What Quibi Left On The Table

The insight Quibi didn’t capitalize on that another company eventually will

Mood: Indigo.

When a big ambitious venture fails, there’s an inevitable crush of outside voices eager to prove their hindsight is even sharper than 20/20.

Personally I thought Quibi’s post announcing its decision to wind things up was refreshingly forthright — humility in defeat is an admirable quality — and it pointed to two reasons why they couldn’t see a path forward:

  1. Maybe the idea just isn’t big enough
An actual post from my Instagram stories. My apologies to Maurice Harris, who was nothing short of radiant in his Quibi show “Centerpiece”.

No one’s gonna fight them on point two. But as an unapologetic Quibi fanboy I want to share a little bit about why I take issue with number one. I’ll be the first to admit my hindsight is as nearsighted as my normal sight. My goal here is not to parse what I think they did wrong, but instead to outline the hope and opportunity that I saw in Quibi that I firmly believe remains, ready for another company to seize.

A few years ago I was on a team tasked with creating a proposition for a Quibi-like media property (5–10 minute, vertically-oriented video). The original ask from the client was for standard branding and positioning, but what we ran into quickly was an even more fundamental challenge: “what is this thing? What do we call this type of content?”

To answer that, we needed to analyze content consumption on mobile devices. Both quantitative and qualitative data lead us to the realization that there’s really two types of behavioral modes. A scrolling-focused intention to spend between thirty seconds to five minutes and a lean-back intention that starts at half an hour and expands from there. But there’s nothing on your phone that’s made to entertain you for ten minutes.

This, to me, is the Quibi opportunity. It was the opportunity we underscored in our project. Because our lives are littered with moments where you’d like your phone to entertain you for eight or ten minutes. Certainly commutes, and the overnight disappearance of those from much of America’s media diet was a big loss for Quibi. But also moments in between household chores, waiting for a call from a friend or the arrival of your enchilada delivery, a little something to get your mind off the day before your brush your teeth and turn in.

There’s nothing on your phone that’s made to entertain you for ten minutes.

And our existing media can’t fit the bill in these moments. We complain about feeling drained by the infinite scroll of social and web-based media. But it’s also not an appealing proposition to watch 33% of an episode we like and then leave it on pause for most of the day.

This is something that resonates with me deeply, purely from a personal point of view. I really hate how I feel after 15 min on Instagram where my eyes glaze over and my thumb seems to be the only one having a good time (“come on, one more scroll, you’ll love it!”). But I have plenty of times in my day where I’m ready to look at something interesting and high quality but I don’t have 25 minutes to strap in for a proper horizontal episode.

In the end, the product we were working on didn’t get taken to market, so we didn’t get to see our insight brought to life. The ten minute holes in our lives became conspicuous, and our phones more sullen in their abject refusal to help us out.

But then Quibi started making noise. Our team watched the announcements and releases with great interest. Belatedly I signed up for the full account, promptly fell in love, and annoyed my friends on Instagram by posting stories about Quibi so fawning that people asked me to start tagging them #spon. And now, much faster in its conclusion than in its promising beginnings, the Quibi story is over.

What went wrong? I’m not sure, because honestly their content is downright incredible. The talent, both on screen and behind the app, is top flight. The interface is a joy to navigate. I’m not the person to critique financial models or production budgets, but the advertising and communication seemed to reach the right audiences and say the right things. Unfortunately, there must be a fundamental flaw somewhere.

Judge Teigen on Quibi’s “Chrissy’s Court” seems ready with an unpopular verdict

That said, there’s also a shiny golden opportunity waiting for someone else to come along and make something beautiful happen. Because the times in which I am sitting with my phone in my hand, staring at a tool that unlocks infinite possibilities, and thinking “there’s nothing to do on this damn thing” are myriad. Times when I no longer want to scroll parkour TikTok and I don’t want to rewatch Bob’s Burgers. When the thought of opening up a mobile game and tapping half-heartedly at my screen feels more like me trying to paw my way out from the inside of the fish-tank confines of my current boredom.

Surely someone will find a business in this pesky, persistent moment of distraction? If you’re the one who does, invite me along! My Instagram stories will echo with your praise.

Brand strategist writing about how companies impact culture. Fascinated by stories that explore our relationship with nature.