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NelsonG

The short, strange life of Quibi

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“All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down,” Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman wrote, closing out an open letter posted to Medium. “We cannot thank you enough for being there with us, and for us, every step of the way.”

With that, the founding executives confirmed the rumors and put Quibi to bed, a little more than six months after launching the service.

Starting a business is an impossibly difficult task under nearly any conditions, but even in a world that’s littered with high-profile failures, the streaming service’s swan song was remarkable for both its dramatically brief lifespan and the amount of money the company managed to raise (and spend) during that time.

A month ahead of its commercial launch, Quibi announced that it had raised another $750 million. That second round of funding brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

“We concluded a very successful second raise which will provide Quibi with a strong cash runway,” CFO Ambereen Toubassy told the press at the time. “This round of $750 million gives us tremendous flexibility and the financial wherewithal to build content and technology that consumers embrace.”

Quibi’s second funding round brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

From a financial perspective, Quibi had reason to be hopeful. Its fundraising ambitions were matched only by the aggressiveness with which it planned to spend that money. At the beginning of the year, Whitman touted the company’s plans to spend up to $100,000 per minute of programming — $6 million per hour. The executive proudly contrasted the jaw-dropping sum to the estimated $500 to $5,000 an hour spent by YouTube creators.

For Whitman and Katzenberg — best known for their respective reigns at HP and Disney — money was key to success in an already crowded marketplace. Indeed, $1 billion was a drop in the bucket compared to the $17.3 billion Netflix was expected to spend on original content in 2020, but it was a start.

Following in the footsteps of Apple, who had also recently announced plans to spend $1 billion to launch its own fledgling streaming service, the company was enlisting A-List talent, from Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott to Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez and LeBron James. If your name carried any sort of clout in Hollywood boardrooms, Quibi would happily cut you a check, seemingly regardless of content specifics.

Quibi’s strategy primarily defined itself by its constraints. In hopes of attracting younger millennial and Gen Z viewers, the company’s content would be not just mobile-first, but mobile-only. There would be no smart TV app, no Chromecast or AirPlay compatibility. Pricing, while low compared to the competition, was similarly off-putting. After a 90-day free trial, $4.99 got you an ad-supported subscription. And boy howdy, were there ads. Ads upon ads. Ads all the way down. Paying another $3 a month would make them go away.

Technological constraints and Terms of Service fine print forbade screen shots — a fundamental understanding of how content goes viral in 2020 (though, to be fair, one shared with other competing streaming services). Amusingly, the inability to share content led to videos like this one of director Sam Raimi’s perplexingly earnest “The Golden Arm.”

It features a built-on laugh track from viewers as Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan lies in a hospital bed after refusing to remove a golden prosthetic. It’s an allegory, surely, but not one intentionally played for laughs. Many of the videos that did ultimately make the rounds on social media were regarded as a curiosity — strange artifacts from a nascent streaming service that made little sense on paper.

Most notable of all, however, were the “quick bites” that gave the service its confusingly pronounced name. Each program would be served in 5-10 minute chunks. The list included films acquired by the service, sliced up into “chapters.” Notably, the service didn’t actually purchase the content outright; instead, rights were set to revert to their creators after seven years. Meanwhile, after two years, content partners were able to “reassemble” the chunks back into a movie for distribution.

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