Quibi review: Do we really need this mobile-only streaming experience?

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When Quibi was first announced on January 8 this year (during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas), it was not given an India launch just yet. Though it seemed we would have had to wait a while, it was not something people were marking their calendars for as, frankly; India’s entertainment-scape is saturated with an ongoing streaming war and new OTT platforms that pop up continually with rich originals, libraries and stacks of licensed content.

Quibi

  • Subscription plan: 90-free trial upon new sign-up, followed by ₹669 per month
  • Device compatibility: App is Apple and Android compatible
  • Other features: content protection, offline downloads, daily updates of content through the app

In fact, just before Quibi finally launched in India on April 6, it did little to dim the excitement for the Disney+ launch in the country on March 29. Still, a well-timed launch amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

So, what is Quibi? Launched by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, Quibi offers a mobile-only streaming experience for its members with short-form originals such as Sophie Turner-starrer Survival, Liam Hemsworth-starrer Most Dangerous Game, and the ‘Judge Judy’-esque reality show with Chrissy Tiegen, Chrissy In The Court. In India, it seemed to be a given that such a platform would do well because we sure do favour our smartphones. The USP with Quibi is that new episodes are added everyday as if to keep rolling subscriptions going.

How does it fare?

To test Quibi properly, I downloaded Quibi on an iPhone 11 Pro (running on iOS 13.3.1) and on a Google Pixel 3a XL (Android 10). The app has quite the cutesy vibe to it, comprising a two-tone display of black and violet. In its UX, Quibi uses minimal text, relying on large box art and auto-played previews of content to catalyse that push-play experience as well as to cut down on the what-to-watch time. But users should be given the option to disable the auto-play feature as it gets a little frustrating after a while.

Divided into four tabs (For You, Browse, Following and Downloads), the app also has a top right feature for the user’s profile and settings such as video settings, data usage, notification settings and more. However, the data usage options are not as diverse as they could have been for a mobile-only platform; in fact, data caps and resolution would have been nice add-ons.

The app itself is also responsive on both devices, seamlessly switching between tabs and content profiles. New users will find themselves spending more time on the For You section, exploring the content available. Unfortunately the section is not as intuitive as most users would like, the showreel often being repetitive in its recommendations.

Two screenshots of the Quibi app on iOS

Two screenshots of the Quibi app on iOS
 

The Browse section is broader for indiscriminate browsing; one can rifle through news networks channels such as NBC which some may like, but not all when most users are already engaged with their own particular news affiliates.

Playback is mouldable in that one can choose to watch in portrait or landscape on their devices, but do opt for the landscape as the other option weirdly stretches out and crops our content from the pre-set frames. In portrait orientation, the time-scrub bar can optionally be moved to the left or right of the screen, dependent on the user’s primary hand use.

There is not much buffering with Quibi on a 100 megabyte-per-second Wi-Fi speed but on data there will be some lags, which is not great considering each episode of a show is 6-14 minutes. But I put these lags down to the mobile networks slowing down due to the whole country working from home during the lockdown.

Quibi also protects its content in playback by preventing screenshots or screen recordings from being saved. On iOS, the content is blacked out while in Android, pop-up reads that screenshots are not allowed by the app.

The verdict

Quibi’s quiet launch in India was probably so because it has not been one of the most binge-worthy platforms to date. Technical issues such as morphed displays in portrait orientation tend to disrupt the experience — this is inexcusable for an OTT platform that operates solely on a mobile vertical.

The mobile-only experience only works if the content is optimised during production. Originals such as Most Dangerous Game is not exactly fun to watch on a tiny screen. Quirky content such as The Shape Of Pasta and Punk’d are ideal for small screen idle viewing, when entertainment will not be detail-focussed for the viewer.

Maybe Quibi took a pointer from Netflix’s mobile-only plan but the former costs ₹669 per month (after a 90-day trial) while the latter only ₹199 per month. It seems like a brave move for Quibi to make given India is not so familiar with the content nor has the brand made enough of a name for itself that one would willingly pay that much for something just on the mobile. For short-form content, even though new content is released daily, this is a stretch for many people’s wallets.

Quibi risks falling under the radar if major changes are not made, given the service has said it will introduce more than 175 original shows and 8,500 short episodes in the 12 months following its January US launch.

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