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Roku deal will stream Quibi's shows free with ads on Roku Channel

Quibi, the failed mobile-first streaming service, never even had an app for Roku before it collapsed.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
3 min read

Quibi launched as a mobile-only video service in April. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku said Friday it has agreed to buy the rights to stream shows made for Quibi, the failed, star-studded, mobile-first subscription service for short-form video that collapsed less than a year after its launch. The programming will stream on The Roku Channel, the company's own app programmed with free, ad-supported video. 

Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Roku was in advanced talks to take over the rights to Quibi's library. 

Quibi, which never even got around to making an app for Roku's popular line of TV-streaming products before it collapsed, launched in April as a $5, mobile-first, short-form video service that featured big-budget, megastar shows. It flamed out, throwing in the towel on operations less than seven months after launch and officially shutting down the service in December. 

On Friday, Roku said that Quibi's programming would be added to The Roku Channel in the coming months. In addition to the full range of titles that had previously premiered on Quibi, more than a dozen new programs will debut on The Roku Channel exclusively.

The deal will dramatically widen the audience for Quibi's programming. Though Quibi never disclosed its peak number of subscribers during its short life, it said in July that its app had more than 5.6 million downloads, many during an extended free trial after launch. But Roku, as a streaming platform, has more than 50 million active accounts. And in the last three months of the year, Roku estimated that The Roku Channel was watched in households representing 61.8 million people.

Quibi doesn't own any of its shows outright, but it holds licenses to the content, including exclusives over the content when it first premieres. Roku is buying those licenses by acquiring Quibi Holdings, an entity created as a holding company for those streaming rights. A spokesman said the deal will transfer Quibi's original global licensing terms, which include that exclusive first window to the programming as well as multiyear global distribution rights. For the dozen or so new programs that will be premiering on The Roku Channel, Roku retains seven years of licensing.

Quibi launched in the US and Canada in April as a service designed for watching on the go -- just as swaths of North America were locking down because of the COVID pandemic. Its timing was one of several misfortunes and flawed strategies that kept the service from reaching its ambitious growth goals. The company's mobile-only scheme underestimated viewers' interest in watching on TVs. Quibi's initial design didn't allow for easy sharing on social networks, stunting the potential for going viral and for word of mouth. And it was hit with a lawsuit from interactive-video company Eko, which claimed Quibi's rotating-screen technology was a ripoff of its own. (Quibi rejected those allegations.)

And Quibi, which cost $5 a month with ads and $8 a month without, also ramped up in the middle of a parade of new streaming services, as both tech and media giants rushed to define the future of video. It was competing for your attention against upstarts like Disney PlusApple TV PlusPeacock and HBO Max, as well as established players like Netflix. And, of course, Quibi was going up a Goliath in YouTube, the short-video specialist that's already drawing in more than 2 billion viewers every month.

On Friday, Roku's vice president of programming, Rob Holmes, said the Quibi deal "marks a rare opportunity to acquire compelling new original programming that features some of the biggest names in entertainment."

"We're excited to make this content available for free to our users in The Roku Channel through an ad-supported model. We are also thrilled to welcome the incredible studios and talented individuals who brought these stories to life and showcase them to our tens of millions of viewers," he added.  

Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood mogul who founded Quibi, said he was "thrilled" Quibi's stories would find a new home at Roku. "The most creative and imaginative minds in Hollywood created groundbreaking content for Quibi that exceeded our expectations," Katzenberg said. 

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