Was Quibi a Bad Idea or a Victim of the Pandemic?

Quibi has, to quote the comedian Eddie Izzard, collapsed like a flan in a cupboard. The extremely expensive folly, led by Jeffrey Katzenberg, lasted just six months.

“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,” the announcement from Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman read.

The Rise and Fall of Quibi

Why did Quibi fail? It’s difficult to pinpoint just one reason. The whole concept felt outdated, like the business equivalent of the “How do you do, fellow kids?” gif.

The idea was to make viewers pay for premium, glossy versions of the content we can get for free elsewhere. It cost almost $2 billion to get off the ground and featured famous actors instead of random TikTokers.

Investors believed in Katzenberg, who oversaw the golden age of Disney animation from 1984-1994 and then founded DreamWorks Animation. Then the man with a golden touch ended up making “The Golden Arm,” the only piece of content from Quibi to go even remotely viral.

“The Golden Arm” was part of Sam Raimi’s horror anthology 50 States of Fright and starred Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan. A clip of the episode, filmed on a subscriber’s phone, featured giggling in the background as the ridiculous scenario played out.

To be fair, Sam Raimi is known for straddling the line between horror and comedy. And the source material is an American folktale popularized by Mark Twain. But seriously, this is what Quibi spent $2 billion making?

They Didn’t Stop to Think if They Should

I’m not a high-powered Hollywood executive, but I can spot a few issues with Quibi’s model right away.

Problem #1: We already have YouTube and TikTok for quick, fun videos that are free to watch. Plus most of us are subscribed to at least one major streaming platform. Why do we need Quibi?

Problem #2: Quibi is a weird name that no one knows how to pronounce. Kwye-bye? Kwibbie? I’m not going to tell my friends about this cool new streaming service if I don’t even know how to say it. A minor quibble, but an unforced error for the company nonetheless.

Problem #3: Katzenberg and his team were hopelessly out of touch with what people actually wanted to watch. A story circulated in the trades a few months ago about a pitch meeting between Katzenberg and Gal “Wonder Woman” Gadot. She wanted to make empowering content for girls and women. He wanted her to put on a leotard and make an exercise video like Jane Fonda did in the 80s. Yeesh.

Problem #4: The content ranged from “okay, sure” to “what the heck did I just watch” to “laughably bad.” See above, RE: “The Golden Arm.”

Problem #5: The pandemic changed the way people consumed content. More binge-watching, less desire to watch a 10-minute video on your phone. They clearly hoped that people would watch these “quick bites” during breaks at work, subway commutes, and other pockets of downtime during our normal lies. Except normal lives don’t exist anymore–that’s on COVID, not Katzenberg.

Problem #6: You could only watch Quibi on your phone. The app did not support TV viewing until a day before they announced it was shutting down. Katzenberg was reportedly committed to a “mobile first, mobile only” model regardless of what subscribers wanted.

Problem #7: They spent so. much. money. And it turns out that, because of the way they filmed the episodes, they managed to skirt labor union laws. AND when things started to fall apart, employees revealed that they weren’t being paid while stars like Reese Witherspoon still received millions.

The service also cost subscribers $5 with ads ($8 to go ad-free). I mean, Disney+ costs $7 and I can watch Star Wars on it. Quibi never stood a chance.