Quibi Gambles On a Streaming Niche: Short-Form Shows, Watched on Your Phone

The app was downloaded 700,000 times on its first day, but it isn't clear yet whether Quibi holds long-term appeal.
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Quibi, the latest entrant into the streaming market, is betting on bite-sized content centered around mobile phones.

The brainchild of former HPE  (HPE) - Get Report chief Meg Whitman and former Walt Disney Pictures  (DIS) - Get Report chair Jeffrey Katzenberg, Quibi’s app launched Monday to an apparently friendly reception. App Annie, which tracks app downloads, reported that Quibi was downloaded more than 700,000 times on its first day, making it the most-downloaded app on Monday.

“It's a strong start to for a brand new app without an established brand or content like Disney+,” said Amir Ghodrati, director of market insights at App Annie. “Quibi's definitely spent time setting themselves up for awareness for launch...that will help with acquiring new users and then it'll be interesting to see what impact word of mouth has on adoption of the service.”

What makes Quibi distinctive? The subscription service -- which also comes with a 90-day free trial, and one year free for T-Mobile  (TMUS) - Get Report unlimited subscribers -- ditches the long-form focus of premium networks like Netflix  (NFLX) - Get Report or HBO, instead delivering short shows from buzzy celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Chance the Rapper. Unlike any other major on-demand video platform, it’s offered on mobile only -- and apart from the free trials, costs $4.99 for an ad-supported version and $7.99 for an ad-free version. 

Not everyone is a fan of the mobile experience, with some users already venting frustration.

Nonetheless, some industry players see an appetite for short-form content that doesn’t require blocking hours out of one’s schedule.

“There is a rapidly growing hunger for high quality short form content on both TV and mobile devices,” said Carter Pilcher, CEO of ShortsTV, a channel that likewise focuses on short-form content. “We’ve seen real increases in viewing both on the ShortsTV beta app as well as our cable network in the U.S...the increase in platforms entering the short form space also proves the appetite, from Snapchat Discover to YouTube’s Shorts to TikTok.”

In the case of Quibi, short-form doesn't come cheap: It's raised close to $2 billion from heavyweight investors such as Alibaba  (BABA) - Get Report Group and Hollywood Studios, and plans to release 175 shows and 8,500 "quick bites of content" in its first year.

Not unlike Snapchat  (SNAP) - Get Report or TikTok, Quibi sees younger viewers as its primary audience. In an interview this week, Katzenberg said that Quibi has "tried to be very targeted at 25-35 millennial audience," but that it doesn't consider itself a rival to social video platforms. 

"Those platforms, all of them, have billions of monthly active users...We’re a blip on that but if we get a small, single-digit version of that, we’ll be the biggest hit ever as a subscription platform," Katzenberg told Deadline.

Quibi couldn't be reached for comment on its subscription targets or launch plan. 

If some U.S. viewers are befuddled by Quibi, global trends in mobile suggest that Western markets may not be the primary audience for short-term content formatted exclusively for mobile. 

Pilcher noted that regions such as Latin America and India are driving consumption of mobile data -- much of that attributable to video. Cisco projects India alone to add 400 million smartphones by 2022, with 95% of video consumption happening on phones in that market. 

"Where we see consumption accelerating the most is Latin America and in Asia," said Pilcher. "According to Ericsson, young people who view video on mobile drives data usage growth. Not the U.S., but India now consumes more data than any other country on a per capita basis because they’re watching TV primarily on their phones. By 2024, Latin America’s internet traffic is expected to increase by six times and most of it will be spent watching video on smart phones.”

Quibi launched in the U.S. and Canada, but hasn't yet detailed an international rollout plan.