It’s been often said that the modern human has an average attention span shorter than a goldfish, topping off at eight seconds.
And, as we search for more home entertainment options while we wait out the COVID-19 pandemic, a new streaming service, Quibi — pronounced “Kwi-Bee” — is hitting a rapidly expanding market with a new premise: Super short “Quibis” or “QUIck BIte-sized” entertainment, with a little bit of everything to satisfy viewing palates of all shapes and sizes.
And, with a monthly subscription rate of $4.99 for a package with “some ads” and $7.99 for the premium package with no ads, Quibi slides right in at the bottom end of the price-range spectrum, hanging out with fellow streaming platforms like Apple TV+ and Disney+.
Make no mistake, though, this is a very different beast from those platforms. This is the first major streaming service built for smartphones and other mobile devices, not the likes of personal computers or laptops. The average episode clocks in at roughly seven to nine minutes a pop, which means that while it remains to be seen if Quibi is a viable option for entertainment, in broad strokes it’s certainly the kind of platform that fits our instant gratification society like a glove.
Quibi looks to fill gaps in our lives that we often occupy with social media, YouTube or blankly staring off into space — waiting at the bus stop, lounging in bed, seated on the porcelain throne, whiling time away at family gatherings, you name it. The app, with its simple (or even somewhat juvenile) interface, invites the user to pop it open, absently click on an episode of Reno 911! and immerse themselves for a short respite from the world.
A lot of the content isn’t shorts, mind you, but segments of a larger series or narrative. With that in mind, Quibi banks itself on an understanding that other — vaguely — comparable mediums like Vine back in the day or even YouTube don’t necessarily address: You can have a larger overarching plot, character development, or exploration of content in bite-sized pieces, so long as it’s engaging and episodic in nature.
This is a tried and true maxim. Take Harry Potter for example. Kids have notoriously little patience for boredom of any kind, yet they’ll plow through a 500-page J.K. Rowling novel the size of a Russian epic. Why? Because it’s engaging and its individual chapters are very manageable. So is the boy who lived, so is Quibi.
I took a gander at Quibi in short spurts to acquaint myself with a platform that promises to introduce, engage and satisfy your entertainment (or news, or informational, etc.) needs in less time than it takes to bake a pizza. Quibi isn’t Netflix or Hulu and it doesn’t try to be. It doesn’t have the polish — yet — nor the library chops of these streaming giants and part of me wonders if Quibi’s future lies in a different, more spontaneous direction. It’s a mobile experience at its core and Quibi may branch some gaps between social media and streaming if it’s allowed to grow on its own terms.
As such, you could say its closest competitor is YouTube Live, in that it has an eclectic mix of straightforward, often high tempo, and usually raw content that works well to get off the ground quickly, keep you engaged, and leave you wanting more with a sudden cliffhanger to close it out.
The smoothness and ease of use with Quibi can’t be understated and I was pleased to see how the app seamlessly switched from landscape to portrait mode with little difference in viewing quality, although I definitely preferred landscape, unsurprisingly. Unless, of course, you like close-ups and claustrophobic vertical shots that capture the characters and little else, then knock yourself out.
Want to watch Rob Gronkowski smash through doors under the guidance of a purported psychic — who, I should add, is unironically named Lior — and toss footballs at random people in T-shirts? Go for it. I happened to chase that — less than seven minutes later — with a five minute session in a Zen Buddhist garden to clear my mind, then watched the heart-pounding opening episode of “#FreeRayshawn.”
All three of these Quibis are vastly different in content — much as the library as a whole features a lot of drama, sports, news, reality TV and so on — but they definitely share distinctive rapid-fire pacing and brevity that can take a little getting used to. Even the Zen Buddhist garden, which was billed as a meditation aid, flitted from shot to shot and mantra to mantra at a relatively fast speed. I barely had time to contemplate the blue spruce trees before I was whisked off to a tranquil pond.
Maybe Quibi is better suited for informational pieces or some forms of entertainment such as comedy shorts, but I am curious if it can hold up for more narrative-driven shows. Sure, slow-burn dramas like “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men” are episodic, but could you boil down the same subtleties of character and plot development into such tight confines? It’s too early to tell as we’re in the early stages of this kind of entertainment, but every medium, no matter how well established, has its strengths and weaknesses. In terms of Quibi, I struggled to feel as invested in these little bits as I would watching shows that take their time to piece together the necessary components of good storytelling.
My take? It’s worth a shot. It’s in the early days of Quibi and, while it remains to be seen if the streaming service can overcome its initial budgetary shortfalls — The Wall Street Journal recently reported the company anticipated the cost of launching the service could result in $550 million in operating losses in 2020 — the platform is in a kind of creative, risk-taking point in its development. If you’re willing to bop around the proverbial sandbox, it might take some time to comb through the duds, but you also just might find some worthwhile escapism as well. If nothing else, it’s only a few minutes of your time.