The following is a guest post from Jim O'Neill, principal analyst at Brightcove. Opinions are the author's own.
Big name executives. Big stars. Big advertising commitments. Big hype. Quibi had everything in place to ensure a near flawless launch, topping Apple's App Store at No. 4 on its April 6 launch day. However, the subscribers, downloads and rave reviews didn't follow as it slipped to No. 53 a week later and fell out of the Top 100 by April 25. By May 12, it had plummeted to No. 316. So, what happened?
Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg blamed the coronavirus and subsequent shelter-in-place orders that brought Americans' focus back into the home. But Brightcove's Q1 2020 Global Video Index showed that during the 18 days after the U.S. declared a national emergency on March 13, entertainment viewing on mobile devices — the only screens on which you could watch smartphone-targeted Quibi — surged 195% over the same period in 2019.
As the pandemic worsened, entertainment viewing on mobile devices continued to increase with views on smartphones increasing nearly 41% compared to 2019 with time watched up 21%, according to preliminary data from the Q2 2020 Global Video Index. With smartphones continuing the robust viewership growth we've seen for over four years now, it is clear the pandemic was not to blame for Quibi's troubles. Let's take a look at what else may have played a role.
Launching on a flawed hypothesis
Videos within Quibi's news and entertainment content library are each under six minutes long, designed to be "quick bite" entertainment to be consumed in life pauses such as waiting at the dentist's office, during the commute to and from work or between meetings. While Quibi's executives have called the app an experiment, its hypothesis is flawed, and there are several other experiments of a similar vein that already have failed.
The hypothesis: Audiences will be interested in premium, short-form content on a mobile device; more specifically, that Quibi can attract — and hold — a millennial audience that has grown up on free YouTube content, shared social video and other mostly user-generated fare. And, be willing to pay $4.99 a month for it (with ads), or $7.99 a month for ad-free content.
There's the rub. Quibi assumes its primary audience will be satisfied with short-form content, or by content made up of 6-to 10-minute chapters. Quibi assumes a willingness to pay for it and assumes it occupies a unique niche. So far, that hasn't been the case.
Quibi optimistically has been downloaded by 3.5 million people, and the company last month said just 37% are active users, despite an initial 90-day free trial (Quibi is now being offered with a 14-day free trial). Katzenberg, meanwhile, blames the platform's troubles on the coronavirus.
"I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus," Katzenberg said in a New York Times interview. "Everything."
The pandemic, if anything, should have served as a springboard for Quibi, driving adoption and viewership higher because mobile devices continued to be a major screen for watching entertainment video.
The root cause of Quibi's failure to launch is that it has the same path and made the same flawed assumptions as other failed efforts like Verizon's Go90 and Comcast's Watchable, underestimating the video maturity — no — the normalcy, of its target audience.
Today, content doesn't have to be good — it has to be available on every screen. That's the expectation the best OTT services have helped to establish.
Over the past month, Quibi has tried to quietly reinvent itself. After complaints from some consumers that they wanted to watch it on bigger screens, the app was updated to allow casting to some smart TV platforms. Quibi is also delaying the debut of new content until the start of 2021, as it didn't find a standout winner among its initial releases.
But will users be willing to pay $4.99 or $7.99 for the service once the free trials run out?
I'm afraid that dog just won't hunt.