Goodbye, Quibi, we hardly knew you—here’s how the brand failed

by | Nov 2, 2020 | Public Relations

The funeral dirge has played for Quibi, the streaming video site intended for short attention spans (what TikTok?) and to fill little bits of downtime in people’s lives, like time spent waiting on line at the DMV. OK, maybe shorter moments, like waiting for your latte at Starbucks.

Barely six months after its launch, the hot new service announced via Medium that it was shutting down, unable to make a run of it spending $100,000 per minute of content (vs. about $500-$5,000 per minute by YouTube). The highly touted service backed by industry titans Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, and wooing filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh and Ridley Scott, just couldn’t convince people to spend $5 or $8 per month (with or without ads, respectively) for premium, curated videos, some of which took the form of 8-10 minute “chapters” of feature-length narratives.

How things went wrong

Having personally worked within the last year to promote the launch of a similar, free service—one that also promised curated content from respected names in news, education and entertainment—I’m both astonished and, if I’m being completely honest, feeling a healthy dose of schadenfreude at Quibi’s unceremonious demise. The audacity of Katzenberg and company’s plan to charge for snippets of video, when most of us are accustomed to getting such short clips free via the above-mentioned TikTok,YouTube, and other services, not to mention a giant library of quality long- and short-form content from A-list talent via Netflix for about $10 a month, had me shaking my head at the time.

At the same time, I was a bit envious; my client had no noteworthy names behind it, no billion-plus dollars in VC money, and as a result we couldn’t book the founders on the morning shows or CNBC as Quibi’s marketing team did. Nor could I help feeling like Quibi was blocking our efforts to gin up excitement for our app, the first to combine the enjoyment of short video clips with the fun aspects of social media. While Jeff and Meg made the TV rounds, we struggled to get the scraps, or hopefully land a sentence or two alongside Quibi in a bigger story about the trend to give consumers snackable video for those in-between moments.

Quibi foundered because its business model just couldn’t support its enormous expenses

Subscriptions in the first six months totaled just $7.7 million according to Digiday, causing major brand sponsors to defer jumping in with both feet due to low viewership. TechCrunch referred to Jeff and Meg’s folly as a “short, strange life.”

One might say this is a classic story of business hubris—two wildly successful personalities bet on what consumers wanted, and were willing to pay for, then lost. They misjudged the current streaming marketplace, plowed forward hoping that big names from Hollywood and sports could change people’s behavior, and went all-in to the tune of $1.75 billion. Like many entrepreneurs who came before, they assumed they could create a demand simply by willing it.

I’m no longer repping my much-smaller entrant in the short-form streaming arena, so I no longer have a bull in this arena, but last time I checked they were still operating—with no subscription fees.

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Gary Frisch
Gary Frisch is founder and president of Swordfish Communications, a full-service public relations agency in Laurel Springs, N.J.

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