April 9, 2020
Is it okay to write about anything except Covid-19 just now? I think so; the only useful thing to say is good luck to us all.
Actually, it is a little bit relevant to Quibi. Many have commented that they are unlucky to go live while we’re in lockdown and entertainment on the move isn’t a priority. True enough, but a sticky start shouldn’t determine its whole future if the concept is sound.
If? That is the question. A start of 300,000 downloads makes it no Disney+, it is going to have grow demand and that will mainly be by word of mouth.
Surely the signs are good. Young viewers look at a lot of YouTube on mobiles, and TikTok has showed that a new player could still innovate and muscle in very effectively. Obviously, they are both free. Initially Quibi has two pay levels; $5 if you’ll take some ads, $8 for ad free.
The other thing that separates Quibi is its big name ‘auteur’ content. And it has real trick functionality; all content plays both landscape and portrait and Stephen Spielberg’s scary series will only play when your smart phone knows it is dark. I haven’t seen any of the content, but the New York Times TV critic wasn’t impressed and saw little creative innovation and a lot of exposition. Most of the content is series but cut into sub ten-minute episodes -with an alleged budget of $100,000 a minute. Won’t that mean endless overworked cliff-hangers – frustrating if you don’t have time for the next episode – or episodes where not much happens and then the short attention span of the audience they are made for will mean they, err, lose attention?
And, as the NY critic also pointed out, if something drags then eight or nine minutes seems like an age for your smartphone to be tied up. Be honest, if a TV drama (on the TV) sags a little, how many of you take a look at something on your phone? Also, when you are engrossed in an episode, how annoying is the other stuff arriving on your phone going to be?
For Quibi, though, as for so many of us, the true consequences of Covid-19 may not be seen until it is over. Unless they are a big hit very quickly, their main problem may come to be on the supply side rather than demand. We know the demands of global SVoD means a dearth of great scripted content, and that has now been made worse by at least two quarters of production being cancelled. The price of content for Quibi will only rise, and that’s if it can find enough good writers who are sufficiently attracted to the new format (can get their heads around it?) in the first place.