Quibi: First Impressions

Quibi: First Impressions

Dept. of Infinite Potential


So, Quibi is pretty good. At least the idea of it. The timing of its arrival, however, is unfortunate. Originally pitched as short bursts of high quality entertainment and news content (the “quick bits” that make up the name Quibi) that you can consume on your phone (and only on your phone) in between doing all the important things you need to do, the product seems a little misplaced in this current age of isolation. We aren’t commuting anymore. We’re not taking long tea breaks at the office pantry. Or hiding in the toilet away from that micromanaging boss. We’re going to be at home for the foreseeable future, with access to much larger screens, and no parental supervision. We don’t have to watch things on our phones or tablets. (Then again, I am well aware that there is a segment of the population that prefers doing just that, even when sitting at home, on their couch, with 70 inches of screen in front of them.)

That being said, Quibi is nevertheless a fascinating idea that is incredibly well implemented. The app, which borrows ideas from social media and streaming services, is impressive. Their thought process, behind both the content and its presentation, stemming from the same basic notion. People are watching more and more content on their phones; on YouTube, on Instagram, on Snapchat. People love the kind of premium high quality programming offered by the likes of Netflix, and HBO, and Amazon Prime Video. So why not find a way to give them both.

Let me be clear, Quibi hasn’t reinvented storytelling. They haven’t revolutionised the way serialised fiction is told. What they’ve done is take two ideas and tried to find a happy compromise. And I think they might be on to something.

Their home screen, called “Today for you”, is a series of individual cards which you flip through to find something to watch. The user experience is unlike Netflix or Amazon Prime which show you multiple titles at all times. Using Quibi is more akin to scrolling through your Instagram feed, or Tinder, pausing only to click or to swipe on the thing that catches your fancy. Much like social media platforms, you can also choose to follow your favourite shows. And like all of these things, I’m pretty sure there’s some machine learning going on in the background that’ll eventually show you the content that Quibi thinks you’ll like.

It works. At least for now, with around 50 or so originals on the platform. I’m not sure what it will mean for discovery when more and more content starts rolling out.

The most impressive thing about Quibi, however, is the way they’ve chosen to present their programming. Being mobile-first (and possibly mobile-only) means that content needs to adapt to both portrait and landscape viewing. Every show is shot with this in mind, and therefore edited and cropped accordingly, so that the audience can view shows in full-screen, in both orientations. The transition between landscape and portrait viewing is seamless. It’s instant. It’s really pretty neat. I spent a lot of time constantly rotating my phone while watching different shows and it hasn’t gotten old just yet.

The content too is really rather good. I expected no less given the staggering stable of talent they’ve managed to secure – everyone from Sophie Turner to Steven Spielberg. Remember that everything on Quibi is short, which, by their own definition, is under 10 minutes. This means that movies are now chaptered and each act of a standard 20-minute television show is now its own episode.

Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte play an obnoxious couple in Flipped on Quibi.

Some shows are naturally better suited than others for this format. MTV’s Punk’d reboot with Chance the Rapper is ideal when consumed in short segments no longer than eight minutes. (This, in contrast to Netflix’s Prank Encounters with Gaten Matarazzo, where every episode just felt a little too drawn out.) Flipped, the new sitcom starring Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte as an obnoxious couple trying to break into home improvement television, is another one of their offerings that manages to cram an inordinate amount of story and laughs into its short runtime. This should come as little surprise given that it’s a Funny or Die production. In fact, after watching all of Quibi’s launch day offerings, it became clear that the content produced by Internet natives often had a narrative flow that was far tighter than those that weren’t. It’s especially apparent with how their shows feel like complete episodes as opposed to something longer that’s been cut up to meet some predetermined runtime.

Some reality TV also works better than others. Dishmantled, a cooking competition hosted by Titus Burgess, in which contestants – dressed head to toe in hazmat suits – are canon blasted by food, and then have to recreate what they’ve been hit with in just 30 minutes, is a fun idea that just doesn’t quite land. Burgess is funny, and flamboyant, and a fantastic host. The celebrity guest judges are at their quippy best. But the short runtime doesn’t allow for any of the drama and artificial tension that makes television cooking competitions so compelling.

Evan Funke's The Shape of Pasta on Quibi.

Evan Funke’s Shape of Pasta, on the other hand, might just be my favourite of Quibi’s offerings. The concept isn’t unique. The chef’s journey has been done many many times, by many many people. But taking that traditional cooking travelogue and reformatting it into episodes that are six to seven minutes makes for some incredibly pithy and well structured storytelling. Bolstered by Evan Funke’s infectious passion and genuine niceness, this is something that I for one want a lot more of.

Sophie Turner stars as Jane, a suicidal woman who survives a plane crash on Quibi's Survive.

The shows that I’m most curious about are Sophie Turner’s Survive and Liam Hemsworth’s Most Dangerous Game. These are feature films that have been broken down in order to fit Quibi’s runtime requirements.

In Survive, Sophie Turner plays a suicidal woman who ends up being one of two survivors of a plane crash. In Most Dangerous Game, Liam Hemsworth is a desperate dying man who agrees to be hunted down like an animal in exchange for money. Both are somewhat high concept. Both are the kind of mid-budget movies that studios hardly ever make anymore. It will be interesting to see if Quibi ends up being a viable platform for these kinds of stories and storytelling.

I’ve seen the first three “episodes” of both Survive and Most Dangerous Game, and I still can’t tell if it pulls off what it set out to do. One thing is clear though. These weren’t written as shorts. The second episode of Survive ends so abruptly that it feels like someone forgot about the 10-minute limit and decided to just stop the show mid-scene.

There’s also Chrissy Teigen’s take on Judge Judy. Lena Waithe on sneaker culture. Reese Witherspoon hosting a nature documentary. Nicole Richie playing an extreme version of herself. And Will Arnett looking back at Canadian pop-culture hits and misses. I’m pretty excited about Steven Spielberg’s upcoming horror series that will only be viewable at night; you know, in order to intensify the scare factor.

I haven’t quite yet figured out who Quibi is for. A mobile-first streaming platform does, by its very nature, skew younger. I’m not sure how long they’ll stick to their guns and keep their content limited to mobile devices (no, you can’t cast any of their videos to your Apple TV or Chromecast), but that is a decision that will no doubt determine the creators they attract and the kind of stories they choose to tell.

There is a lot of potential in what can be done on a mobile platform. Especially when writers and filmmakers start utilising all the technology that’s available on our smartphones. From inserting ourselves in stories to interactive game shows, the possibilities are endless. And I am both interested and intrigued.

Quibi is currently available in North America and costs $5 with ads or $8 to go ad-free.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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