Chrissy Teigen, Kevin Hart, Jennifer Lopez, and Idris Elba definitely know Quibi.
Photo: Vulture, Getty Images and Shutterstock
Quibi has landed: The long-hyped, mobile-centric streaming platform devoted to short-form programming is now live, with dozens of programs set to roll out over the next few weeks. You may have seen the Super Bowl ad (remember football, from the Before Times?), or the omnipresent TV and online promos, or even Chrissy Teigen hyping her new show, Chrissy’s Court, on Twitter last week. But you may still be wondering just what the heck Quibi is, how it will work, and what it will cost. Vulture has you covered with an in-depth FAQ for the latest entrant in the streaming wars, with insights from Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg.
It’s a subscription-based streaming platform designed to deliver short-form scripted and unscripted content to your cell phone. The name is a mash-up of the words “quick” and “bites,” a nod to the fact that episodes of Quibi shows will run roughly seven to ten minutes in length. It’s available for download in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. And it’s pronounced “kwĭb-ee,” if you’re wondering.
Katzenberg is the project’s founder, while former eBay and Hewlett-Packard boss Meg Whitman serves as Quibi’s chief executive officer. A slew of big-media conglomerates are also putting their financial heft behind Quibi: Investors include Warner Bros., NBCUniversal, Disney, BBC Studios, Lionsgate, and MGM, according to media reports.
Quibi plans to tackle just about every major scripted and unscripted format: comedy, drama, reality shows, documentaries, news. Katzenberg tells Vulture he and his team have even started thinking about ways to reinvent soap operas and late-night talk, evolving those classic genres for a shorter format and a younger audience. “The variety and diversity of the programming that we’re doing cuts across pretty much everything that you could imagine,” Katzenberg says. “We’re trying things in a lot of different spaces.”
Right now, Quibi is dividing its content into three major buckets. Marquee scripted titles, such as Most Dangerous Game (a thriller starring Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz) are being referred to as “Movies in Chapters.” Such projects will run somewhere between two and two-and-a-half hours each season, divided into 12 to 14 daily episodes (or “chapters,” as Quibi calls them). A new one will be released, on average, every two weeks.
Quibi’s biggest unscripted titles (reality shows, docs, competition shows) will be part of a section of programming the service calls … “Unscripted and Docs.” Thanks a Million, where Jennifer Lopez and other celebrities help hand out $100,000 to ten deserving folks over the course of ten Quibi-sized episodes, would fall into this category. While episodes will mostly be self-contained, like an hour of Shark Tank, these shows will all have a recurring format and host.
Finally, there will also be about a dozen so-called “Daily Essentials,” short bursts of news, entertainment, and lifestyle content. NBC News, Telemundo, the BBC, and Canada’s CTV will produce daily news updates, with TMZ, the Dodo, and E! among the outlets offering daily pop culture and lifestyle stories.
Given most of the serialized Quibi scripted shows will run about two hours, it’s not a stretch to use movies as a frame of reference. But Katzenberg prefers to think of Quibi as something in the middle between film and TV.
“I don’t think of this as revolutionary as much as it’s evolutionary, in that you’re combining together these two tested forms of filmed narrative,” he says. “The first generation was two-hour movies that were created and designed to be watched in a single sitting in a movie theater. And the next generation was these very long, episodic and serialized stories that had either 13 or 26 chapters to them, and they were designed to be watched an hour or half-hour at a time in front of the TV set. What Quibi is setting out to do is the next form of film narrative — the convergence of those two ideas together. What we’re doing is telling stories that are two to two and a half hours long in chapters that are seven to ten minutes, with great talent, and designed to be watched on your phone.”
Yes. “Some of them are closed-in stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and you’re done,” Katzenberg says, without offering specific examples. “And others have the opportunity to have ongoing, continuing seasons [or] … a sequel.”
During its first year, Quibi has said it plans to roll out about 7,000 pieces of content. That sounds like a lot, but it’s also not the same as Netflix saying it has thousands of shows and movies (including library titles it licenses from outside studios). If, for example, Quibi ends up releasing a dozen daily essentials segments each day — the NBC newscasts, maybe an Entertainment Tonight–style showbiz report — those segments alone will add up to about 4,400 pieces of content over the course of a year. Still, as evidenced by the steady drumbeat of development news, Quibi is clearly scaling up quickly with the goal of making sure subscribers feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.
There are two tiers of service, similar to how Hulu operates. Pay $5 per month and you’ll see some advertising (likely one or two spots per episode, with some ads as brief as six seconds). Don’t want any ads at all? It’ll cost you $8 per month.
Yup. Quibi will give a free three-month trial to anyone who signs up for the service in April. If you’re a T-Mobile subscriber with a Magenta plan (or a grandfathered ONE plan with at least two lines of service), Quibi will give you a full year of the ad-supported service for free.
Netflix execs never miss the chance to argue that their success has been driven as much by technological advances as programming. Similarly, Katzenberg says Whitman and her “team of 50 product and engineering people” have been busy figuring out ways to make viewing shows on Quibi a superior experience than standard video players. The Silicon Valley side of the service has “created a new way to watch on the phone,” he says, referring to what Quibi calls its “turnstyle” mode.
“This is one of those things you have to see to understand it, but in effect, what they’ve done is, they’ve created an ability to watch content that is as beautiful whether you’re watching it in landscape or in portrait [modes],” he says. “You can toggle back and forth to either of those literally instantly. Nobody’s been able to do that yet, and this group of engineers and designers has actually done this in a pretty seamless way.” (It won’t be effortless for producers, however, since they’ll often have to shoot different versions of a show to make sure the effect works properly.)
Yes. Mobile streaming is a more personal and up-close way of watching video content, and Katzenberg says his platform is exploring ways of using interactive series to take advantage of those unique attributes.
“There will be a modest amount of it on Quibi 1.0, but there’s a very ambitious road map over the first two years,” he says. “Interactivity — the things that you can uniquely do on a device, on a phone, which is a two-way device — is very exciting. We have things that are on both our technology and product road map, but also that we’ve been talking about with storytellers and creators.”
One tech tool that’s already generated a bit of buzz: Steven Spielberg’s planned horror series will only be available to stream after sunset, specifically wherever the user is watching.
You’re out of luck — at least if you want to do so via an official Quibi app. While anyone with the right setup can cast what’s on her phone to a smart TV, Katzenberg and Whitman have made it clear they won’t release a version of the service optimized for non-mobile screens.
“Nobody has made [premium] content that was native to, and only for, the phone,” Katzenberg says. “We want to do one thing which no one else is doing and see if we can do it really great.” Plus, he adds, making shows fit big screens would be a waste of limited resources at this point in Quibi’s existence. “We’re a start-up,” Katzenberg explains. “As soon as you go out and try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to anybody.”
The service will be aimed at millennial and Generation Z viewers, as well as some younger members of Gen X. “Our platform is for 18-to-44-year-olds, and very, very targeted at the 25-to-35-year-old millennial,” Katzenberg says. In other words: Don’t expect to see the Quibi version of Peppa Pig or Andi Mack. “We are not kids, we are not family,” he says. “Some day, maybe we will be that, but we’re not tackling that going in, because it’s just a whole other audience and a whole completely different type of content and programming, and we frankly don’t have the bandwidth to try and be all things to all people. Our bull’s-eye is a 25-to-35-year-old, multicultural, diverse millennial audience.”
“Our content budget from now through the first year from launch is $1.1 billion,” Katzenberg tells Vulture. Not every show will cost the same, of course. Katzenberg says the most expensive shows on the service will cost $100,000 per minute. “So, $6 million an hour is the top end of what we are investing in content,” he says. Beyond program costs, he says Quibi will shell out roughly $470 million to market both the platform and individual shows.
We live in the age of Too Much TV, so most Hollywood talent has become platform-agnostic — as long as the check clears, nobody’s really stressing too hard about where their show will be seen. In the case of Quibi, having Katzenberg at the helm is also a big advantage: He’s been a Hollywood icon for over a quarter century, and there’s a comfort level between him and most major studio bosses and many artists. Quibi has also allowed studios to become financial investors in the company, giving them an incentive to bring it projects.
But Katzenberg is also offering creators and studios another very seductive proposition: Make a show for Quibi, and after a two-year period of exclusivity, you can repackage the project and sell it to another platform (or directly to consumers). So something like Frat Boy Genius, a drama about the beginnings of Snapchat which originally was a Black List feature script, could premiere on Quibi as a multipart series and then be repackaged by the creators and released as a movie two years later. (Quibi will continue to stream its version of programming even after it loses exclusivity.)
This deal structure is far different from how most big platforms operate today. Most linear and streaming networks either demand an ownership stake in projects (thus controlling all the profits) or put all sorts of restrictions on how and when owners can sell shows to other outlets. “Allowing [intellectual property] owners and creators to own their IP is an invaluable part of our business model, and [it’s] how we have been able to attract the top talent across the board, and why the studios have been supportive of us,” Katzenberg says.