You likely heard last week’s story about Quibi’s decision to shut down later this year. Quibi is a streaming service focused on short-form video content to be consumed on mobile devices. It launched in April after 18 months of build-up, as founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman successfully raised $1.75 billion from investors and recruited an impressive array of partners to create original content for the platform.
No matter how you look at it, Quibi has been a flop. Downloads of the app never came close to expectations, and while the company sold out its first year of advertising inventory generating $150 million, it was unable to convert a meaningful number of consumers who signed up for a free trial into paying subscribers. As of a few weeks ago, Quibi reportedly had about 500,000 subscribers paying $4.99 per month, pacing well below their target of seven million subscribers by the end of the service’s first year.
This blog post, however, is not about bashing Quibi. (To the contrary, Katzenberg and Whitman deserve a lot of credit for being forthcoming about their failure, most notably when they made a joint appearance on CNBC last Thursday.) It is also not a full post-mortem on what went wrong with Quibi; instead, I want to focus on what lessons we can apply from Quibi’s failure to the audio entertainment world.
Let’s start with what Quibi did right—it invested in creating world-class content. The company reportedly spent over a billion dollars on content creation; in fact, some of the content was strong enough that it garnered two Emmy awards and ten Emmy nominations overall. Furthermore, its user interface generally received positive reviews.
However, as we often see with podcasts, streaming services, and radio stations, having great content often is not enough for success. When appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America last week, IndieWire television editor Kristen Lopez summed it up perfectly, stating, “It’s not enough to have stars. It’s not enough to have original content. You need to be very aware of what the market will hold, what your audience is, and what they’re willing to pay. What are they watching? What are they talking about?”
You also need to build a brand. Despite all the hype and firepower around Quibi, awareness of the service paled in comparison to other streaming video platforms, including YouTube, TikTok, Snap, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. Even among those aware of Quibi, we suspect that few understood what Quibi was or at least didn’t see it as something meaningful to them.
This means that you can create a podcast with outstanding content, but if few people know about it or think of it as something that meets a need for them, your chances for success are limited. This also means that you can launch a streaming channel that has the most perfectly curated playlist of songs for fans of a particular genre, but if another brand already occupies that position, you likely won’t attract many listeners.
We see this phenomenon play out with radio stations as well. Too often radio programmers will listen to a station and decide they can offer the same format in a superior manner, with better music and stronger personalities. This may be completely true, but if the station with the theoretically inferior content owns a position in the minds of consumers, it is going to be very difficult to win such a battle.
Beyond the need for brand building, there is an additional lesson applicable to audio entertainment from Quibi’s demise—the importance of distribution. A lot has been written about Quibi’s timing; launching a mobile streaming service during a pandemic when people aren’t mobile certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster. But what is perhaps more important is the decision to make Quibi available only via mobile devices. In an age where consumers want the content they desire on an on-demand basis, this sounds like a short-sighted decision. You couldn’t watch Quibi content on your laptop or the big screen in your living room (although, paradoxically, Quibi announced its availability on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Google TV on the same day it announced its closure), which presumably made the service far less attractive to consumers than it could be otherwise.
Whether you work in radio, podcasting, or streaming, keep the lessons of Quibi in mind. It is commendable to create the very best content you can, but if you don’t put as much effort into building a brand around that content and make sure its distribution allows your audience to consume it how, when, and where they want to, you are only doing half of the job.