Quibi: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Vertical

A long time ago I wrote a blog post about vertical video being an exciting and promising new format for filmmakers, advertisers, and other content creators.

A long time ago I wrote a blog post about vertical video being an exciting and promising new format for filmmakers, advertisers, and other content creators. Long story short, widescreen fetishists need to make way for vertical video as a new platform equally as deserving of our love and affection.

The internet is chock full of naysayers, shaming people for not holding their phone sideways while recording video, or heaven forbid, watching a widescreen video in portrait mode. But the rise of platforms like Instagram stories, Snapchat, and TikTok, has given life to the lowly vertical video. Although a fountain of creativity has erupted from very clever people on those platforms, the big players in Hollywood have largely ignored the new platforms in favor of good ol’ 16:9. (Or 2.35:1, for you cinephiles.)

New Kid on the Block

That’s all changing next month. On April 6th, a new streaming platform called Quibi will be launching. Quibi (or “Quick Bites”) is a mobile-only streaming platform featuring bite-sized 10 minute episodes of original content designed to be viewed vertically. You’ve probably seen their Super Bowl ad, or any number of other ads they’ve been running the last several weeks.

Quibi was founded by Jeffery Katzenberg, who ran Disney’s movie division during the 80’s and 90’s. After leaving the House of Mouse, he founded Dreamworks Animation. Quibi’s CEO is Meg Whitman; former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and eBay. This isn’t some Silicon Valley unicorn; Quibi is being helmed by people who’ve been doing this since before many of us were born.

So What Makes it Different?

Quibi’s being released into a saturated market. Gone are the days when Netflix and Hulu were the only streaming game in town. Nearly every studio has their own $8 subscription service these days. Besides having unique libraries, these services largely provide the same product: big budget movies and television shows delivered in HD or 4k on whatever screen you prefer.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s social media vertical video content, which is almost entirely amateur-created and free. Quibi thinks there is a sweet spot in between the two worlds for high production value, paid, mobile, vertical video content.

Quibi will be releasing regular content designed to be watched either vertically or horizontally, and will switch live as you rotate your device. I can hear the gasps and pearl clutching of the cinephiles. Let’s get with the program here: phones are designed to be held vertically. It’s time we, as content creators, embrace that fact instead of complaining about it.

This vertical/horizontal format Quibi is championing (nicknamed “Turnstyle”) has already led to some fascinating ideas. “Nest,” one of the original shows, displays the primary action in widescreen. If you rotate to vertical, you’re shown the screen of whatever device the character is seeing. This level of engagement from the audience is an exciting new tool in the toolbox for creatives, and I’m excited to see this interactive format develop.

What’s on Quibi?

Quibi plans to have 175 original shows in its first year, though it’s unclear if the coronavirus will be impacting that now. There will be three categories of programming: Movies in Chapters, Unscripted, and Daily Essentials.

Movies in Chapters are the headliner shows that will be pushing the creative boundaries of vertical video. These include original shows with big stars such as Sophie Turner, Chrissy Teigen, Jennifer Lopez, Idris Elba, Dwayne Johnson, and many more.

Unscripted will include documentaries, game shows, and reality television shows. Daily Essentials will include news, talk shows, late night shows, and more.

Money Talks

Quibi is launching with two packages: a $5/month tier with ads and an $8/month ad-free tier. That’s obviously more expensive than the $0/month that other vertical video platforms charge, but in the ballpark of other premium streaming services such as Netflix ($9/month), Disney+ ($7/month), and Hulu ($6/month). If you’re reading this before April 20, 2020, you can sign up for a 90-day free trial.

Coronavirus and Social Distancing Impact

Quibi is already a risky bet by bucking the trend of traditional video formats. Now that it’s launching during an unprecedented global pandemic, will Quibi make it? Founder Jeffery Katzenberg thinks it won’t be an advantage or disadvantage. Between the 90-day free trial and the abundance of free time most people find themselves with these days, it seems unlikely Quibi will have much difficulty fitting into people’s schedules. However, with the production shutdowns across Hollywood, the Daily Essentials content is likely to experience some speed bumps upon launch. According to Katzenberg, all of the shows have pivoted to continue development, and still plan to launch on schedule.

As a proponent of vertical video as exciting uncharted territory—and an advertising professional—I’m excited to see how Quibi fares in the crowded streaming marketplace. I’m also interested to see the new opportunities for ad placement for our clients, and the unique creative challenges that vertical video ads will bring.

Even if Quibi doesn’t end up as an ad platform that our clients utilize, the macro trend of vertical video as a new media platform will continue to spread, and is worth keeping in mind as we develop ad campaigns in the future.