With Quibi, television has finally come to the smallest screen. It has long been possible to watch Netflix, Hulu, HBO, or any other streaming video service on a smartphone. But the programs on those platforms were designed to be watched on a big TV screen.
Quibi was built with a different vision of the viewing experience. The name was derived from the words “quick bites,” and for a few dollars a month, that’s what it serves. Episodes are capped at 10 minutes. Some run as few as five. Content is viewable exclusively on phones and tablets, and visuals switch seamlessly between vertical and horizontal screen orientations. Quibi was made for a mobile world.
Although I didn’t love any of the half-dozen shows I sampled, the format made it stand out from the rest of the streaming pack. Quibi’s launch offerings seemed disposable, but maybe that’s the point. From comic books to pulp novels, popular storytellers have long found success in cheap, rapidly produced entertainments that are easy to consume and easy to discard. Most have been forgotten, but a TV series doesn’t have to be high art to be worthwhile, especially when it asks for barely more time than it takes to microwave a Hot Pocket. Sometimes there’s value in being inessential.
Arguably, Quibi’s true competitors aren’t Netflix and Hulu but TikTok and YouTube, which offer a near-infinite amount of free-to-watch video content. The success of those sites, and the opportunities for rapid experimentation they afford, suggest this format is essential in its own way.