I wouldn’t have needed $1.75 billion to launch a video streaming platform. But we already know that no one would give me that much money to just start a business…but I digress.
I have over 15 years experience in media, built video platforms for much less for global clients and Travelspective, and currently building local marketplaces powered by video to help bring our cities into the future of search and e-commerce at BRIDGE. So I’ve been watching closely since the very first announcement of ‘New TV.’
Here is why I knew back in March of 2019 things were not going to go well for Quibi. It was evident in this interview at SXSW, but I’ll break it down.
#1 Premium content needs ‘lean back’ distribution.
From the beginning, there was an emphasis on directors we love seeing on the big screen making movies in short ‘chapters’ that worked for both horizontal and vertical format. The idea of telling Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams to make a film that had to stop and start every 10 minutes literally gave me pause. And that they had to execute with the restrictions of vertical video, when we view the world in 180 degrees, creatively limits storytelling.
We fall in love with characters and storylines on big screens (read: movie theaters & TVs) sitting together with friends and family. Huddling around a mobile screen isn’t the same, and I really thought Hollywood producers understood this and knew that was their magic.
Premium IP content is a ‘lean back’ experience, which works best in theaters and on TV/OTT. Utility content is a ‘lean in’ experience, which works well on mobile devices.
What I would’ve done: Launch a free OTT app to reach 73% of households that currently subscribe to a video service. The mobile app would include utility features to have a 360 degree interaction with viewers. Provide a service (read: fix a need) for one side of the marketplace to establish reoccurring revenue, but the viewer wasn’t it in this case. There was a missed opportunity here working with local media companies. A post for another day.
#2 There’s always evidence or experiments that can be run to test your hypothesis before going all in.
I’m asked constantly about use cases and demand for video and have to back it up. I could never get away with the response of ‘we can’t test because what we’re doing has never been done before,’ let alone raise billions for a company without proof of some demand or need. But the part I couldn’t get over is the denial that YouTube Red and Go90 weren’t prior examples of paid short form video platforms that failed.
YouTube Red & Go90 both were well funded ventures that had diehard fans attached to the creators before launching and couldn’t make paid short form work. Studying why and forming a hypothesis to test would have been a good start.
What I would’ve done: Launch with one niche in the case of IP content or one market if focusing on utility content. Get a clear understanding of the content unit economics, timelines, viewer acquisition strategy & feedback, and the signals of engagement that can be captured to establish a moat around the platform, content and data. The first money in should have gone to build version one of the platform and test their initial hypothesis before allocating additional funds.
#3 It’s hard to get people to pay for short form content if all it provides is entertainment.
I’m all for better quality storytelling, but with content being more and more ‘disposable’ due to the set up of current platforms (another post for later), I don’t think spending more money on content was the answer.
A question I got from a client over 8 years ago made me shift my focus from content development to distribution when he asked, ‘where’s it going to live?’ Current social media platforms make content feel worthless and dead on arrival within days or even minutes.
Investing in platforms that can distribute content better and be able to continuously monetize off the content is key.
YouTube Red creators had built-in audiences and produced content on average of $3k/minute. Quibi paid $100k/minute for programming with celebrities and had, what could only be a gut feeling, that people would pay for content that cost significantly more.
It was continuously stated that Quibi was for ‘on the go’ viewing. The problem with that thinking ignored the fact that we’re filling that time already with a host of apps that we don’t have to pay for and are interactive. Again, mobile is a ‘lean in’ experience. We interact on our phones, not just sit passively.
Quibi was always competing with mobile use time. Tik Tok & other social app usage is up. It’s hard to compete with essentially free ‘quibis’ when we can see so much ‘good enough’ content that entertains us daily on our phones for free.
#4 People want less choice, but want to know they’re getting the best options.
Curated platforms will be more in demand as we try to make better use of our time. I actually think they got this part right in regards to rolling out just a handful of shows at a time, but they weren’t compelling enough to make people come back for more. There are better short form options available on other platforms. And once people knew that, the need to have that big ‘HBO hit series’ to make up for the rest of the content became more urgent in order to validate the platform.
#5 You have to enable people to share your product everywhere.
Not being able to take screenshots of shows to then share online was a big mistake. Content ‘exclusivity’ in this era works much different than the past. You have to be down with O.P.P. (other people’s platforms) and facilitate ways to let people share and have a presence everywhere. And sometimes, it’s much better to have that reach outside of your own channels on these platforms so give people what they need to spread the word on your behalf.
Taking advantage of ‘word of mouth,’ whether in-person or digitally, can spark exponential organic growth. And if executed well, it can save startups time & money from spending precious dollars on social and search (read: the incumbents), which helps even billion dollar funded ones.
What I would’ve done: Add a utility component so that the platform could truly be used more as a ‘daily essential’ and not just the name of a show, with the ability to share content and start multiple conversations.
#6 Video needs to be seen as an essential utility and not just a form of entertainment.
Video streaming has increased during the pandemic and a lot of us are doing video calls at least once a week. Video also has the most engagement on social platforms. We’ve never had this much time on our hands to view content, and we’ve never needed to be able to view information more with having to stay in our homes.
This was a time to prove the usefulness of their video streaming platform, but Quibi wasn’t willing to pivot even slightly to adjust and just blamed the pandemic for not ‘going to plan.’ No startup was ready for this, and we’ve all had to adjust.
Instead of viewing video as a widget of entertainment, we need to be looking at it through the lens of how video will be used in the very near future. I say a version of this at every one of my pitches:
Video will be the way we search and see the world. It’s inevitable. And every single business, organization, brand, category of information will need a video presence moving forward. New sustainable platforms will have to emerge to facilitate distribution of this content efficiently and effectively.
#7 Money signals your values, not your value.
Every dollar that went into Quibi showed not wanting to break from the past. From the leadership to the business model to continuing to produce video that is just adding to the sea of unnecessary content that already exists showed Quibi was a repeat of failed streaming platforms that came before it.
There was such an amazing opportunity to create ‘New TV’ and do something innovative in the media space with all that money, beyond turning a screen from horizontal to vertical seamlessly. We didn’t need another short form entertainment platform, but you know what video content I could use right now…
- ways to see what businesses & services that are still open in my neighborhood.
- where I can view & buy products online from women & Black owned businesses.
- information on local organizations & what city resources are available with video of the initiatives breaking it down.
- a simple way to know what’s going on with elected officials and see & hear from them directly, and not between sifting though crowded feeds of disinformation.
I can name many other things I would like in the form of curated video content, but the bottomline is…we should be able to connect and see what’s happening around us, simply.
TL;DR — If I can leave you with this…
We need to pay attention to our needs more than whimsical wants when it comes to funding new companies. We should be building platforms that utilize video to connect us through better ways to communicate and stimulate commerce, especially during this pandemic.
We aren’t even utilizing current technology to its fullest potential and just scratching the surface of how we will utilize video in the future.
These are just my observations, and it makes me wonder who was sitting around the table when Quibi was being discussed and financed. We need to capitalize people that have vision and experience, but it’s imperative to have qualified and knowledgable people that look like me and don’t usually get a seat at the table to be in these conversations.
Imagine if that $1.75 billion was spread across 1,750 startups across the country, instead of just one. I really hope this doesn’t deter investors from investing in media startups, especially ones like mine that are building local marketplaces powered by video.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss how we’re building the future of how people will connect locally around the world with BRIDGE and ways we can and should be utilizing video to inform and stimulate our local economies.