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The Smart Money is on Quibi. Go Figure

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I had a topic in my back pocket this past month, and when I met with streaming industry insiders I pulled it out and we all kicked it around. That topic was this: What will we say about Quibi in the near future, say 6 or 12 months after it launches? 

Briefly, Quibi is a high-profile streaming video service expected to launch on April 6, 2020. It was founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg who brought in Meg Whitman as CEO, and it's raised over $1 billion so far, with all major Hollywood studios onboard. It will be available by subscription. Here's the interesting part: It will only offer short videos and they'll only play on mobile devices (Quibi is a portmanteau of "quick bites").

When I think "mobile only" I think "going down in flames." We've been down this road before. Many times. The grown-ups see kids are always on their phones and think, "Hmm, maybe I should create a streaming service just for mobile." It sounds like a good idea. It's not.

But the blatant terribleness of the concept hasn't stopped Quibi from attracting major talent. The majorest. Steven Spielberg is creating a horror series that can only be watched at night. Now that's cool. Trevor Noah, Chrissy Teigen, Zac Efron, and Justin Timberlake are also on board.

That's a serious roster. So I've been asking people to predict what will happen. At first, everyone agreed this will be the biggest disaster since 3DTV. A former Go90 staffer emphatically shook her head when asked. She knows this one first-hand. Nope, it just won't work.

Then something interesting happened: I started getting the opposite reaction. One person said this will be a success no matter how many subscribers it attracts because the studios will retain ownership of their work and will sell rights to other platforms later, while Katzenberg will sell the whole platform to Apple for a tidy profit. A major media exec said this will be a success simply because Katzenberg and Whitman are behind it, and he trusts their determination and instincts. 

Eventually, my unofficial tally, lopsided in the beginning, was running 50-50. Then I realized something startling: The smartest, best connected people I spoke to believed Quibi will be a success. It's only junior staffers and gleeful doomsayers like me who think this will flop. Whether I like it or not, the smart money is on Quibi.

These conversations made me look at Quibi in a different light. Sure, none of us wants one more subscription to pay for each month, but the ad-supported tier will be $5 per month, and that's not bad. Plus, TikTok is mobile-only and it's a success. People watch it for a short break during the day, and that's how they'll watch Quibi. I don't expect people to binge watch the platform for hours, but they might like a Trevor Noah episode with their coffee and donut. 

This is a time of streaming service experimentation, and Quibi might have found a formula for mobile video success. With the A-list talent it's attracted, it's worth a look. I have to admit the Quibi lineup sounds far more interesting that the Apple TV lineup, and Apple's service has gotten fawning media attention so far. Maybe I was quick to judge. Quibi, let's see what you can do.

By the way, I completely recommend having a topic in your back pocket. For one thing, it allows you to have a series of connected conversations that could easily turn into a column when you've got nothing else. Even better, it gives you a way to end a conversation that threatens to go on too long. "Okay, last question I want to ask you is something I've been asking a lot of people these days…" Just a few more minutes, and you're home-free. It's a great way to keep conversations short, because sometimes quick bites are better.

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