October 28, 2020

Learning from Quibi’s Catastrophe

Jeffrey Katzenberg at first blamed Quibi’s poor performance on the pandemic. “I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus. Everything.” Today, he believes that Quibi’s failure was “likely for one of two reasons: because the idea itself wasn’t strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service or because of our timing.”

It certainly isn’t timing: As TDG reported time and time and time again, social media use, television consumption, and overall screen time are all up during the pandemic, thus creating a fertile environment for Quibi, had it played its cards right. The failure, I argue, lies primarily in Quibi’s concept and content.

So, how can streaming services and marketers avoid Quibi’s mistakes in the future?

Get Your Generations Straight
There are roughly 72 million millennials in the United States, currently ranging from 24-39 years of age. Marketers would be wise to stop combining all 72-million into a single segment.

Did you use technology the same way at 24 and 39? At 39, do you enjoy the same shows you did at 24? Millennials themselves use the term “elder” to describe those of us over 30ish who have kids, homes (yes, we can afford those sometimes), and careers. Elder millennials have media consumption behaviors distinct from younger millennials in their 20s; Gen Z behaviors are even more different. It is imperative that product designers and marketers understand all the subtle and not-so-subtle variances between these three age groups. Better yet, hire employees from all three age groups and listen to them.

Be The Thing Your Talent Cares About The Most, Not The Least
Quibi touted its A-List talent, and certainly it had an impressive list of stars—from Reese Witherspoon to Kevin Hart to Idris Elba. The huge paychecks Quibi cut for appearances that lasted only a few minutes made it an easy “yes” for celebrities, but it was clear they weren’t emotionally invested in their Quibi projects, lending them little, if any, promotion. For example, compare Jennifer Lopez’s promotion of her 3-minute Quibi appearance versus her promotion of the film Hustlers, which she starred in, produced, won awards for, and deeply cared about. The former didn’t make an appearance on her social media accounts while the latter was the subject of much passion for months. It is obvious that Reese Witherspoon cares deeply about her prestige dramas and was simply “phoning in” a paycheck to narrate a nature show on Quibi. In short: GET YOUR TALENT TO CARE. Make them producers, make them awards contenders, create financial incentives, contractually obligate social media promotions—do whatever it takes to get them on board, and their fans and audiences will follow.

Nobody Wants Short-Form Narrative Content
The internet is its own testing ground. Users are clever, and when there is a demand for something, they will find a way to make that content or add that feature themselves. For example, the now-ubiquitous hashtag (#) was an ad-hoc invention of the Twitter community, which wanted a way to find tweets on relevant topics, not a feature introduced by Twitter’s development team.

Look at the user-generated content on TikTok or YouTube. There is almost no short-form narrative content. Occasionally, you get a novelty (like someone filming an entire movie in Instagram Stories or Horror TikTok), but in general you rarely see someone making an amateur fictional show on social. Also bold of Quibi was to assume that it could succeed in short-form original content where the deeper pockets and rich data of both Facebook and YouTube already floundered. Smart marketers start with that to which users gravitate organically.

Embrace Platform Fluidity
Two early critiques of Quibi were that it couldn’t be cast to a television or monitor, and that it didn’t allow for sharing on social media. Success dictates that you allow your users choose their device and have a seamless experience between different screens. Equally important: know that sharing on social media is great for your organic marketing—ease up on control and let users do the promotion for you. Co-watching is a burgeoning trend that even Disney+ and Hulu are embracing. In all of these cases, let the users design their viewing experience and their social experience around your content- you can only benefit from positive word-of-mouth and a frictionless user experience.

With the buffet of content available, consumers rejected unsatisfying quick bites (which Quibi is short for) and are opting for the more satisfying content feasts available elsewhere. The recipe for success? Tune into consumer’s tastes and provide them with good company.

Want to know more? See Lauren’s latest report: In Search of an Audience: Quibi’s Post-Pandemic Prospects

Lauren Kozak, the author of In Search of an Audience: Quibi’s Post-Pandemic Prospects, User Adoption and Trends in Social Streaming, IGTV, & Facebook Watch, and The Ascent of the Social TV Engager, is our Senior Advisor on Social Media, Analytics, and User Behavior. She has previously held positions for the Los Angeles Times, Tribune Publishing, and Britney Spears.

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