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Streaming Service Quibi To Shut Down

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

The streaming service Quibi, a high-profile project filled with original shows divided into quick-bite episodes of 10 minutes or less, will shut down and sell off its assets just six months after it was launched. The abrupt end came despite a roster of shows starring or executive produced by big names like Jennifer Lopez, Kevin Hart, Will Smith and Adam Sandler. Well, here to talk about why Quibi became the first big casualty of TV's streaming wars is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

Hey, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

MOSLEY: OK, Eric, full disclosure...

DEGGANS: (Laughter).

MOSLEY: I was a Quibi fan.

DEGGANS: I know. I know.

MOSLEY: But for those who don't know about it - (laughter) I know. What is Quibi? And why did so many people in Hollywood pay attention to it?

DEGGANS: Sure. Well, Quibi was this project developed by Jeffrey Katzenberg, who's a well-known film and TV executive, who was chairman of Disney and co-founded the studio DreamWorks SKG. He brought along former eBay CEO Meg Whitman as Quibi's CEO, and the company had about $1.75 million in funding. Katzenberg targeted the platform to younger viewers who were too busy or too mobile for conventional streaming services like Netflix. The service launched on April 6. It had over a hundred series, and it won a couple of Emmy Awards.

But yesterday, Katzenberg and Whitman released this joint letter saying that they just couldn't make a go of the business. They were returning the remaining funding that they had to their investors, and they were selling off their assets. They basically said the business failed for one of two reasons - quote, "because the idea itself wasn't strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service or because of our timing."

MOSLEY: OK. So back in May, Katzenberg actually told The New York Times that pandemic-inspired lockdowns actually kept Quibi's potential audience at home, away from work or school, when they could be watching it, you know, in their commute, for instance. So it seems like that should've actually been a help, but it wasn't. Aren't we all basically just living on Netflix?

DEGGANS: (Laughter) Well, it's odd. You know, Katzenberg had the bad luck to design the only streaming service that would be hurt by people being stuck in their homes with lots of time on their hands. But, you know, I talked to people in the entertainment and social media industry yesterday who had some other criticisms. They said, for example, the platform didn't learn from streamers that are already popular with young users like TikTok and YouTube. When it launched, it was hard to share information about what you were watching with your friends on social media. And you couldn't watch the content outside of the mobile app until just a few days ago, when the Quibi app surfaced on platforms like Apple TV.

MOSLEY: Oh, that's interesting. So what about the shows on the service? Were they good enough to draw an audience?

DEGGANS: You know, from my perspective, they really weren't. They didn't launch with a big enough hit to tell the world what a Quibi show was. Some of their highest-profile projects felt like these mediocre films that they had chopped up into ten-minute bits, like a remake of "The Fugitive." And their unscripted programs worked a little better. They had - Chance the Rapper did a revival of "Punk'd" that was kind of cool. They had a documentary about race and pro basketball called "Blackballed." But none of those shows really created a big enough buzz.

MOSLEY: Are there any lessons for the future of streaming in Quibi's failure?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, I'm surprised they didn't have a plan for how to keep the service going for at least a year because it takes time to build out an unconventional service, and it takes time to figure out what kind of shows work best there. I don't think they were as revolutionary in their programming as they claimed to be. I think they came out at a time when people were already getting fed up with all the streaming services out there asking them for subscription fees. And I agree with this one expert I talked to who said that a new service can't just be about a good idea. It has to solve a problem. And Quibi didn't really solve any problems for its users.

MOSLEY: Well, rest in peace, Quibi.

DEGGANS: Rest in power. That's right.

MOSLEY: That's Eric Deggans. Thank you.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.