Sirk TV Print Feature: QUIBI (CES Highlights) [Las Vegas, Nevada]

The transformative power of consumer electronics and what they have to offer is always reflected in what the consumer wants but what is the next step in evolution. One would think going in that it would be reflected in the elements of the streaming revolution since the dirge of content only seems to be making the choices more dynamic but also more complicated for consumers. How does one piece through all the material. Only one company seemingly brought this ideal to CES.  The new structure of the show has the presentations spread out further across the city of Las Vegas with private demos becoming more the norm. Quibi hosted their presentation inside the Park MGM Theater, home to Lady Gaga’s Las Vegas residency.

Quibi was the most eye opening in a trade show mostly based on people having established resources but trying to make them their own. Here Quibi is taking the actual idea of the phone as a content resource and building an entire ecosystem around it. Many have been hearing about Quibi and the many intrinsic content deals it has been making with big name filmmakers and talent across town. The question became “How does it work”. David Katzenberg, best known from his animation days at the Walt Disney Company and as co-founder of Dreamworks with Steven Spielberg, could have rested on his laurels but is putting his name per se on the line. The result is a interesting library of material as he interrelated in his remarks, all original. To explain the content element, he used the comparison to Dan Brown’s “DaVinci Code” book which used small chapters to entice the reader into continuing on. But the chapters were short enough that they were effective morsels to engage the reader on. Katzenberg believes the same is true of mobile content. The key is making movies and TV content into miniature episodes that make up a bigger movie or story. For example a movie could be broke down into 20 episodes of 6-7 minutes each. This opens the door to many creative possibilities for the creators. Sam Raimi, Paul Feig, Steve Spielberg and Guillermo Del Toro are among the vast numbers of people creating new stories in this way for this company. Katzenberg even related that Spielberg was one of the first people to sign on asking if he could only make his content so people could watch it after the sun went down wherever they were. This became the show “After Dark”.

Another aspect of this entire creative process needs to reflect in the technical. Meg Whitman (who used to run Ebay) is David’s partner in the venture. She describes herself as very analytical while Katzenberg can reflect what the creatives want. But it is about creating the tools of the platform with the creative in mind. The first step on tackling this process was the on-the-go viewing capability and how that would undeniably work. The ratio couldn’t just switch from portrait to landscape or use a pan and scan method that many filmmakers have used for years. Quibi had to change the way they told and filmed their stories. Some take it to a literal point while others make it a different editing process all together. In essence what each filmmaker/creator does in all of the projects is build two complete edits and cuts of the material so that at any point the material can shift from portrait to landscape depending on the way the user is holding it. This is called Turnstyle and it is not just in the aspect of seeing it in the presentation. After the keynote, attendees went to a private ballroom in the Park MGM to physically hold a phone and see how it works. These were only test clips and not live on the service but it gave one the perception.

But bringing tech and creative partners on stage made this clearer. Even though some of the presentation was clunky, others were inspiring and seeing practical application makes a difference. Actor Tye Sheridan who had worked with Steven Spielberg on “Ready Player One” stars in “Wireless” which is a short form series taking place in a car during a blizzard or at least part of it. The director, who is already shooting another series for Quibi, showed the camera rig they used see for some of the portrait in-camera material which both records the screen, the forward camera and the rear facing camera. It looks like a giant oversized cell phone but with all new technology it is taking these first steps forward. The landscape pieces are shot more traditionally like normal film but in seeing the cuts back and forth, one again gets a sense of what the technology is trying to do.

The last part of the long ranging but undeniably comprehensive approach to Quibi was advertising integration. What Quibi has done is quite remarkable but again it is approach ingthe creatives, even on an advertising level, from the ground up. Again without large names like Whitman and Katzenberg as well as creators like Spielberg and Del Toro, this wouldn’t be possible. Whitman explained that they had already sold out their fist year of advertising for 150 million. The actual cost of the service in terms of the content outlay is not known but thought to be in the billions possibly. But the price point at launch, which is set to be April 6th is $7.99 Ad Free and $4.99 without ads, is an interesting gamble. Whitman brought out a high level executive from Pepsi Co who also has Mountain Dew, Doritos and Gatorade under their build. And, as shown with their outside-the-box thinking with filmmakers during Super Bowl over the last couple years, this seems the perfect company. The exec showed two ads. One interrelated with the portrait/landscape play of Turnstyle which perfectly encapsulates the Pepsi Brand and can be done in many different ways. The other was actually built into the identity of a driving show using one of the cars and Mountain Dew. Being brought in at the beginning and at such a high level is inspired. And the ad loads per hour of programming is 2.5 minutes which is unheard of and not random at all. Other advertisers including Anheuser Busch, Proctor & Gamble, Taco Bell and T-Mobile.

T-Mobile is the last part of the puzzle but an important part. Whitman last brought the new incoming CEO of T-Mobile onstage who I’ll be bundling Quibi in with their new plans, especially since they (increased by their merger with Sptint) are heading the pace into 5G. With a partner like this who is also an advertiser, the groundswell is stacked in Quibi’s favor. The gamble is the embrace of the technology and the storytelling but also the intuitive nature of what is new without getting lost. The learning technology sees what you watch. The amount of material approximately and growing with be 175 shows and 6500 episodes with 5 episodes of different shows every day, every week for the whole year. Quibi also has different tiers of programming including the movie/tv storytelling, episodic and docs and a third tier with news, talk shows and round ups including NBC, TMZ and BBC. Quibi seems to have spared no expense and is covering all the angles. Now just comes the launch. An exciting prospect for sure.

By Tim Wassberg

Posted on January 10, 2020, in Entertainment Industry Coverage and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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