Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

Quibi's launch fails to live up to hype

By MANAVI MONGIA | April 18, 2020

arts-quibi-jeffreykatzenstein

GAGE SKIDMORE/CC BY-SA 2.0

Jeffrey Katzenberg founded Quibi as a way to pair high production value with fast entertainment. 

Last week saw the launch of Quibi, a new streaming service. Quibi seeks to differentiate itself through mobile-only, short-form content; the episodes of each series on the app are all under 10 minutes, which is seemingly ideal for our generation’s ever diminishing attention span. 

Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg believes that the company, through giving subscribers the ability to consume quality “quick bites,” is filling a gap in the current media landscape. With roughly two billion dollars in funding, an array of celebrity producers and performers and a plan to release 175 shows in the next year, Quibi has set expectations quite high. Currently, it’s offering a 90-day free trial to users who sign up before April 30, so I decided to see if the content lives up to the hype. Having all the time in the world amid this pandemic, I thought it would be perfect to watch videos that barely last the commute from my room to the kitchen. 

Upon downloading Quibi, I was greeted with a diverse collection of shows, including documentaries, dramas, “reality” TV and comedies. After spending a very long time trying to sift through all the options, I naturally ended up going with the first choice presented to me, Most Dangerous Game. This thriller, an adaptation of a 1924 short story, stars Liam Hemsworth as Dodge Tynes (I should probably insert a spoiler alert here, but that would imply that I think you should go ahead and watch the series). 

We learn that Dodge, a husband and father-to-be, is in debt and suffering from a glioblastoma. To support his growing family, he decides to participate as prey in a simple hunting game, where he can make millions if he isn’t caught the whole day. There’s just one minor problem: If he is caught by one of the sadistic hunters, they get to kill him. Apparently the hunters are a diverse sort — “men, women, black, white, butcher, baker” — but the two in the episodes released so far are both white and male (lame). Where’s my female murderer representation?

Just as the hunt is about to begin, the series cuts to Dodge’s wife (who has been left in the dark) discovering that he built the crib for their son. Dodge’s character, a “good man” and a star athlete in college, is a bit bland, as is that of his wife (rest assured, Miley has nothing to worry about). 

While we are obviously supposed to root for Dodge, I personally haven’t felt super invested in his story. Though semi-dimensional characters aren’t always the norm in thrillers, I did initially expect more from Quibi; the short time frame may point to a fundamental problem for the writing of characters in such scripted shows. There’s also lots of cringeworthy dialogue; Dodge’s best friend says to him: “You’re a lousy singer, an average card player and the best friend I got, so you fight like you always do.” 

Although the show fails to make the characters convincing, it does a little better in making the hunt itself captivating. Thus, at the start of the chase, I’m not saying I was rooting for the hunters, but I wasn’t *not* rooting for them. I did wish I could watch it on a bigger screen, and Quibi’s mobile-only format seems to unnecessarily hinder the viewing experience of its shows, especially dramas.

Next, I watched Shape of Pasta, which follows Los Angeles chef Evan Funke on a quest to revive the forgotten pastas of Italy. In each episode, he journeys to a new small town, where a native, often a “nonna,” teaches him how to craft a specific type of pasta. The show displays meaningful connections — or, as meaningful as possible in nine minutes — between Funke and the natives. However, it is overly dramatized and Funke takes himself a bit too seriously (many unintentionally funny lines). The beautiful shots of Italian landscapes, though, are a good distraction, as well as the glimpses into the history and traditions of the towns. I didn’t study abroad in Italy, but I still have the urge to say: “Ugh, take me back!”

Finally, I also watched a few episodes of Chrissy’s Court, where Chrissy Teigen serves as a judge for small lawsuits. The lawsuits involve someone suing her sister for tupperware, a man angry at his boyfriend for buying the wrong Lizzo sweatshirt for a cousin and a couple in a situationship (been there, done that). Chrissy and her mom have some fun banter, and the nature of the cases is a bit comically ridiculous. Though Quibi placed Chrissy’s Court in the category of “Laugh Out Loud,” I would say I chuckled only occasionally. 

Quibi’s launch is a bit disappointing. While I have only watched a few shows, it appears that Quibi expected two of them, Most Dangerous Game and Chrissy’s Court, to be especially popular with consumers. Its basic plan, $4.99 a month, costs the same as the joint Spotify-Hulu student plan, or a dirty chai... whoops, don’t get those anymore. I’m unsure of how likely it is that people, especially college students, will add to or replace existing plans for Quibi’s current programming.

Moreover, Quibi’s premise, which lies in short-form content, likely puts the company at a disadvantage when most people are constantly home right now and have the time to stream series of typical lengths. If it flops, I can only hope that Katzenberg, who also founded DreamWorks Animation and has a net worth of $900 million, will survive the financial loss. 

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