WTF is Quibi. The Strangest Entrant in the Streaming Wars.

Quibi is a $1.75 billion short form streaming service founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg (whose career needs no Introduction if you’re a fan of film and especially animation) and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. The basic idea is to essentially take the template used by viral quiz app HQ Trivia itself the brainchild of former vine CEO Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll (RIP) and expand its “professional productions made exclusively to be viewed on phones” gimmick beyond live quizzes into scripted dramas and non-scripted factual content. All of this is delivered in 10 minute “quick bites” and released on weekdays. The app launched on Monday April 6th and I downloaded it and had a look at four of its scripted series. I was a big fan of HQ Trivia at its peak but the reason that worked was that despite the graphics packages and original soundtrack there wasn’t actually that much visual information that needed to be conveyed and it was much more focused on the live quiz gimmick. I wasn’t optimistic about these kinds of productions trying to convey some sort of narrative. Before we get onto the shows, it’s worth discussing the app itself.

Quibi has launched with a huge variety of original content and a very slickly designed app that in my experience works very effectively. Watching on an iPhone XR with the video quality set to high I only had a few small buffering issues using home Wi-Fi. The interface itself looks very much like the similarly designed Apple TV with a continue watching feature an option to save and follow the shows you’re interested in and the ability  to search the content library the does exactly what it does says on the tin. It’s quick effective and does exactly what it was designed to do.

Tech Rating. 7/10  

What about the content? After having binged 11 episodes/ “quick bites” I came away with a ” I watched this, so you don’t have to to” style attitude. Launch day titles released three episodes of each new show before shifting to a weekday release schedule for the rest of the season. With one exception the three other shows felt like 20-30-minute pilots that had been chopped up and given individual episode titles to fit the format.  This was especially egregious with Most Dangerous Game which has its second episode take place in flashback before ending on a cliffhanger and remaining in the flashback for half the next episode. This doesn’t matter if you’re binging the content but it might be important to remind the viewer of these if they intend on watching the show episodically (which is at least partially the intention.)Each show is presented with a horizontal or vertical viewing option. Well the vertical  viewing option is interesting as an experiment in the way it very quickly cuts between two characters talking in a scene trying to convey the same amount of visual information compared to watching in horizontal mode is a challenge I don’t think it quite overcomes. The more standard horizontal viewing option looks fine and is mostly what you would expect given the limitations of the format. Some productions do feel like professionally produced content that you might see on other platforms that has been scaled down to fit with the service others feel  as if the filmmakers know they can hide how cheap this production is behind the presentation method (I’m looking at you Most Dangerous Game

Survive.

Survive appears to be Quibis  big ticket item on the dramatic side. It stars Sophie Turner  (Game of Thrones) and Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton.) The first episode set itself up as a very unflinching look at life inside a team rehab facility from the perspective of a suicidal girl (Turner) before taking a sharp left turn into overwrought melodrama and dull” boy meets girl” tropes. Apparently the main thrust of the story is Turner and Hawkins surviving out in the wilderness after a plane crash but I can’t tell you that as from the initial batch of episodes as the plane crash is the cliffhanger at the end of episode and  no survival has been hinted at as of yet. Perhaps worth a look if you’re a die-hard Sophie Turner stan  but nothing worth  subscribing over.

5/10

Most Dangerous Game.

Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz are the latest to try their hand add the incredibly generic Most Dangerous Game concept with Hemsworth as the terminally ill man with nothing to lose and Waltz as the mastermind behind the deadly game. The game hasn’t even started by the end of the third episode and despite his best efforts Hemswortsh performance as the generic put-upon hero there is nothing to connect to from an emotional perspective. There might be something here if you like generic thrillers but despite the presence of an actor in Waltz who is far too good for this material I’d advise avoiding like the plague.

3/10

Flipped.  

Like a lot of Funny or Die adjacent productions this takes a potentially interesting idea and runs it through the gamut of very shouty and nerve grating but simultaneously generic R rated comedy. Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson are two somewhat hopeless makeover personalities who after a series of events become involved with a drug cartel. This one doesn’t work in the slightest and is just about as unfunny as you generally expect from Funny or Die.

3/10

When the Streetlights Go On. (two episodes watched.)

When the Streetlights Go On isn’t great by any means but it’s probably the most effective at  delivering the chunks of its story in a way that works for the desired format A teen murder mystery narrated by one of the victims classmates it has a nice sentence with atmosphere and well the constant narration from said character makes it feel like an audio drama there’s enough here (episode one focuses on the murder itself and episode 2 to focus is on the victims wake and introduces some of the other characters) that make me intrigued to watch  more. Critically though it’s far from good enough to justify a subscription on its own beyond the inherent curiosity factor of the platform.

6.5/10

Overall content rating. 5/10

Quibi seems like an interesting experiment but the limitations of the format in terms of conveying a sense of peace or strong narrative become obvious once you have spent any time with this service. It might work for some audiences if those behind the service adopted the Netflix binge model but the fact, they haven’t means that episodes do not have enough story progression individually to make them worthwhile even on a every weekday release schedule. The service is mildly interesting for novelty value but not worth spending any significant time with beyond the three-month free trial.

Overall rating. 5/10

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