📺 Four reasons why Quibi failed

Jobs-to-be-done, shareability, and more mistakes you shouldn't repeat

Every tech pundit has their take on why Quibi failed. We’re no exception, but we may have a more product-centric lens. Here are our four takes.

The value of evolution

The internet is a messy space, and user desires are always shifting, usually in unpredictable ways. (Remember when everyone was doing the ice bucket challenge?) Thus, short-form video content mutates incredibly quickly, while long-form video like movies changes much more slowly (movie genres haven’t changed much in the last few decades).

So, if you wanted to create popular short-form video content, the last thing you’d want to do would be to summon a Hollywood brain trust and ask them to come up with video ideas, as Quibi did. You’d never be able to guess what’ll become popular.

Instead, you’d want to do what YouTube and TikTok did: throw open the gates and let anyone create anything, pairing that with engagement-based algorithms that let the most interesting content naturally rise to the top. All of a sudden, you’re harnessing the creative power of the whole human race instead of a few bigwigs, and you’re letting evolution find the best “content-market fit” for you instead of hoping you can chance on the right thing.

Thus: if you want bite-sized things to go viral, build generative communities and let the best content evolve organically.

Shareability (or lack thereof)

Things go viral when they can be shared easily. YouTube and TikTok, for instance, let anyone share videos with friends through a simple link; no sign-up or even app installation is necessary to watch those videos. With no barriers to sharing, the viral loops can run incredibly hot.

But Quibi didn’t let you share snippets of shows with friends; you couldn’t even take screenshots when the app launched. The only way to tell your friends about a Quibi show you liked was to text them something like, “Hey, there’s this cool show, but I can’t show you anything about it, so you’ll just have to pay to get Quibi and trust me that you’ll like it.” Compare that to, “LOL watch this hilarious TikTok,” and you’ll see why Quibi never got word-of-mouth momentum.

People also love sharing in person. Remember the huge watch parties when the new Game of Thrones episodes landed on HBO? Those were phenomenal word-of-mouth marketing moments for HBO, since many people would promptly sign up for HBO upon returning home from those parties. A big reason this worked was that HBO let you stream GoT onto a big screen, making these in-person watch parties possible.

But Quibi only let you watch videos by yourself, on your phone screen. You couldn’t beam videos onto TV screens or even laptop screens, so even if you were enjoying a show, you’d have no easy way of letting friends in your living room in on the action. This instantly limited Quibi’s viral potential.

We live in a world where people love to share, and, not coincidentally, people will want to sample your product before they commit. Quibi tried too hard to be “exclusive” and ruined their own sharing story. Don’t be like Quibi.

Incentives

Next, we get to the biggest and baddest of all product problems: incentive misalignment. Quibi had a complicated reimbursement and intellectual property policies, but basically Quibi creators got paid up-front for their content. So they didn’t have that much incentive to make their series get popular.

Meanwhile, creators on YouTube and TikTok only make money if their stuff goes viral, so of course they’ll work harder to create hyper-entertaining videos, advertise their content aggressively, and tweak their approaches to maximize engagement. Again, no wonder that Quibi’s fare was uninspired compared to the incredibly viral stuff that these grassroots platforms churned out.

COVID-19 and poor launch timing

We can think of video content as existing on a spectrum with two ends:

  • Content that you go out of your way to watch: usually long-form, high-production-value, star-studded content (like HBO or Netflix series).

  • Content that you watch in spare snatches of time: usually snackable short-form, mobile-first content (like YouTube or TikTok).

The platforms we just mentioned are well-suited for their particular end of the spectrum. But then we got Quibi, which was a weird mashup of the two: it was supposed to be short-form and mobile-first, but its shows were hyper-polished and chock-full of celebrities. In theory, this would be the best of both worlds.

Quibi’s CEO claimed, “We provide content for people on the go... Quibi is supposed to be the streaming service for people while they’re on the subway, standing in line for a salad, or waiting for friends to show up at a bar.”

The trouble was that he made this claim in the midst of COVID-19, when Quibi launched. The app couldn’t have launched at a worse time: the moments the CEO gushed about have been few and far between. Worse, now that everyone’s stuck at home, people would probably prefer to watch videos on their TV with family or roommates rather than sitting alone and watching on their phones. Quibi doesn’t work for that scenario either.

Because of this, Quibi’s 90-day free service didn’t convince users to stick around and start paying. Even worse, we’re in an historic recession where people are losing their jobs left and right and everyone’s conscious of their buying habits. Quibi was nothing if not a non-essential purchase, and it was competing against several big players in the streaming market (Netflix, etc.) It was always going to be an uphill battle for Quibi. This is why, out of the 5.6 million downloads Quibi initially got, only 8% converted to paying subscribers. The value just wasn’t there.

In short, your product doesn’t exist in a vacuum: the social and economic context you launch it in matters. And when you’re trying to build out your experience, go all-in on your chosen end of the job-to-be-done spectrum. When you try to please everyone, you may end up pleasing no one.


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