Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman took the stage this morning at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to offer a deeper look into the technology behind the soon-to-launch mobile streaming service.
The company had already revealed much about its intentions with Quibi, including how it’s the first streaming service designed exclusively for mobile devices, not the living room TV.
But until today’s keynote — and briefings with reporters yesterday — what Quibi hadn’t yet discussed in detail was the underlying, patent-pending technology that takes advantage of mobile devices to push forward a new form of storytelling.
Specifically, Quibi is using a new engineering technology it’s calling “Turnstyle,” which allows the viewer to move between portrait mode viewing and landscape viewing, seamlessly — and without any black bars to fill the rest of the screen when switching to landscape video.
This technology, when demoed, worked very well. The shift from portrait to landscape and back again was smooth and fast — an almost imperceptible transition. And the video in either orientation was crisp, clear and high-def, thanks to the high production values of Quibi’s commissioned projects.
The end result is something that, though watched on a phone, wouldn’t ever be confused with user-gen services like YouTube or TikTok.
“[YouTube] is the most ubiquitous, democratized, incredibly creative platform,” Whitman told me. “But they make content for hundreds of dollars a minute. We make it for $100,000 a minute. It’s a whole different level — it’s Hollywood-quality content.”
On Quibi, there are three tiers of content — unscripted shows, movies delivered in short chapters and “Daily Essentials.”
On the unscripted side, you’ll find documentaries and docu-series, as well as other shows about food, fashion, travel, animals, cars, comedy, sports and more. Daily Essentials, meanwhile, deliver the day’s news and information — including also weather, sports and horoscopes — in five to six-minute “quick bites.”
While these two categories could potentially be delivered on other video platforms, Quibi’s riskier bet is on movies told in chapters. That is, instead of releasing a two-hour film as a single, long video to consume, Quibi movies are told in seven to 10-minute segments. In year one, 35 of Quibi’s total 175 shows will be movies.
Every day, Quibi will deliver one episode of its movies told in chapters, plus five episodes of its episodic and unscripted series and 25 daily essentials. Combined, that’s more than three hours of premium, original content per day.
“If you think about network television, and how much they produce for prime time, it’s 35% more than network TV does Monday through Friday,” Quibi CEO Meg Whitman said.
The service plans to launch with eight movies, and will then release a new movie every other Monday, she noted. But even if you don’t tune in on release day, the content will remain available so you can binge through what you’ve missed.
This idea of shorter-form storytelling is something Katzenberg — a former Hollywood executive best known for his time as chairman of Walt Disney Studios, and for being the “K” in Dreamworks SKG — has been thinking about for decades, he said. Since 1999, in fact.
“I started a little company with [Steven] Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer called Pop.com. It lasted about 12 minutes,” he explained, referring to a Quibi precursor that was likely before its time.
“I’ve been a storyteller my whole life. That’s the thing that got me the most interested and excited,” he continued. “And I think what you’ll see is that every great innovation that has happened in Hollywood has actually been driven by a new technology.”
With Quibi’s support for full-screen, high-quality portrait-mode viewing, the service can cater to an on-the-go user base — a user base that often fills spare minutes on social networks or messaging.
But turning the phone is only one way that Quibi will leverage mobile. Spielberg’s Quibi show “After Dark,” for example, will use viewers’ locations to determine what time they can watch the show — it will only be allowed after sunset.
In the future, Quibi’s filmmakers could tap into other mobile sensors and smartphone features, like the GPS or the haptics to make the phone vibrate. They could tell stories through the phone’s messaging system or even have your phone ring as part of a story. An exercise-themed show could tap into the phone’s pedometer for an interactive experience. Turnstyle, in other words, is just step one.
But what Quibi can’t know yet is how users will respond to these sorts of interactions. Will they find them clever, or gimmicky? Will they aid the storytelling experience or ultimately get in the way? And while Quibi wants to bring back the “watercooler” experience of weekly shows, it also doesn’t know if users growing up in the Netflix era will actually watch shows on the release schedule it intends, or save them to binge in longer stretches of time — perhaps even casting them to the TV via Chromecast or Airplay, which Quibi will support.
Despite an overabundance of streaming services, Quibi has attracted big-name talent to help kick off its first year, including Academy Award winners Steven Spielberg, Peter Farrelly and Guillermo del Toro; directors like Antoine Fuqua, Lena Waithe, Sam Raimi and Catherine Hardwicke; and stars like Stephan James, Chrissy Tiegen, Laurence Fishburne, Dave Franco, Bill Murray, Emily Mortimer and Kevin Hart, to name a few.
Quibi isn’t opposed to working with younger creators or even YouTubers, but Katzenberg notes that Quibi won’t be making YouTube shows, but rather Hollywood-style programming.
“If there are good actors and good talent on YouTube who can transition to that, then we’re happy to have them,” he says of the YouTuber crowd. “But it’s highly differentiated…we’re not trying to do a high-end version of what they’re doing. We’re actually trying to bring the ecosystem of broadcast, cable, streaming, television and television storytelling and bringing that to this world,” he notes.
Quibi officially debuts on April 6, 2020 and will cost $4.99 per month with ads or $7.99 per month without ads.
Interested users can sign up to be Quibi Insiders on the service’s homepage, in order to get exclusive looks at new shows and the first news of product updates.
Update: During the presentation, Katzenberg, Whitman and other Quibi executives tried to paint the service as something that sits at the intersection of creativity and technology, and between Silicon Valley and Hollywood.
Whitman described Quibi as “the very first entertainment technology platform optimized for mobile viewing,” adding that, “We needed to make space for creators and engineers to be in the same conversation.”
For one thing, the creators needed to make movies and shows that were viewable in both landscape and portrait mode. CTO Rob Post said the directors and showrunners are actually delivering two edits, one in each orientation, and then Quibi stitches and encodes them together into a single experience, allowing viewers to swap seamlessly.
And Conrad said that when creators started to experiment with Turnstyle, they came up with innovative approaches like the one found in the short film “Nest” and its follow-up Quibi show “Wireless” — where landscape mode features a traditionally-shot thriller, then switching to portrait mode will show you what the main character is seeing on their phone.
The keynote also featured a number of Quibi partners, including Google Cloud (Quibi is using Google’s infrastructure for content delivery) and T-Mobile, which will be bundling Quibi as part of its services (although they didn’t offer specifics). Google and T-Mobile are also among the companies who have supposedly bought out the service’s first year of ad inventory, worth $150 million.
“Quibi is the next big thing,” declared T-Mobile’s incoming CEO Mike Sievert.