My Future Avatar Wrote This
003. Field Notes on Quibi, Content, and Max Headroom
Lots of talk about Quibi this past week. Yes, they raised a looottt of money. Yes, we love to hate on startups that raise a looottt of money. I admit I was skeptical at first, but I do think Quibi may work for the three reasons everyone thinks they will fail. I may or may not have a bet going on this so if I’m wrong in two years, my future avatar wrote this. Anyway, three reasons Quibi will work:
Short-form video content is now and tomorrow. People rarely watch more than a few minute of video online. Facebook had an abysmal 16.7 seconds average watch time for autoplayed videos on News Feed. I can hear you rolling your eyes right now—but Facebook sucks, Holyn. Who cares!!? Well, the average Youtube video is 7 minutes long or up to 14 minutes depending on who you ask. Quibi is aiming for 6-10 minute video bites—makes a lot of sense so far, doesn’t it?
Mobile-first positions the content. Everyone is complaining that you can’t screenshot the shows. That’s likely due to rights issues so we’ll have to imagine the memes that could’ve been. The thing is—while it’s radical for a streaming service to launch as mobile-only, Quibi is meeting people where they are. More than 50% of video is watched on mobile devices. More than 70% of YouTube watch time comes from mobile devices. Mobile-first also makes sense because Quibi isn’t competing with the usual streaming service that expects you to watch 30 minute shows from your couch, it’s competing with products that fill our transitional moments like podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Snapchat Originals, Twitter, Tik Tok (yikes), and Instagram (which finally just launched DMs on desktops on Friday after 10 whole years).
Novel business model and technology. There exists a variety of aspect ratios today and we’ve found a way to make digital experiences frictionless between desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. Yet, when it comes to video, we’re beholden to one of two choices. We couldn’t have both the landscape and portrait video experience until Quibi. This seemingly small feature will change what we expect from content producers. Also, Quibi has interesting licensing structure: they license programming for only seven years and their exclusive license is only for the shows’ short version; after two years, producers can repackage the programming into long-form. If I was a producer, I would use Quibi as an experimental playground.
BUT—will people subscribe and watch the content? It’s unclear. The one criticism I agree with is the content has been underwhelming and won’t help acquire paying (!!) customers. Quibi’s Hollywood vibe is dry and outdated (they should launch a show or two with a recently signed Tik Tok star for example), but if that’s the strategy then they need to execute better by creating more engaging and interactive content.
I’ve been watching YouTube content from magazines lately and some of it is fun, bite-sized, and addictive. Vogue has the ~10min 73 Questions celebrity series, Elle has the ~5min Song Association celebrity series, and Architectural Digest has the ~6-10min Open Door celebrity series. While the concepts are not original, with some production changes, this kind of content would be perfect for Quibi. Magazines are struggling to stay afloat and uploading quality content to YouTube for pennies. Why not tap into a wider audience, retain content ownership, and get a bite of subscription revenue? Win. Win. Win. Well, they might have to finally pay talent, but that’s still a win for someone.
Speaking of talent, what I really want to discuss today is how the future is Max Headroom. Mr. Headroom was a fictional character introduced in the late 1980s; in his origin story, we learned he was a television reporter’s digital clone. Sir Headroom was supposed to be AI-generated with an electronically-altered voice but, in reality, it was an actor in makeup in front of a blue screen.
Today, we have technology that can realistically clone your face and voice (I wrote about synthetic media here). The technology isn’t perfect, but it will get there.
They “cloned” Will Smith in Gemini Man and made a younger, realistic version of him. Yet, he still had to be on set. Acting is an art and he probably loved being on set. But, there are many recorded hours of Will Smith acting and speaking that could be used to generate an indistinguishable avatar in a few years—why should he have to leave his couch at all? When we can go outside again, he should have the option to stay on his couch and license his avatar.
💭 These thoughts were brought to you by a mind that’s been self isolating for like 5 weeks. I was thinking about the format for this newsletter and, for now, I’ll plan to write an essay each quarter with monthly field notes in between. As always, reply/comment here or hit me Twitter if you want to chat more about this.
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