Dreamworks Animation co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Hewlett Packard Enterprises CEO Meg Whitman envisioned their streaming app Quibi as a mobile-only service, where users could watch short-form programming in either portrait or landscape orientation on handheld devices while commuting to work or waiting in line at a coffee shop.
Now that the Covid-19 crisis has changed the way almost every American lives, the two-week-old streamer—which has now surpassed 2.7 million downloads—has sped up an option to cast the mobile programming onto connected televisions.
“We had always planned to have TV apps and being able to cast to your TVs, but it was really six months out,” Quibi CEO Whitman told Adweek editor and svp of programming Lisa Granatstein on Wednesday during the first episode of our new series, Adweek Presents: The Way Forward. “But because everyone’s at home, the No. 1 customer request to us is, ‘Can we cast to our TV?’ We scrambled with our engineers, and we’ll have that out by the middle of May—maybe a little bit earlier if we’re lucky.”
The move is one of several the new service has had to make to adjust to a wildly different market than the one in which it had planned to debut. Whitman previously told Adweek that Quibi had to shift its marketing plans considerably after major sponsorships and activations around sporting events like March Madness fell through amid cancellations.
Instead of a 1,500-person gala and red carpet event featuring 158 Quibi stars, the platform pivoted to an Instagram Live event where 36 stars interviewed friends about their upcoming shows on the service; the streamer also pushed into social and streaming advertising to find digital scale.
“We’ve got to be flexible and on our toes, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Whitman said.
But while Quibi is making these marketing moves, it’s losing another top exec. Megan Imbres, the service’s head of brand marketing responsible for initiatives like Quibi’s Super Bowl spot, is leaving the company this week. The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
She’s the latest big exec to exit the platform. Prior to its rollout, Quibi also saw the departures of Tim Connolly, its head of partnerships and advertising, daily content chief Janice Min and head of content operations Diane Nelson.
Quibi debuted in a crowded streaming landscape that’s expected to get even more bustling in the coming months: WarnerMedia’s HBO Max service has set a May 27 premiere date, while NBCUniversal’s upcoming streamer Peacock is preparing a national debut of July 15 or sooner. All three streamers are facing an unprecedented situation due to the pandemic and its related economic effects, and as television consumption reaches high levels, traditional production of new programming is at a near-total standstill.
(Quibi has programming in hand through October or November, Whitman said, but cannot license outside shows as they would not be compatible with the company’s “turnstyle” format.)
The service hit 1.7 million downloads in its first week and has now surpassed 2.7 million downloads, Whitman told Adweek. Quibi is also seeing different use cases than it had expected. In previous interviews, executives said Quibi shows are designed to be watched during “in-between” moments like waiting in line for coffee; the company therefore expected to see most viewership in the middle of the day.
With the pandemic still in full swing, Quibi users are watching regularly from 6 a.m. through 11 p.m. during “in-between moments” at home, Whitman said.
The most popular shows on the service include Most Dangerous Game, a thriller starring Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz; Chrissy’s Court, an unscripted courtroom series starring Chrissy Teigen and mom Pepper Thai; and the comedy Flipped, starring Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson. Quibi debuted with more than 50 originals that run the gamut from dramas to competition reality shows.
The streamer moved production of its daily news programs, called Daily Essentials, to in-home studios to account for stay-at-home orders, and is looking at developing programming that better reflects the crisis onscreen. A recently commissioned daily program from Vox Media focused on Covid-19 is its first step in that direction.
“We’re thinking about how else we can be highly relevant,” Whitman said.
With a 90-day free trial and a $4.99 per month ad-supported tier, Whitman is optimistic new customers will continue to grow at a “steady” pace. Time will tell how many of the 2.7 million app downloads will translate to paying customers, but Whitman said she expects about 75% will choose the ad-supported tier upon the end of the free trial, higher than the 70% figure executives had previously projected.
The service’s year one ad inventory is already sold out with 10 sponsors, all of which are using the platform’s turnstyle format. The streamer will begin selling second-year advertising inventory in August or September, depending on when advertisers are comfortable transacting in what is shaping up to be an uncertain upfront season.
“If we get back to any kind of economic activity by the mid-end summer, I think we’ll have a great year two, and we’ll begin to sell year two advertising in the fall,” Whitman said.