Quibi Is Running Out Of Time To Turn Around Its "Mobile-Only" Platform

From the first time we heard Meg Whitman give her Quibi elevator pitch on CNBC last year, we had a feeling the digital media project, which boasts an impressive list of bold-faced names topped by Whitman and former Disney studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, was destined for the "dustbin of history," as Trotsky would call it. bMany have compared the product to a more expensive, less useful b-version of YouTube. When the concept was first introduced to the public back in 2018, it was met with widespread befuddlement. And its launch has mostly been overshadowed by Disney+ and the handful of other new streaming products.

Despite being launched in the middle of a pandemic that left billions of people - and hundreds of millions of Americans - marooned inside their homes, desperate to be entertained, Quibi has managed to rack up just 1.3 million active users and 3.5 million downloads, less than 1% of Netflix's total, and far short of where the company had hoped to be. What's worse: none of those users are paying: the company is offering three-month free trials to all comers.

The discrepancy between active users and downloands means roughly 2/3rds of those who tried the product didn't view it as "an essential entertainment product", a designation that Quibi's management views as essential for the company's survival.

Though they've already approved some of the app's more-popular series for a second season, and in the past few days the app has added new features enabling support for streaming on television, in contravention of Quibi's initial mission. Whitman and others had originally envisioned Quibi as the perfect app for subway commuters, but the app's narrow design meant that it was really only convenient to watch while commuting to work on mass transit. Unfortunately, the number of commuters is way down. And here's the most hilarious part: By focusing so intently on the mobile experience and an alphabet soup of VC buzzwords, Whitmen & Co. designed a mobile streaming experience that could only be enjoyed on smartphones. Who wants to watch a video on your smartphone when you have your TV or laptop handy? Almost nobody.

In that spirit, Quibi finally enabled  upport for Apple's Airplay this past week. Now, the company's future depends on whether Katzenberg can pull off this pivot to a more home-friendly product. And he's quickly running out of time, one analyst told the New York Observers.

“Because the 90-day free trials that Quibi offered when it launched in April will start expiring in July, the company urgently needs to remedy missteps made in its initial mobile-only streaming service introduction – the main one being a lack of casting from phones to TVs for content viewing on bigger screens,” Tammy Parker, senior analyst at leading data and analytics company GlobalData, said. “Providing support for Apple’s AirPlay in Quibi 1.3 is a significant improvement, as iPhone users can now cast Quibi videos to their Apple TV and compatible smart TVs.”

But while analysts praised the company for listening to its critics, the company simply doesn't have the wherewithal to stand up to competitors like Disney+, which is offering a massive lineup of Disney content for $7.99 a month. That's the same price as Quibi's ad-free tier.

“It is commendable that Quibi has heard the critiques of its platform and is moving aggressively to make changes,” Parker said. “Unfortunately, the company’s early oversights were compounded by COVID-19 lockdowns that kept people at home. Reprioritizing casting as an essential feature in light of COVID-19’s impact on daily routines is essential to Quibi’s immediate and future prospects as it becomes a mobile-first, rather than mobile-only, service.”

If nothing else, Quibi is a cautionary tale of what happens when VC firms fixate too much on trends and buzzwords. People like Whitman became so entranced by our increasingly "mobile" world, that they forgot that most people have little use for a platform that can't be enjoyed on a lazy Sunday in bed.