Quibi’s launch: What the critics and analysts are saying (so far)

April 20, 2020, 11:00 PM UTC

Nearly two weeks have passed since Quibi, the new short-form mobile video streaming service, launched on April 6 on Apple iOS and Google Android. The app is the product of nearly $2 billion in fundraising and an array of top-flight Hollywood collaborators, but its launch came in the midst of a global health crisis that has warped many of its expectations of success.

How, then, should we assess Quibi’s arrival? Here’s what analysts and film and television critics think so far:

The content

As they say: Content is king. Quibi’s video offerings are all under 10 minutes and accessible exclusively on a smartphone (Quibi’s name is a shortened combo of “quick bites”). It may sound like a mix of YouTube and TikTok, but Quibi distinguishes itself with a lengthy cast of high-profile stars and creators as well as a polished, Hollywood look.

Among the offerings: a plane crash survival drama starring Game of Thrones actress Sophie Turner, a Most Dangerous Game adaption with frontman Liam Hemsworth, and a documentary series on LeBron James’ I Promise School. More than 50 original shows launched with the service, an assortment of movies divided into chapters, documentaries, reality TV, and daily talk shows.

Reactions to the first batch of series has been mixed. “With nary an exception, Quibi’s offerings feel like they’ve jumped (or limped) off the block of channels that comes between old-school networks and premium providers like HBO,” wrote Wired’s Peter Rubin. CNET’s Alison DeNisco Rayome was a bit more positive, writing: “While the dramas I watched didn’t do much for me, the comedy and reality shows were fun, and the news shows were solid sources of information.”

Writes PC Magazine’s Ben Moore in a three out of five star review: “Quibi’s quick-clip structure surely works for some genres such as national and sports news, but others, which require buy-in and emotional investment from the audience, don’t do as well.”

The launch

Chief executive Meg Whitman made a CNBC appearance on Monday to announce that the app had racked up 1.7 million downloads in its first week. “It turns out people have in-between moments at home,” she said, alluding to the theory that Quibi’s strategy targeting daily commutes, queuing, and other unstructured time wouldn’t hold up under stay-at-home orders caused by the novel coronavirus.

For context, the recently launched Disney+ app was downloaded 3.2 million times in its first day, according to estimates by research firm Apptopia, and attracted more than 10 million subscribers, according to Disney. The comparison is hardly apples to apples: Disney is a multinational media giant that controls established intellectual property from Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel; Quibi is a pedigreed startup offering 50-plus launch programs that are completely original.

One industry veteran was impressed with Quibi’s rollout. “This is an incredibly successful launch, especially given 11th hour need to pivot campaign WHILE finishing product/content + [work from home],” media analyst and former Amazon Studios strategist Matthew Ball wrote on Twitter, noting the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on Quibi’s launch.

A market researcher was not as bullish. “Quibi was likely hoping for a better launch. The highest it hit on the U.S. App Store Top Charts was No. 4 overall on launch day,” wrote Adam Blacker, Apptopia’s vice president of insights. “It’s no secret that when you’re launching a big app like this, you expect to hit the No. 1 overall spot. The coronavirus has definitely had an impact. It’s clear from using the app that it’s best used while commuting to work, which is not happening for many people right now.”

(It’s worth noting that Apptopia estimates that Quibi’s first-week downloads totaled just over 1.1 million. A Quibi spokesperson tells Fortune that Whitman’s 1.7 million figure is accurate and that the total “significantly exceeded the company’s expectations and made it one of the most successful app debuts of a completely new brand.”)

The technology

One major criticism Quibi heard from customers and reviewers in its first week was the lack of ability to watch its mobile device-optimized shows on televisions. On CNBC, Whitman said Quibi had intended to implement casting—a common feature that allows someone to view a mobile video on a larger device—after launch but is now accelerating the timeline, given that many of its customers are in quarantine. “We’ll eventually get there, but it was never a part of the launch,” she said. “If we had known about COVID, maybe it would have been.”

John Giegengack, a digital media analyst at Hub Entertainment Research, praised the casting decision in a post on LinkedIn. “This is a good move,” he wrote. “It probably goes against the ‘spirit’ of what Quibi was created to do. But pragmatically it’s smart.”

“In our Quibi research and others,” he added, “the fact that you couldn’t watch on a TV screen was the biggest stumbling block among otherwise interested consumers.”

As far as user experience is concerned, critics noted the Quibi app’s clean look and thoughtful design. “As you scroll through the different shows, you feel a nice haptic feedback under your thumb, a gentle signal to stop and consider each show,” Wall Street Journal columnist Nicole Nguyen wrote. She added that while the Turnstyle feature that allows a seamless switch between landscape and portrait orientation is fun, it felt like more of a gimmick. “All of the content is edited to be watched both ways, but that doesn’t seem particularly useful,” she wrote.

The Verge was also a bit lukewarm in its review. “At launch, the Quibi app is by no means bad, and Turnstyle is fun to experiment with,” Chris Welch wrote. “It just feels very much like a version 1.0. Maybe that’s by design to complement the ‘quick bite’ nature of the content.”

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