Digital Advertising Specialist Chris Gregory-Pasha on how Quibi could disrupt the OTT landscape, or not…
Launching a brand new short-form streaming service in the middle of a global pandemic – utter madness or disruptive brilliance?Well, in reality, it’s probably a bit of both…
Quibi, for the uninitiated, is the brainchild of Jeffrey Katzenberg, the founder of Dreamworks and the former boss of Walt Disney Studios, and Meg Whitman, former CEO of HP and eBay. At its core, the platform showcases original and syndicated short-form video designed to be watched during everyone’s ‘lost’ minutes, such as the commute to work or waiting in traffic and most importantly, only on mobile. With a truckload of A-list talent already onboard – including Zac Efron, Idris Elba and Avengers Endgame directors The Russo Brothers – excitement has been palpable for Quibi’s launch.
Executives and Hollywood aside, Quibi’s real USP and the big reason it’s able to attract such talent, is actually its own proprietary (and signature) tech, Turnstyle. Turnstyle was developed in-house and allows viewers to rotate their phone screen between landscape and portrait to give a different angle or perspective on the content they are watching. Screenrant provides a good breakdown of Turnstyle and its application possibilities.
Quibi launched on April 6, offering users a free 90-day trial, well-received at a time when people are mandated to stay home, and this will certainly show a big uptick in users for the fledgling platform. While many will argue the OTT and streaming marketplace is overcrowded, in Quibi’s case, this was something they were trying to disrupt. Quibi is meant to be used while you’re waiting for friends to turn up at the bar, or when you’re waiting in line for lunch – it was not ever meant to be competing for couch time.
Last year at CES, Katzenberg explained that he didn’t see Quibi competing directly with Netflix and Hulu or indeed Prime Video or Apple TV; instead, he cited YouTube and Instagram as Quibi’s closeted competition. However, in the wake of global COVID-19 lockdowns, these OTT services, unfortunately, are exactly Quibi’s biggest threat.
“We’re competing against free,” he says. “We have to offer something that is meaningfully, measurably, quantifiably, creatively different.” Instagram and YouTube are happy to let people watch user-generated content for free, but Katzenberg argues that UGC content being made for around $100 per minute cannot compete with top-tier content from big name Hollywood directors – with reports of content on the platform costing up to $125,000 a minute.
Launching the service for free is the right move, especially when their biggest competitors in the short-form game, such as TikTok, are doing the same. But in three months, when most people will be re-evaluating their spending, will Quibi cut the mustard at $4.99 a month? In 2019, Katzenberg told CNCBC, “Content is kingmaker, but clearly, today, platform is the king,” which reinforces how confident they are in their Turnstyle ad tech.
For Quibi to maintain their momentum, they need original programming that stands out and makes it worth the subscription price alone. Disney+ achieved this singlehandedly with The Mandalorian, and this is months before viewers can enjoy their original Marvel TV shows. I’m not arguing that the talent they have attracted even at launch is not impressive – having taken the time to look at the upcoming slate, there is certainly lots to get excited about.
Netflix, Hulu, YouTube Premium, Disney+, Prime Video, Apple TV Plus, OSN Streaming – personally I’m in for almost $100 a month on streaming services alone. As a recent member of the covid-19 job losses club, I’ll be taking a look at all non-essential spending and making my decision based on how much use I actually get from these platforms. For Quibi, I’ll most certainly enjoy my free 90 days, but the jury is very much still out on its value long term. In my opinion, when it comes to cost alone, then it’s the same as I pay for YouTube Premium – a subscription I pay to remove ads. Quibi does have an ad-free option at $8 a month; but at a basic subscription, I am still subject to around 2.5 minutes of adverts per hour of content – don’t get me wrong this is still very good compared to linear TV at around 16 minutes an hour… But it again begs the question: is it worth paying for a subscription that still allows ads?
It also poses the question: what type of threat is Quibi to our regional OTT and streaming providers? Well, this is totally in the hands of the consumer. Subscription growth for Quibi in the Middle East will be the key driver for building out a commercial model that satisfies advertisers while at the same time doesn’t irritate those who choose to subscribe to the ad-inclusive package. If Quibi manages to build an engaged audience in the region beyond the 90-day trial, then there is a strong argument to say they might steal some ad dollars away from the likes of YouTube, Instagram or TikTok – but certainly nothing for these established platforms to worry about in the short term. The real golden ticket for Quibi in the Middle East will be through both branded and homegrown content that’s produced by this region, for this region – an area where competitors such as OSN excel.
Right now, Quibi’s advertising efforts are focused on the US market – rightly so, as that’s where the majority of their subscriber base is located. For Quibi to succeed on a regional level, there will need to be a clearly defined content strategy for the Middle East which includes original programming in Arabic. The content drives subscription and it’s this scale that creates a platform and an audience for brands to leverage.
As for the brands themselves, it’s been a roller-coaster couple of years for video content and many marketeers here in the region have quickly had to adapt to the changing demands of customers when it comes to video content. Too often, I still hear people in meetings moaning they don’t know what Snapchat or TikTok are. Sadly, there isn’t time anymore to ignore these platforms, especially for brands targeting Gen Z. These companies all have established offices here in the Middle East and are working closely with their brand partners to create compelling content unique to their platform.
So back to Quibi, the jury is most definitely still out. On first look, the content IS unique, it IS high quality and it DOES fill a gap in the market. Time will tell as to whether viewers actually WANT this content, or whether they are happy to spend their lost minutes in the day scrolling through Tiger King memes.