Quibi Tries to Disrupt Streaming, Becomes Its First Casualty

It is said, where there is smoke there is fire. That certainly seems to be the case with short-form video streaming site Quibi. The media has offered reasonable evidence that it is well behind subscriber targets. The Wall Street Journal reports that its owners may sell it if they can. If they were to receive a sum close to the most recent $1.75 billion valuation, people who follow the company’s business would be stunned. Quibi has been overwhelmed by competition with better content, and its formula has not captured an audience that wants programming that is so different from its rivals.

Quibi raised $750 million, so it is not about to go out of business. The question is whether it still belongs in business at all. If subscriber additions have slowed to a crawl, or churn has overwhelmed new business, Quibi is spending money to reach a difficult or, perhaps, impossible future. Most outsiders expected Quibi to lose money this year, but it was to do so in the service of reaching millions if not tens of millions of paid subscribers.

The most often mentioned problem Quibi has is that, just over a year ago, the streaming wars had two large players: Amazon and Netflix. Other services like Hulu tagged behind but survived. Since the start of 2019, the market has been overwhelmed by new competition. At the top of the list is Disney+, which has a world-famous brand, a tremendous library and a parent with deep pockets. AT&T, Viacom, NBCUniversal and Apple have squeezed into the market as well. Consumers will only spend so much on these services and only have so much time. Research on these matters is voluminous and conclusive.

The one thing the well-funded streaming services have in common, other than their core businesses, is that tendency to brag. This has been particularly true with Disney. The pandemic shuttering of the economy and unusually strong programming drove its subscriber count to 60 million in August. By now, that number is higher.

Quibi has not bragged about anything, nor has it defended comments about it failing with any figures that might provide a rebuttal.

Is Quibi a resounding success and it wishes to keep that success a secret? Does it have 20 million or 30 million paid subscribers, or even trial subscribers? Almost certainly not.

Watch for Quibi to be the first real casualty of the streaming wars. It will not have killed itself, entirely. The competition is unbelievably formidable.