Review: Quibi is like Netflix but with bite-sized shows made just for your cell phone screen

Technology

Hollywood ‘s latest streaming service is called Quibi. It features short, professionally produced shows made with cell phone screens in mind. The unique twist: you can watch all of the shows horizontally or vertically.

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The service launches today and it couldn’t come at a more interesting time. We’re all stuck at home so we are craving new things to watch on streaming services, but Quibi is actually aimed at folks on the go. In fact, the name is short for “quick bites.”

“There’s a long history in Hollywood of technology enabling new ways to tell stories,” explained Quibi CEO Meg Whitman. I talked to Whitman over Skype about the new service. You probably know her name from her success at eBay.

Quibi CEO Meg Whitman (via Skype)

“I don’t actually think that our competition, at least for time, is really going to come from Netflix or Hulu or those other incredible OTT (over the top) streaming services because most people watch them on weekends and night on their television,” said Whitman.

Quibi gave me early access to the app, where I sampled various shows featuring big name celebrities and recognizable media brands like MTV, iHeartMedia, the BBC, NBC News and more. You can tell there is big money behind this new brand.

“This is the first time we’ve seen someone spend this kind of Hollywood money on short form videos,” said explained Natalie Jarvey, who covers digital media for The Hollywood Reporter.

I didn’t see any show over 10 minutes and based on the subject matter, it’s pretty clear they’re aiming for a younger millennial demo.

The shows also pack a party trick: you can watch them horizontally or vertically. It’s a feature Quibi calls turnstyle.

Watch shows horizontally
or vertically

“It’s definitely a bit of a gimmick, but the idea is that if you’re on the go, maybe it makes sense for you to be holding your phone vertically for a while and then you sit down and you want to switch it to horizontal and this feature should allow you to do that,” said Jarvey.

There’s another twist: Quibi costs $5 a month, and that price includes ads, which are around every turn. They’re just a few seconds here and there, but they get old very fast, especially since they are mostly from the same bunch of advertisers, at least at launch. I even got an ad before I was able to download a show for offline viewing.

You can pay $8 a month to get rid of the ads entirely.

Quibi is also more than just short form stories. Although I didn’t see any evidence of it in the shows I sampled, the company says creators can use smartphone sensors to enhance the experience – the camera, GPS, gyroscope and clock can contribute to the story.

While I love the idea that Hollywood gets to be creative in a new way, the biggest challenge could be getting their target audience to pay for another service. After all, they are very used to TikTok and the endless short form entertainment it offers.

“You’ve got Disney Plus and Netflix and Hulu and soon HBO Max – this bill is going to start to creep up,” concluded Jarvey.

Natalie Jarvey of The Hollywood Reporter

Quibi is available now. Certain T-Mobile subscribers get one year of the service for free. Whitman told me they made a last minute decision to do an extended 90 day free trial in light of the current coronavirus situation. It’s worth checking out this new way to watch, and you might find something you like.

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