Quibi “star power” debut in April evokes serialized novels of past

cell phone generic image Indie Art South
General photo of cell phone: has nothing to do with the Quibi app. (Photo: Indie Art South)

Lots of buzz right now about a new streaming service, Quibi, debuting in April, and the first thing I thought of was the way novels used to be serialized in newspapers and magazines.

The new app is rumored to rely on “star power,” because the assumption is that if you’re a celebrity-oriented reader, you’ll be happy to pay for the “quick bites” the app delivers to your device.

The cost looks modest—between $5 and $8 depending on whether you want to deal with ads.

Jeffrey Katzenberg has teamed up with Meg Whitman in this endeavor, proving all politics dissolve when there’s potential profit. Katzenberg has worked hard to elect Democrats. Whitman has run for office as a Republican. Both have long histories in the corporate world. If both lived in certain other countries, we might call them oligarchs. Instead, I’ll play it safe and just classify them both as US royalty.

An excellent overview of Quibi at The Verge sums up key features of Quibi:

“Katzenberg and Quibi CEO Meg Whitman, who is best known as the CEO of HP and eBay, are publicly announcing Quibi at CES — but not quite unveiling it — after having raised $1 billion on the promise of a roster of Hollywood stars and supposedly revolutionary video-streaming technology that delivers portrait and landscape video at the same time. Everything on Quibi is designed for viewing on a phone, on the go, in 10 minutes or less. These chunks of video are called “quick bites” — hence, “Quibi.”

Will people pay for Quibi if it features super celebs?

Promises are being made about a wealth of content, as The Verge noted:

“Quibi plans to release three hours of new content every weekday as part of its bid to make watching Quibi a daily habit. It’ll roll out more than 175 original shows and 8,500 episodes of those quick bites within its first year…”

Personally, I think it’ll be a hard pitch. So much content is completely free right now, even at hot sites, in part because we have meme media. For instance, if a story is behind a paywall, say, at The New York Times, all you have to do is search the title or substance and chances are you’ll come up with a free site containing most of the content.

I’ve worked in Web publishing for years. It has to be one of the hardest sectors to make money from, and that’s one reason so many sites fold. You can’t keep subsidizing a loss even if your heart is in what you’re messaging to people.

Keep an eye out, though, for Quibi in April. It will be interesting to see how much stock those superstars have, even with the rotate feature, when it comes to paying customers, especially in the streaming age where instant gratification and bingeing are a given with consumers.

Those serialized novels, once bread and butter for many publications, are long gone, as are many of the print publications once publishing them.

On the other hand, if you’re an indie artist in any genre, quick bites are a great marketing tool, even if you don’t have an app that lets your supporter rotate the content.

(Kay B. Day/Jan. 9, 2020)

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