Quibi to Let People Watch On TV Sets After Viewers Complain

(Bloomberg) -- Quibi Holdings LLC, the upstart streaming service designed for smartphones, plans to let customers watch its shows the old-fashioned way: on television screens.

The option may be available in less than six months, Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. Quibi shows, made with big-name talent like Steven Spielberg and Chance the Rapper, are currently only available on mobile phones and tablets. With viewers quarantined at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, many users complained about being limited to small screens.

“It’s quite an engineering lift -- it’s not easy -- but the engineers are trying to think about how to do this on an accelerated time scale,” said Whitman, a Silicon Valley veteran who previously ran EBay Inc. and Hewlett-Packard. “We’ve had a lot of requests for it.”

Quibi is the brainchild of Hollywood veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg, and hopes to draw users with high-quality, short mobile videos. The programming is heavy on quirky, irreverent fare, such as a reality courtroom show hosted by Chrissy Teigen and a cooking competition where food is blasted into chefs’ faces. About 1.7 million people have downloaded the app since its April 6 launch, Whitman said.

That compares with 4 million who downloaded streaming service Disney+ on their mobile phones on its first day, according to a report from SensorTower Inc. Walt Disney Co. said it saw 10 million sign-ups overall right after its launch. Still, Quibi’s growth has exceeded expectations, according to the company, which notes that it isn’t an established brand like Disney.

Katzenberg and Whitman have said they will listen to customers to determine how they release shows. Whitman said initial user data revealed Quibi viewers are watching shows consistently throughout the work day, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“And it’s their in-between moments, so in between interviews, in between a Zoom call, in between wrangling the kids, in between cleaning up and doing whatever you need to do,” she said.

The company might have created a TV-viewing option anyway, Whitman said, but the coronavirus lockdown prompted Quibi to speed up engineering work on it.

Quibi needs about 12 million subscribers to break even, Whitman said. Though that depends on whether users opt for Quibi’s $8-a-month ad-free subscription option, or the $5-a-month option with ads. Quibi generated $150 million in advertising revenue this year by fully selling out its space. It will start selling ads for next year in the fall, Whitman said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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