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July 6, 2020, 1:45 p.m.
Mobile & Apps
LINK: www.vulture.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   July 6, 2020

When CBS introduced “60 in 6” to the short-form video app Quibi, the news network declared that the launch “marks the opening of a new era in story telling.”

“It’s an opportunity for us to get our journalism in front of people who probably see ’60 Minutes’ when they are giving their mother and father a kiss and going out to see their friends,” the executive producer of the show, told Variety in June.“Let’s reach them where they are.”

But…are they at Quibi?

That’s the question raised by an in-depth look published in New York Magazine (“Is anyone watching Quibi?”), among heaps of schadenfreude-inflected coverage in recent weeks. (Quibi raised an inconceivable $1.7 billion and its name is short for “Quick Bites” because all of its content, meant to be watched “on the go,” is less than 10 minutes long.)

The “60 in 6” program — as in “60 Minutes in 6 minutes,” though episodes range from six to nine minutes long — is an original news show produced weekly. It features four dedicated correspondents with strong news credentials, including Wesley Lowery, who arrived from The Washington Post, where he’d won a Pulitzer Prize winner for his coverage of protests in Ferguson, Missouri. For the first “60 in 6” episode (9 minutes, 55 seconds), Lowery traveled to Minneapolis to cover the protests that erupted after George Floyd’s murder and to interview Floyd’s brother.

Other news programs on Quibi — which appear on a mix of news and entertainment known as Daily Essentials — include thrice-daily reports from NBC News, Around the World with BBC News, Pulso News from Telemundo, The Reply by ESPN, and two shows from Canada’s CTV News. Interest in the news programming segments has been minimal, according to Quibi co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg. (“The Daily Essentials are not that essential,” Katzenberg told The New York Times in May.)

For New York, Benjamin Wallace chronicled some of Quibi’s miscalculations about its digital-native audience:

In its zeal to control how its content is seen — one of Quibi’s arguments to advertisers is that it’s a “brand-safe environment” — Quibi didn’t allow screenshotting, which makes it harder, or at least less fun, to talk about its shows on social media, the de facto watercooler in an officeless era …

To combat the idea that Quibi would be providing something that already existed, Katzenberg leaned into making Quibi seem different. To emphasize that this wasn’t just TV on your phone, he declared that Quibi wouldn’t even be available on your TV when the app launched …

Some of Quibi’s own ads in the run-up to launch seemed ego driven. Why was an app aimed at 25-to-35-year-olds being advertised on the Oscars broadcast, which has a median viewer age north of 56? Quibi’s marketing pushed the platform rather than the shows on it.

Quibi has worked to reverse some of these decisions; it’s now castable to TVs and working on allowing screenshots. But how did these missteps happen in the first place? Wallace, again, with the devastating anecdotes:

People have wondered why Katzenberg and Whitman, in their late and early 60s, respectively, and not very active on social media, would believe they have uniquely penetrating insight into the unacknowledged desires of young people. When I ask Whitman what TV shows she watches, she responds, “I’m not sure I’d classify myself as an entertainment enthusiast.” But any particular shows she likes? “Grant,” she offered. “On the History Channel. It’s about President Grant.”

Katzenberg is on his phone all the time, but he is also among the moguls of his generation who have their emails printed out (and vertically folded, for some reason) by an assistant. In enthusing about what a show could mean for Quibi, Katzenberg would repeatedly invoke the same handful of musty touchstones — America’s Funniest Home Videos, Siskel and Ebert, and Jane Fonda’s exercise tapes.

The Quibi app reached No. 3 in Apple’s App Store on its launch day but dropped to No.  284  in June and to No. 1,477 when marketing efforts paused during Black Lives Matter protests. As of early July, the app has been downloaded more than 5 million times, including users who took advantage of the free three-month trial. Once that trial expires, Quibi will learn exactly how many are willing to pay $5 (with ads) or $8 (without) per month for content that has largely received mixed reviews or — possibly worse — no attention at all.

“If [the industry conversion rate around 33 percent] holds true for Quibi,” Wallace wrote, “it could mean less than 500,000 people would be watching a network that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on brand-new premium content.”

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