Could Quibi’s struggles be a lesson for incoming SVODs in the market?

Experts try to pinpoint where the streamer fell short, while one strategist believes there's still time for it to turn things around.

After a high-profile April launch accompanied by a media buy, a three-month free introductory offer and a roster of A-list stars, Quibi is facing potential challenges with user retention.

With the trial offer officially ending this month, it’s been reported that the short-form mobile video platform has lost 90% of the users that signed up on day one.

What is it that’s caused Quibi, a platform that had many things going for it, to flounder? Does this rejection signal streaming fatigue? Only a few months before Quibi entered the market, Canadians welcomed another new SVOD – Disney+ – with open arms. But was its mobile, snackable format not a win, or was the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns in any way to blame? Quibi also boasted two paid, ad-supported tiers (one paid, ad-free tier), which could have played a part.

Some of Canada’s top media analysts and buyers shared their thoughts with MiC.

Sarah Thompson, CSO at Mindshare, says even though Quibi put a lot into its paid media strategy, critical praise and word-of mouth buzz make a huge difference, especially when it comes to originals. And despite Quibi showcasing the stars of its originals, like Chrissy Tiegen and Idris Elba, none of its shows seemed to become buzzworthy classics with viewers.

“If we think about how we find out about a new show, it is some marketing, but it is also recommendations,” she says. “No one recommended a show on Quibi. How could they when you couldn’t get a screen shot or gif it or project it to a TV?  You can read all the accounts of why and how it failed, but it isn’t just one thing.”

It was a failure to launch, she says, because Quibi didn’t pay attention to how we were watching content, outside of short form. The pandemic should have been the time for consumption, she says, but factors such as screen size, programming length and quality didn’t allow Quibi to take off at lightning speed.

“COVID-19 is the perfect time to give people more content,” she says. People found themselves suddenly at home much more and seeking comforting media. “While movies, documentaries are the mainstays of streaming, if you consider the programs that arrived on Netflix, Disney and Amazon Prime – you knew about them and they found audiences. While people do want nostalgia and to go back and watch their favourite shows of the 90s and 80s, they also want quality content and not all Quibi star vehicles were good.”

But Thompson points out that Quibi isn’t done yet. The company has a great deal of money to turn it around. If it can learn from its rocky start – create a new marketing strategy that relies less heavily on the stars of its programs – it might be able to get more people onto the platform.

Mindshare’s study of OTT providers showed that more Canadians had awareness of U.S.-only SVOD Hulu than Quibi – and this was at the peak of its launch. Quibi also went to market with a complex pricing model (two ad-supported tiers, one ad-free tier).

Amanda De Fields, VP of digital strategy for VMC Digital, says that it might not have been the ads or even the marketing plan. She says there hasn’t been a lot of proof that Canadians want a premium, paid short-form service.

“I think [it] speaks to the format and begs the question that if in fact, customers really wanted to pay for a mobile-only streaming service when they can probably get their fill of short form, or quick-bite [or] b-roll type celebrity content for free on social media.”

In addition to that, she says, the content was all originals, so Quibi was banking on success based on content that hasn’t been proven. Competitive streaming services, on the other hand, tend to have consumer favourites and that’s what draws them to it in the first place. Netflix has an ever-expanding slate of originals, many of which have garnered Golden Globes and Emmys, but it also has The Office and Community (for now). Disney+ might have originals like High School Musical: The Series, hit is also has The Simpsons and the entire Star Wars catalogue.

De Fields is less optimistic than Thompson that Quibi can eventually become a contender. “You only get one crack at a launch and loosing 90% of your early users after the free trial period expires doesn’t sound like the platform is going to be around too long.”

Kaan Yigit, president and research director for Solutions Research Group (SRG), says, “In the Canadian market, the level of awareness we saw at the end of June 2020 – about three months into launch – was the lowest of any of the more than a dozen steaming brands we keep track of at SRG. Only 7% of the people we surveyed nationally have ‘definitely’ heard of Quibi at the end of June. In the younger demo – 18 to 29 – where they were looking to capture, this was a bit higher, but still a low 12%.”

Quibi also came into the market with only a mobile offer at a time when many people are watching video on largest screen available to them at any given time at home, says Yigit.

“On the mobile device really, competition was as much social media like Snap and TikTok and Instagram, not just YouTube and Netflix, especially for younger age groups. Unlike Disney+, Quibi didn’t have a familiar brand and people were busy with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.”

The lesson, says Yigit, is that it’s a combination of things – scale, a buzzworthy library, and ad spend – that can sink an SVOD. But it’s unlikely that Canadians are closed off to the idea of a new SVOD.