If there was ever a time to launch a new streaming service, it’s now. Millions of people are spending nearly all of their time at home, and with movie theaters, malls, restaurants, and bars closed by government order, there’s a lot less competition for their time and more demand for stuff to watch on TV.
And yet, somehow, Quibi isn’t right for this moment. The long-awaited short-form streaming service launched this week with a dogged commitment to staying exclusively on phones and off televisions. That means no apps for streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire and the blocking of Google casting or Apple iOS screen mirroring capabilities.
“Nobody has made [premium] content that was native to, and only for, the phone,” Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg told Vulture last summer. “We want to do one thing which no one else is doing and see if we can do it really great.”
That strategy might have made sense then, but it’s hard to see how it does now. Here’s why.
Watching videos on a phone is individual, not communal.
The psychology of the moment (the world is scary) and its physical reality (everyone is stuck inside together) make the comfort of group experiences more appealing and more practical.
Mobile-only streaming means families can’t watch Quibi shows together unless they crowd around a tiny screen, a hard sell when a TV big enough for everyone to watch comfortably is sitting right there with hours and hours of familiar programming ready to stream.
Mobility isn’t an advantage when people aren’t mobile.
The main advantage of watching video on a phone, its mobility, is blunted when people are spending all of their time at home. Even if you are watching by yourself, a 60-inch TV is just more pleasant to watch shows on than a five-inch phone screen. People are happy to make compromises when they’re on the go, but when the comforts of home are right there it’s hard to justify forgoing them.
People aren’t using their phones as much since COVID-19 came to the U.S.
An analysis of internet usage data by the New York Times shows that traffic on Facebook, Netflix, and YouTube is up sharply, by 27, 16, and 15.3 percent, respectively. At the same time, usage of those services’ mobile applications is lagging: Facebook is up by 1.1 percent and Netflix 0.3 percent while YouTube is down 4.5 percent.
The TL;DR is that people are using the internet more and their phones less, which doesn’t paint a pretty picture for a streaming platform built exclusively for phones. Getting people to use their phones more is a challenge Quibi’s leadership couldn’t have possibly foreseen, but here we are.
The realities of a quarantined world present Quibi with obstacles where platforms without its commitment to staying mobile-only would have opportunities. What isn’t clear is if its content will be compelling enough to overcome those challenges or if the crisis will abate quickly enough for it to avoid them.