WTF Is Quibi, the Mysterious Streaming Service Snatching Up A-List Celebrities?

A comprehensive guide to this strange, goofily named thing we keep reading so much about.
Drew Schwartz
Brooklyn, US
Jennifer Lopez, Idris Elba, and Chrissy Teigen
Photos via Wikimedia Commons

Over the past few months, there have been a rash of headlines announcing that some Extremely Famous Person is making a project for the mysterious, goofily named Quibi. It's locked down everyone from Don Cheadle to Steven Spielberg to Tyra Banks to Liam Hemsworth, who on Friday Quibi announced he'll play the lead in a thriller series for the… network? Streaming service? Holographic roadshow? Perhaps you've seen these headlines and thought to yourself: Ah, yes: Quibi. Or perhaps you've skimmed past them, pausing long enough only to ask yourself this single, befuddling question: What the heck is Quibi? It's time to answer that question.


What is Quibi anyway?

Fun fact: Quibi doesn't actually exist yet. Launching April 2020, it will be a mobile-only streaming service offering serialized dramas, comedies, thrillers, reality shows, and other programs, which you can watch on your phone in bite-sized chunks. Each episode, regardless of the show, will be about seven to 10 minutes long—a good length for a commute or a lunch break. (The name "Quibi" is short for "quick bites," which makes sense, but doesn't make it sound less dumb.) Quibi is a subscription service that will cost five bucks a month with ads, and eight bucks a month without them. Got that? Splendid.

Where did Quibi come from?

The forthcoming streaming service is the brainchild of Jeffrey Katzenberg, a former CEO of Disney who went on to co-found Dreamworks. In 2018, he partnered with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, and the duo started raising a load of money for their new project. They've already ginned up more than $2 billion, thanks to big investments from corporations like Disney and Viacom. They've also drafted a stacked crew of media executives to help run the thing: Former DreamWorks chairwoman Mellody Hobson, Condé Nast CEO Roger Lynch, former DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson, and former Viacom exec Doug Herzog are all on board. According to Fortune, "talent from CBS, Funny or Die, Google, Instagram, Lionsgate, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Makeready, OpenTable, Snap, TBS, and VICE round out a pack of about 135 employees." Whoa!

What's on it?

A whole lot, apparently! According to Whitman, Quibi will have about 7,000 titles to choose from when it launches next year, from a roster of major actors and directors that sounds, uh, completely unreal? Chrissy Teigen is making a reality show that sounds exactly like Judge Judy called Chrissy's Court. Steven Spielberg is making a horror series you can only watch after sunset, somehow, called Spielberg's After Dark. Guillermo del Toro is making a "modern zombie story," whatever that means. MTV is bringing back tiny, revamped versions of Punk'd and Singled Out. Don Cheadle is starring in a sci-fi series from the director of the Twilight movies "set 15 minutes into the future" (????). Perhaps the wildest-sounding show is Thanks a Million, in which J-Lo and nine of her friends are going to give "an influential person from their early lives" $100,000, and that person will give someone $50,000, and that person will give someone $25,000, and so on and so on. There are also projects from Sam Raimi, Lena Waithe, Lorne Michaels, Scooter Braun, Idris Elba, and a whole bunch of other Hollywood scions in the pipeline. Plus, Quibi will pump out something called "Daily Essentials," a "three times a day, six-and-a-half minute news program curated for your personal tastes," according to Vanity Fair.

Will it be any good?

If that absurdly long list of extremely talented filmmakers and actors above is any indication, then maybe! It remains to be seen whether or not slicing up two hours of what's essentially a movie—like Frat Boy Genius, which is basically The Social Network for Snapchat—into a bunch of seven-minute mini-episodes is enjoyable, or actually just frustrating. Still, it's hard to see where you can go wrong with a series of short, easily digestible clips of J-Lo giving a boatload of money away, or Idris Elba trying his hand at stunt driving, or Guillermo del Toro doing basically anything. The more pertinent question, perhaps, is this…

Will it survive?

While Katzenberg insists that Quibi "is not a substitute or a competitor for television," or other streaming services like Netflix and Disney+, that's pretty hard to believe. There's only so much money consumers are willing to shell out on movies and TV—and once we enter the era in which basically everyone has their own streaming service, from HBO to NBC to Netflix to Disney to Hulu to Amazon to Playstation (?) to YouTube, there's no way any reasonable person would choose to subscribe to all of them. That means, in turn, that some of these are going to lose out. Quibi is banking on the idea that viewers want short, serialized dramas they're not finding anywhere else—not on Netflix, where shows run between 20 to 40 minutes long; not on HBO, where they typically last an hour; and not on YouTube, which basically already tried to do this and completely failed.

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