTube on your phone. This new way includes a “turnstyle” mode, which allows the viewer to watch a show in landscape or portrait mode, and move between them instantly. This has the run-on effect of producers potentially having to shoot two different versions of a show to make the “turnstyle” work properly.
Other technology the service is exploring varies from forward-thinking (think interactivity, like Netflix’s Bandersnatch or any video game) to the gimmicky (Steven Spielberg, an early supporter of the service, has a planned horror series that will only be available to stream after sunset, wherever the user may be).
And I really can’t watch it on my TV or laptop?
Not officially. If you can figure out how to cast or mirror your phone to your TV, then you can. There are a lot of guides online on how to do this if you’re so inclined, but Quibi is quite serious about this – it’s content for your phone, not your TV.
Where do I sign up?
If you join before the 30 April, you get a 90-day free trial. After that, it’s $13.99 a month if you want the ad-free version. If you’re happy to watch ads, you can get it for $8.49 a month.
The Quibi app is available on iOS and Google Play.