Articles QUIBI

QUIBI: the challenge of Jeffrey Katzenberg

by Andrea Fornasiero | 07.08.2019

Share on Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn

Any competition worthy of respect must have an outsider, a contender who isn’t among the favorites but who can turn the results upside down for one reason or another. In the case of the ‘gold rush’ taking place presently on the streaming market, this contender is definitely Quibi – a platform designed by a mythical Hollywood tycoon such as Jeffrey Katzenberg (formerly Disney and DreamWorks), flanked by Meg Whitman (formerly Procter & Gambel, eBay and Hewlett-Packard) as CEO. Quibi is going for ‘quick bites’, a philosophy that is definitely different from that of the other streaming giants, like Netflix, Prime Video or the upcoming HBO Max, Disney + and Apple, which still tail the traditional TV model with 20-30 or 40-60-minute episodes and 90’ or longer movies. Quibi, on the other hand, will offer content divided in episodes no longer than ten minutes – a genre called short form, commonly used on YouTube and similar platforms. But beware, because Quibi – recalling a famous HBO slogan that asserted it was ‘not to be considered television’ – makes a point, stating “We aren’t social media. We’re Quibi.” And Katzenberg explains the innovation heading in this direction: “We aren’t looking at our content as a short form genre, but as a long form in episodes.” What’s the difference between this model and a web series made up of short episodes? In substance it might seem undetectable, but to make the difference is the order of magnitude. In other words, it’s a matter of scale, in addition to the fact that the episodes will be released quickly, at an interval of 24 hours from each other. So no immediate Netflix-style binge-watching, but not even two or three months of weekly discussions about the Game of Thrones.
Perhaps an example of what Katzenberg has in mind is a recent Sundance TV production, successfully greeted by audience and critics: State of the Union, written by Nick Hornby, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Chris O’Dowd and Rosamund Pike. The ten 10-minute episodes revolve around a couple in a pub waiting to meet up with a marriage counselor next door. Naturally, besides the high standards of actors and filmmakers, this is a small production shot in a single location, like in a theater or in a multi-room sit-com studio. Quibi’s project is more ambitious and will certainly be investing higher budgets on its commissioned products, because the idea is to bet on this format through the means of cinema or mass production – for example, Antoine Fuqua’s #Freerayshawn, featuring Stephan James and Laurence Fishburne and produced by Sony, which has a 15 million-dollar budget.
Quibi’s goal is the mobile audience, an audience that is rapidly growing worldwide yet far from being saturated. As elucidated by Katzenberg, the two and a half billion people who use smartphones, make up less than 10% of the viewing time of Hulu, Amazon, Netflix and HBO put together. In this, Katzenberg has identified an offer void and is ready to fill it, both with his own charisma and a clever business project. Quibi in fact does not intend to keep for itself the productions that it will host for a limited period of time for the first few years, nor does it wish to compete in the production race upfront, but it will rather rely on content created by television studios, as US networks have done for decades, where a Disney channel hosts a Warner series, and vice versa. A year ago, the company had already raised a billion in investments from partners such as Disney, NBCUniversal, Sony, Warner and Alibaba. Moreover, the plan is to spend one billion and one hundred million dollars to commission content totaling 7,000 short episodes within the first year of the platform’s launch.
Quibi will be available only for mobiles from April 6, 2020 and there will be two ways to register: with ads for 4.99 dollars a month or without ads for 7.99 dollars a month. Thanks to her high-end experience, Meg Whitman has already obtained advertising investments from half a dozen partners for a total of 100 million dollars covering two thirds of the 150 million that Katzenberg wants to achieve in the first year of activity.
And its programming won’t include fiction only: a wrestling show has already been announced; two news shows aimed at millennials; a BBC wildlife program; a show dedicated to the world of drag queens, Nightgowns, starring a RuPaul’s Drag Race winner; a docu-series with Tyra Banks entitled Beauty; a comedy show set in a court room; Idris Elba who challenges stunt men at car driving, and even a cooking program where chef Evan Funke crosses Italy in search of pasta masters. Quibi will also revive MTV formats such as Punk’d and Singled Out, and are working on new secretive productions with names such as Jennifer Lopez, Steph Curry and Lena Waithe.
Katzenberg and Quibi promise to pass on the right those who today stand as the industry’s innovators who are turning the audiovisual market upside down. It could appear to be an impossible challenge, but the Studios want to believe in it, perhaps because deep in their hearts they dream of an oasis where they won’t be forced into an unceasing war and can live together, instead, enjoying their own successes.