It’s a rhetorical question because the company is preparing for a launch in 2020. They have raised an enormous amount of money (as much as $1 billion from investors like Disney and Viacom) and are backed by some of the best-known names in the movie business (Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg). There is a clear focus – high-quality video programming created for mobile phones. User research pegs people spending 60-70 minutes watching videos on their phones on an average, every day – Snapchat, Tik Tok, etc and Quibi believes it is the area with the hottest growth potential.
The name Quibi comes from combining Quick Bites, the ‘snackable’ form of video, which has become a sensational success in the past couple of years. Snapchat stories led the way for content creators to go berserk and they have. Now, the screen available to advertisers 24/7 is the mobile phone and you can be sure that the battleground will shift significantly there with all major players eyeing it. But Quibi is scheduled for the future. What does the scene look like on mobile video today?
TikTok – the game changer
TikTok deserves special mention here because it built a huge base with user-created videos – setting easy daily challenges and ensuring the videos reached vast numbers within the network. The data infrastructure to keep this going has to scale insanely because the key statistics (from businessofapps.com) are impressive:
- TikTok is available in 150 markets, in 75 languages
- 500 million TikTok monthly active users globally, as of June 2018
- 800 million installs of TikTok as of October 2018 (not including Android users in China)
This frenetic growth happened circa 2017. And it shows no sign of stopping or slowing down. It’s as if the app gives an instant high with a series of jokes, stunts or feats one after the other. There is no pause in the programming. As soon as you launch, it starts playing, usually with videos from the region you’ve downloaded from. The filters work wonders because drab surroundings can pop, skin tones whiten and focus softens. Everyone can be a celeb for 15 seconds.
Video E-commerce is catching on in India
Sometime in November 2018, Bulbul.TV launched as an app on a mobile phone. The promise – Mall wala experience ab mobile par (The mall experience in a mobile). Young women pitch products live or with recorded clips online – everything from health and beauty products to small kitchen appliances. Potential buyers can chat with them and buy immediately. It’s as if the teleshopping shopping experience of TV became the bonsai version of a well-known concept on the small screen.
The production values are quite ordinary. But the chirpiness of the hosts and a stream of comments and queries from some of the more popular hosts make this a social shopping experience. The app claims over 1000 downloads a day as of now. And even if you don’t buy right away, you can go ahead and eavesdrop on the multiple interests of people and interactions – some of which could be quite entertaining as well. Banter mixed with shopping is like watching what goes through the minds of customers as they contemplate a purchase. I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets to be a unique way to launch products at a low cost without investing in retail and distribution infrastructure beyond a point.
Local content will evolve
Sunil Nair, COO of AltBalaji, a leading Indian content company touched upon about how TicTok and Vigo Live are entertaining Indian audiences in a post on LinkedIn: The collage is the spectrum of creativity emerging out of India on platforms like Tiktok and Vigo Live. There is a layer of India that does not exist on these platforms – the one I call the “Manhattan” demographic – the ones who can be at ease anywhere in the world and live in a bubble in India encased in Netflix, Prada, Gucci, and iPhone Xs. The rest of India is available and is having lots of fun: a belly dancing girl from Mumbai, a dance crew from Nalasopara, a very creative dancer who uses his really bony frame from (probably) Orissa, a ‘bahurupiya’ who uses scrap – discarded bottles, phones, keyboard to devise 15 second skits and my favourite two artists – the tramp boy who looks from a middle class home who does these really quirky Chaplin like acts and a girl who is hilarious.
It marks the confidence with which this generation of creators will figure out what works for their audiences. They will use limited resources to deliver content cheaply. Built around regional tastes, aspirations, and humor. To people unfamiliar with the language and culture, this may well be over the top, crude and loud. But it serves the demographic the creators intend to reach.
High profile equals high expectations
Obscurity works better than the spotlight. Being unknown has its own set of advantages. When Netflix beat Blockbuster, they were not seen as a behemoth in the making. The early media articles about Netflix were about how difficult it would be to compete with the established studios. Lack of content and being at the mercy of studios were seen as disadvantages. But Netflix saw streaming as the future much before the rest of the market did. They worked through all the early problems of delivery and focused on streamlining their recommendation engine. In three calculated phases, they expanded to 190 countries in 7 years. No other streaming company has that kind of clout.
Quibi has to scale a glass wall and make an impact. There is no shortage of content, irrespective of genre. Big names don’t have the aura they had a decade ago. Cinema or TV wasn’t global but Netflix has found that some of its local shows (like Sacred Games) provide massive returns at lower procurement and production costs. Perhaps Quibi’s real business model is not content but advertising integrated content. Paid brand placement in movies has grown in size and scope. The next stage may well be a channel built on clever brand integration into the plot and structure – dissolving the line between content and advertising! Otherwise, why would hard-nosed advertisers commit $100 million in advance – as much as they would pay for network television on launch and before the audience numbers are in?
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