Why Quibi Failed: 5 Reasons the Short-Form Streamer Sank So Fast

Covid-19 didn't help, but the service lacked standout shows and basic features

Even without Covid-19, there were warning signs that the streamer would face substantial challenges. Source: Quibi

On Wednesday evening, Quibi’s app recommended users watch Last Looks, a short Dakota Fanning-led documentary about fashion-adjacent crimes. Last Looks had another, even more ominous meaning: It will be one of the last shows to premiere on the streaming service.

A little more than six months after premiering to fanfare on April 6, Quibi’s founders, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, told investors Wednesday that the streaming service would shut down. Meanwhile, one source told Adweek, some Quibi employees were learning of the platform’s imminent demise through news reports.  

In an open letter published Wednesday night, Katzenberg and Whitman offered a “profound apology” for the streaming service’s stunning failure.

“We created a new form of mobile-first premium storytelling. And yet, Quibi is not succeeding,” the executives wrote in the letter, published on Medium. “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. Unfortunately, we will never know, but we suspect it’s been a combination of the two.”

But in Quibi’s short six months, there were plenty of warning signs—many of them evident from the start—that things were going south.

Quibi prioritized brand marketing over content marketing

Quibi offered to investors and creatives what was framed as innovation: short-form programming designed for consumption on mobile screens that had the star power and production value of Hollywood. At the end of the day, though, Quibi was offering programming for people to watch, competing with other well-funded entertainment companies all trying to make their mark with original programming. Failing to market that programming to consumers was Quibi’s first mistake.

While the company invested top dollar to secure high-profile stars, much of the service’s early marketing did not center on those individual shows. Instead, Quibi centered marketing messages—including a pricey 30-second Super Bowl ad—on the brand of the platform itself, trying to get people to buy into the concept of the app instead of the programming contained within it.

That approach stood in contrast to many streamers that use their original programming to help build awareness for their services before branching out to overall brand-building. “If you’re at the movies and you see a preview, and you see the content come up, you lean into the person next to you and say, ‘Yay or nay?’ I want to see that, or I don’t,” Jenna Isken, associate director of experience at the brand strategy firm Siegel+Gale, told Adweek earlier this year. “Very rarely do we go, ‘Isn’t that great what Pixar or Paramount just came out with?’”

Quibi did end up changing course, focusing some of its marketing on individual shows after the service’s tepid launch. But by then it was already losing momentum.

The platform had few, if any, standout shows

When Quibi debuted in April, it had quantity: 50 original series that ran the gamut in terms of programming tastes, with unscripted shows, thriller series, competition shows, horror series and daily news updates. In fact, Quibi had so much original programming on hand that it was set to last the platform through Thanksgiving, Whitman previously told Adweek.

“It needs to get subscribers, and it needs to keep them long-term, so just having a hit here and there won’t cut it.”

Dan Rayburn, principal analyst, Frost and Sullivan

What Quibi had in quantity, though, it lacked in quality, popularity, or both. Even in all of the new programming options, none of them became particular standouts among viewers. Some, like Murder House Flip, Gayme Show and The Most Dangerous Game, broke through slightly on social media, but others, like The Golden Arm starring The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan, were heard of only because they were being roundly mocked.


@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.
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