What went wrong with Quibi

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post claiming that Quibi — the smartphone-centric streaming service meant for the in-between moments of everyday — would be a smash hit, despite what was then the early stages of coronavirus in America.

Not maybe a month after that post, I started to eat my words and wish I had been more critical.

Quibi has seen only 72,000 initial users stay on board after the close of the app’s 90-day free trial three days ago – losing  90 percent* of its subscribers from it’s starting date in early April.


While this metric does not include the other number of subscribers that may have signed up after the app’s launch (that number still has yet to be released), it is estimated by Sensor Tower that there are 4.5 million people who have only downloaded Quibi. For comparison, Disney Plus, which launched last fall, is seeing more than 50 million subscribers and managed to create an 11 percent free-trial-to-paid-subscriber rate when they hit the 9.5 million download mark.

My initial thought of this idea was that it was too big to fail. How could a company invest $2 billion in creating content and not make something that would capture eyeballs and establish an audience? Well, a pandemic can assist in that.

Meant for the Uber rides, long waits in line and commutes to work, Quibi’s model relies on nuisances and lulls of everyday life. But lately, our lives haven’t been anything close to what we knew as normal.

Since the rise of the pandemic in the United States, Americans have had nothing but time to engage with entertainment. With all this opportunity to stay at home, we’ve been finally getting around to that series we’ve been meaning to binge, investigating documentaries and becoming the film enthusiasts we’ve always claimed we were. In fact, it was surveyed that on average Americans have been streaming up to 8 hours of content per day at the peak of the shutdown. 

We don’t have a spare five minutes, we have a spare five hours (or more). Why would we bother on little doses of content when we can plunge into the entire pie?

We have had too much time to care about Quibi, it seems. Relying on the hustle and bustle of the everyday, Quibi is trying to land in a new normal that threatens the premise it was created under. The world that Quibi wished to thrive in simply doesn’t exist anymore. So how do they pivot?

While Katzenberg likes to pitch Corona as the blame for Quibi’s rocky start, the app also suffers as being the plan B for creatives. As a Quibi producer said in Vulture Magazine, “If we have a show that’s going to be a huge hit, you pitch to Netflix, HBO. If it doesn’t get traction, you pitch to Quibi.”

I imagine as you’re launching an entertainment brand, you’re going to be in a position where you need to make your product reliable – and that might take some time. Before any producer will want to take a risk with Quibi, the brand will have to take the “scraps” and be able to develop reliable audiences with the content they get. But as we’ve seen, those audiences aren’t sticking.  

On top of that, while much of the budget went into developing content, the marketers behind this product were kind of left to the devices of leaders who don’t seem to know their audience as they claim to. CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has been criticized for his claims of knowing “millennials better than millennials,” while not being  a huge participant on social media where his hopeful audience resides. His work style has also been an obstacle to overcome as he’s been quoted by his COO for choosing his gut as his administrative compass rather than data or colleague input. There’s a lot of passion, it seems, but not channeled effectively – or even in the right hands, perhaps. 


Overall, the biggest disappointment I’ve seen with Quibi is the lack of excitement it generates. You don’t have to read the news to know that Quibi is not performing to the level they would have hoped (just look at social media). If your friends aren’t talking about it online, and you aren’t hearing it in conversation, chances are not a whole lot of other people are, too. 

I truly want something like Quibi to succeed because it’s innovative. It makes entertainment more accessible and interactive in no other way we’ve seen yet where we can test how programs and pictures can be made for the pocket-sized screen. The hopes I addressed in my earlier post remain true in that regard. Quibi’s not a dumb idea – not by a longshot. My take is that it’s just failing now so it can thrive tomorrow. 

*There has been some discrepancy of subscriptions Quibi has lost and gained through this period due to the possibility that users may have originally downloaded, deleted, and then downloaded again when this original estimate was made. Quibi still claims to have 5.6 million downloads.

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