April 30, 2020

The Quibi User Experience: A Millennial’s Perspective

Earlier this week, TDG’s Brad Schlacter covered the lackluster numbers around Quibi’s launch. But what about the quality of the user experience and content on Quibi?

When I was using Quibi, I kept asking myself “Why?”- Why would anyone watch these shows? Why would anyone open this app to pass time instead of Instagram or YouTube? Why does this exist? Quibi’s raison d’etre is clearly advertising, and clearly not the user.

First Impressions
Upon entering the Quibi app, one is bombarded with a long scrolling list of shows. There is no onboarding engine asking you about your tastes. The browse-by-genre options are limited and buried. I was immediately lost in a disconcerting scroll between action-drama to news briefing to stoner comedy to celebrity-driven reality. With so much content, an easier way to sort by genre, let alone a recommendation engine, would have been appreciated.

Viewing Experience
The first show I watched was Murder House Flip; after all, who am I to resist something so carefully engineered for my demographic as a true-crime/home-makeover hybrid? Within a minute, I noticed a deep discomfort watching a familiar TV genre vertically. I am a regular user of Instagram Stories, TikTok, and other vertical video formats, so the discomfort wasn’t with vertical video itself. The strangeness was due to how we’ve been trained to watch familiar genre television- decades of HGTV priming me to watch home makeovers much differently than Instagram Stories.

Upon feeling this unease with the vertical video, I tried rotating my phone, experiencing Quibi’s signature “Turnstyle” feature for the first time. Quibi prides itself on co-streaming vertical and horizontal streams simultaneously, so users can switch orientations seamlessly. At first, this is a fun toy—more amusing than the shows themselves. You are guaranteed to flip your phone repeatedly just to watch the switch over and over again. But as I watched more carefully and paid attention to the content, I noticed that the vertical views were cropped too close and the horizontal views shot too wide—the stuff of nightmares for cinematographers and editors.

Quibi also features a vertical scroll bar that can be switched from right to left of the screen for handedness, as well as easy mute and closed-captioning features. Everything was so perfectly designed for the phone-in-hand, on-the-go world that evaporated from under Quibi’s nose due to stay-at-home directives.

The Ads
Each 6-10-minute Quibi episode starts with a (mercifully) short ad (5-15 seconds) from A-List advertisers, such as film studios and consumer brand giants like Walmart, Pepsi, Doritos, or Budweiser. The ads were all (save one) designed for vertical video, with creative that could have appeared easily on Instagram Stories or Snapchat ads. Charmin alone created a custom ad for the platform featuring its cartoon bear mascot measuring his time spent in the bathroom “in Quibis.” (Quibi’s own advertising campaign centers on the idea of a “Quibi” as a time unit, such as, if you’re sinking in quicksand, you have time to watch two Quibis.) Another ad featured politicians in a war room with only three Quibis left before an asteroid hit the earth. These cutesy apocalypse scenarios don’t hold up well in the pandemic environment, much like Quibi’s overall premise.

The Content
Every show I watched on Quibi—from comedy to reality to news to drama—was both competently made and completely mediocre. Everything felt familiar; deeply rooted in the tropes of genre and feeling from an older, lower-quality era of television prior to ad-free SVOD streaming.

The lineup of content is packed with top celebrities, from Jenifer Lopez to Christopher Waltz, Lebron James to Anna Kendrick. Each of whom seems out of place, underused, and tickled to show up for a quick paycheck.

While 6-10-minute lengths feel familiar, they are annoying—like a movie aired on TV with too many commercial breaks. During a half-hour show, the episodes fall where commercial breaks normally would have. This feels relatively natural to me, as an elder millennial, but might seem strange to younger users (who make up more of Quibi’s target audience) who lack the ingrained memories of pre-streaming television.

News, comedy, and reality shows lend themselves best to the shorter formats. We’re already accustomed to these genres in short social-media video, as discussed in our 2019 report, The Ascent of the Social TV Engager.

The dramas suffer the most from being sliced so small. One has this strange feeling that these weren’t developed for Quibi—as if nothing on the service was designed for mobile storytelling, or that anyone at the company remotely understands the medium. The episodes feel desperate, trapped in their tiny 6-minute cages.

Every time you make a connection or develop a shred of empathy for a character, the experience is ripped away from you. The short length feels like an annoying gimmick slapped on top of otherwise normal content.

Furthermore, Quibi’s strange user interface removes you from a fully immersive viewing experience. Instead of auto-playing the next episode, viewers must watch a 10-second ad. This break gives you just enough pause to consider leaving the app, and adds an irritating gap in a space best suited for a smooth transition between episodes. Never has a streaming service made bingeing so difficult.

Asocial Video
The most striking way in which Quibi feels out-of-date is the total absence of community. There are no rankings, most-watched leaderboards, or comments. There is no way to connect with your contacts or social networks and see what your friends are watching. It lacks co-watching and Watch Parties.

While most SVOD apps, Quibi included, block screenshotting on their mobile and tablet apps, content creators use the desktop viewing experiences to capture screengrabs, so they can share to social media or make a meme. Without a desktop interface or screenshots, it’s difficult for users to extend Quibi’s universe via humor. Imagine Game of Thrones or Tiger King without memes.

As such, Quibi is an anti-social content app in the age of social networking, forsaking the opportunity for growth, virality, and pop-cultural relevance.

Despite Quibi being just weeks old, everything about it felt old fashioned to me. It features many rebooted MTV shows from the 90s. It has no social media or community elements at all. It lacks organization in browsing and genres. Quibi’s big-brand ads reminded me of a bygone era, pre-dating TIVO, revealing just how few television ads I am subjected to as a “cord-free,” well-subscribed streaming viewer. Most of all, the shows are not compelling, despite being professionally produced.

In many ways, viewing “quick bites” feels like you’re watching basic cable.

While technically competent, Quibi is soulless and out of touch. It lacks the authentic charm of user-generated content and the polish of prestige television, instead feeling designed by a committee of boomers who didn’t ask millennials or Gen Z what they wanted to watch, let alone why or when.

If Quibi wants tune in from users, it will first need to tune into its audience.

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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