The demise of the mobile-streaming platform Quibi a mere six months after it went live is the latest example of Hollywood’s struggles in making a business out of short-form content.
Quibi may be the best-known and best-funded attempt to crack the short-form riddle, but it is far from the only one. The media industry is littered with the carcasses of short-form streaming platforms.
Some of the highest-profile busts include
Verizon Communications Inc.’s
Go-90, which was terminated in 2018 after less than three years; Fullscreen, a venture between
and the Chernin Group that ceased to exist last year; and Vessel, which was co-founded by former Hulu and current WarnerMedia Chief Executive Jason Kilar and was shut down in 2016 after less than two years.
Quibi’s pitch was short episodes, or “chapters,” of long-form content for people on the go to watch on their phone during, say, their commute to work or standing in line at a food truck. It spent heavily on original shows and lured many big-name stars including Anna Kendrick and Kiefer Sutherland. The subscription fee was $4.99 a month for the ad-supported version and $7.99 without ads.
“Their mistake was in thinking the cellphone was a television,” said David Craig, a producer and professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications.
Hollywood was eager to embrace the concept, even if privately many were doubtful of its potential for success. Quibi had deep pockets and was led by two heavy hitters in Jeffrey Katzenberg, a former Walt Disney Co. executive and DreamWorks co-founder, and Meg Whitman, a former eBay Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. chief executive. That was enough for producers to take a risk.
“These things pop in Hollywood all the time and agents see it as a huge payday,” said one producer who sold a show to the nascent platform.
There is universal agreement that an appetite exists for short-form content, as evidenced by the success of social-media platforms such as ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok,
YouTube, which thrive on such fare. But it remains to be seen as to whether that holds true for big-budget entertainment, especially the sort that people have to pay for.
Furthermore, people can stream big-budget content from services such as
or AT&T’s HBO Max on their phone and hit pause when they need to take a break.
Quibi “was not built around a type of content reaching an underserved community,” said Jordan Levin, general manager of Rooster Teeth, a fan-driven video platform that like HBO Max is part of AT&T’s WarnerMedia.
Quibi also didn’t have any content that was able to break through to popular culture, although it did receive 10 Emmy nominations and took home two trophies.
“A subscription platform has to have hits to be successful,” Chris Silbermann, chief executive of the talent agency ICM Partners, said in an…