Would Quibi Have Worked In China?

What Happened: The American short-form video streaming service Quibi is shutting down just six months after it launched. The platform targeted younger viewers with 10-minute, movie-quality shows meant to be watched on mobile. The platform was founded in 2018 by Jeffrey Katzenberg, who managed to raise nearly $2 billion to finance it. Most of the major Hollywood studios and Google were among its backers, as well as the Chinese powerhouse, Alibaba. Quibi launched in April 2020 and was available in its home market, Canada, and parts of Europe. But after its first week, it had fallen out of the top 50 most downloaded apps in the US.

Jing Take: So, what went wrong with the platform based on “quick bites & big stories”? Quibi was founded on big casts, big names, and big actors — all of which came with a price tag. One of its more bizarre commissions was an installment of the horror series, “50 States of Fright,” which featured a woman obsessed with her golden prosthetic arm and, deservedly, became a worldwide laughing-stock.

Katzenberg blamed Quibi’s downfall on the disruption brought about by the outbreak of COVID-19. However, the closing of movie theaters should have ultimately helped it, as multiple film releases pivoted to subscription services at the time. The issue here was its faith in go-mobile usage.

In hindsight, the strategy to go big budget with short films was ridiculously out of touch. The service faced stiff competition from other short video platforms such as TikTok and Douyin, which already had 600 million active users in September. On these platforms, quick-witted Gen Zers who understand satire works better than most comedic professionals post inventive, no-frills, self-generated content that’s easier to post and share than films (is there a need to parody Donald Trump when his inept speeches already bring laughs?)

But, given the proliferation and popularity of short video platforms in China, could Quibi have taken off on the mainland? The answer is: possibly. The country’s shift from long, drawn-out dramas to short, tightly-scripted shows is certainly a positive indicator. Furthermore, the current trend of premiumization in China would also have aligned with the platform’s lavish content. Quibi was built for a mobile-first generation. So, why did it overlook China — the world’s most phone-dependent country?

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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