LOS ANGELES • Quibi, the multi-billion-dollar streaming platform launching today in the United States and Canada, is betting it can transform entertainment with short, Hollywood-quality clips to watch "on the go" – even as much of the world is trapped at home.
Industry legends and stars from directors Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro to actresses Jennifer Lopez and Reese Witherspoon have lined up to make movies and shows for the youth-focused, smartphone-only service.
Tapping the boom in mobile video viewing, all content will be delivered in clips of no more than 10 minutes – or "quick bites".
Every show must be made in horizontal and vertical formats, automatically flipping between the two as viewers rotate their phones.
But Quibi's plans were set long before the coronavirus pandemic prompted stay-at-home orders for billions of people around the globe – meaning nobody is quite sure how to measure success in the months ahead, its chief executive officer said.
"Honestly, we don't know because we are launching in unprecedented times," said Ms Meg Whitman, who previously led eBay. "I don't think any of us has ever seen anything quite like this."
While presumably fewer people will now watch during commutes or coffee breaks, self-isolation could prompt its own need for quick distractions, Quibi executives say.
"People still have in-between moments – it's just different," said Ms Whitman.
One such moment, she suggested, could come when an exhausted parent takes a pause from home-schooling children.
"I live on Zoom calls all day," she said, referring to the popular remote-conferencing software. "But occasionally, I'll have 10 or 15 minutes between Zoom calls and I'll watch a Quibi."
A formidable line-up – 50 shows at launch, with 175 originals in its first year – helped make Quibi's decision to stick with its long-established launch today a lot easier, said Ms Whitman.
Big Hollywood names have committed to work with Quibi, thanks to its founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, a towering figure in Tinseltown who ran Disney Studios for a decade and co-founded DreamWorks.
"We had enough content in the bank," Ms Whitman said.
Launch movies such as psychological thriller Survive, starring Game Of Thrones (2011 to 2019) alumna Sophie Turner, and Liam Hemsworth's dystopian Most Dangerous Game are expected to draw early subscribers.
After an initial batch at launch, one "chapter" will be released a day, with the aim to rekindle the "water-cooler moments" of traditional television.
New scripted content is already scheduled through later this year. But amid the deep uncertainty facing Hollywood, what comes next is anyone's guess.
"We certainly hope the production will be back online soon," said Ms Whitman. "We just don't know… You have to tolerate ambiguity well."
Quibi also aims to keep users coming back with daily news, sports and entertainment shows – a genre far harder to produce at a time when studios are closed across the United States.
"It's been a little crazy," admitted Ms Whitman, who said many shows will broadcast from hosts' homes rather than specially constructed studios.
"Two weeks ago, we thought maybe four or five of these Daily Essentials would not be able to get into production for us," she said. "But they've all come on."
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