Odds are, you love your phone. It’s your closest friend, your game boy and girl, your date on solo restaurant visits, your text go-between, your alarm clock, your memory bank, and the solution to every argument you’ve ever had over a dinner table. Its loyalty knows no bounds, as it sleeps by your bed just in case you need a Google-led dream analysis in the middle of the night. It’s your blankie.
But can it also be your TV?
The powerful people who are bringing you Quibi, a new streaming service arriving on April 6, firmly believe so, and so do the Hollywood studios who’ve invested more than $1 billion in it. Former Disney boss and Dreamworks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman are convinced that people are ready to commit to watching all kinds of shows on their phones for $4.99 a month, $7.99 without ads. Many of us already watch TV on our phones and tablets, when we’re in a waiting room or on a plane, but Quibi content is specifically designed to be viewed on mobile devices.
Translation: Everything on Quibi will be short. Each episode of a series will be only 10 or so minutes long — they’ll be quick bites, the phrase that led to the portmanteau name of the service. So an entire season of 12-14 episodes will total 2½ hours — but with the possibility of more seasons. There will be original Quibi movies, too — 35 of the first year’s 175 releases will be movies — and they will be broken up into short daily chapters. Along with the scripted comedies and dramas, there will also be unscripted reality shows and news and lifestyle content, and episodes of all of them will be released daily.
Short-episode series already exist, on the likes of Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube. There are tons of Web series designed for fast viewing, a few of which — “High Maintenance,” “Broad City,” “Web Therapy,” “Drunk History” — eventually made the leap to TV as half-hour products. But Quibi shows, which will not be easily or officially available for large-screen viewing, will have high production values and special features tied into its tech. For example, Quibi subscribers will be able to watch in either landscape or portrait modes — that’s vertically or horizontally. They’ll be able to toggle back and forth between the two modes, each of which will cover the same action but at different angles and distances (directors will often shoot different versions of the shows for the effect to work). In both modes, there will be no black spaces filling in the rest screen. Future Quibi tech developments could include the use of your phone’s messaging system, say, or an exercise show that connects to your pedometer.
And Quibi content — remember that $1 billion? — will be significantly higher end than what is generally available for free on YouTube. Every week for the past year, it seems, Quibi has announced some new show starring and/or directed by a well-known names. The talent in its drama and horror shows include Sophie Turner, Liam Hemsworth, Laurence Fishburne, Emily Mortimer, Steven Spielberg, Naomi Watts, Don Cheadle, Christoph Waltz, Steven Soderbergh, Guillermo del Toro, Ridley Scott, and Laura Dern (playing a bartender in a Nick Hornby series). The comedies will feature the work of the Farrelly brothers, Bill Murray, Anna Kendrick, Darren Criss, Will Forte, Kevin Hart, John Travolta, Trevor Noah, and Bill Burr.
Quibi’s news shows — what the company is calling “Daily Essentials” — will include sports, headlines, weather, and other bits of convenience. “Late Night This Morning,” for example, will recap the previous night’s late-night shows. NBC News is going to produce six-minute morning and evening newscasts for Quibi, while BBC News will handle the international coverage. TMZ, the Weather Channel, and Telemundo will also produce Quibi coverage. And the long roster of reality TV shows will include stunt-driving with Idris Elba, Chrissy Teigen as a “Judge Judy”-like arbitrator, Tyra Banks looking into definitions of beauty, Andy Samberg hosting a cooking competition, Zac Efron on adventure trips, Demi Lovato as a talk host, and Reese Witherspoon exploring matriarchy in the animal kingdom.
And I’ve left out a number of high-profile projects, for the sake of space. Quibi is hoping that all of the names will speak to viewers who are already overwhelmed by the ever-growing number of good series and viewing platforms available or about to become available (including NBC’s Peacock in April, HBO Max in May).
Is Quibi the way of the future? It is certainly going to encourage two cultural tendencies that are already in play in often unsettling ways. The service doesn’t just take short attention spans into consideration in editing; it is a glitzy celebration and encouragement of short attention spans. We’re already a distracted culture, impatient and unwilling to shoot the breeze or daydream without the interruptions of texts. Quibi is only fuel on that fire.
And Quibi could move solo viewing even further into the mainstream. The social aspect of TV has already been compromised by binge and on-demand viewing; we’re no longer all on the same episode at the same time, so watercooler conversations about shows are more difficult. We may watch with our close friends and family, but out in the world, we’re rarely on the same page. Quibi nearly demands that you watch alone, at your own convenience. It wants to add more intimacy and commitment to your already thriving love affair with your phone.