Quibi is shutting down, a flameout less than 7 months after launch

The unconventional Quibi launched in April as a $5, mobile first, short-form video service that featured big budget, megastar shows. It failed.

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
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Quibi -- a star-studded, mostly mobile streaming service that struggled to keep up with its own hype -- will shut down, the company said Tuesday, a flameout coming less than seven months after the service launched. 

Quibi said subscribers will receive separate notifications about the final date they can watch the service, without specifying any timeline. Wednesday, a spokeswoman again declined to characterize how long the service will be available. Quibi had already scheduled new programming to premiere next month: The second season of prank show Punk'd, its most popular title at launch, was set to come out Nov. 16. A week before that, Quibi was supposed to debut a new show from the Russo Brothers, known for directing Marvel blockbusters including Avengers: Endgame, the highest grossing movie ever. 

Though the company has enough money to keep operating for a "significant period of time," it's opting instead to make an exit "with grace," CEO Meg Whitman said in a press release. It'll shop its assets around to see if anyone wants to buy them over the coming months, and then it'll return cash to its shareholders.  

"Quibi was a big idea, and there was no one who wanted to make a success of it more than we did," Whitman and founder Jeffrey Katzenberg said in a joint open letter. "Our failure was not for lack of trying; we've considered and exhausted every option available to us."

The leaders acknowledged that Quibi's doom was probably sealed by some combination of its timing in the coronavirus pandemic and a flawed premise that a service like Quibi could ever thrive as a standalone business, but they were contrite about their failure. 

"All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down," Whitman and Katzenberg wrote in the letter.  

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 also underestimated viewers' interest in watching on TVs. Quibi's initial design didn't allow for easy sharing on social networks, stunting virality and word of mouth. And it was hit with a lawsuit from interactive-video company Eko, which claimed Quibi's rotating-screen technology was a rip-off of its own. (Quibi rejected those allegations.)

The company hoped its unconventional approach -- very expensive, star-packed programming released in 10-minute-or-less episodes that you can watch only on phones or mobile devices -- would find a sweet spot in a streaming landscape crowded with NetflixDisney PlusApple TV PlusPeacock and HBO Max. And of course, Quibi faced a Goliath in YouTube, the short-video specialist that's already drawing in more than 2 billion viewers every month. 

It was audacious ambition, but the company had a huge war chest, big-name leadership and an eye-popping bill of talent involved. Founded by Katzenberg, who was head of Disney's movie division in the '80s and '90s and co-founded DreamWorks Animation, Quibi raised $1.75 billion from investors including every major Hollywood studio. CEO Whitman is the former chief of eBay and Hewlett-Packard

Quibi's talent roster is a who's who of Hollywood, including Chrissy TeigenLebron JamesDwayne JohnsonReese WitherspoonChance the RapperKevin HartJennifer LopezIdris ElbaZac EfronTina FeyLiam Hemsworth and husband-and-wife combo Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner (but on different shows), along with innumerable others. It also lured in big-name filmmakers like Steven SpielbergGuillermo del ToroAntoine FuquaCatherine Hardwicke and Ridley Scott to make series.

The fates of Quibi's shows is unclear, whether they were created by Hollywood heavyweights or not. Quibi doesn't own the programming on its service, according to reports. Under creator-friendly deals, many of its shows were made on Quibi's dime, and then Quibi licensed the programming for a two-year exclusive period. After two years elapsed, Quibi could keep streaming that programming on its service, but the creator could distribute the show elsewhere, under nearly any terms.

It's unclear if the two-year exclusive period for Quibi would still be enforceable once Quibi shuts down. However long it takes for content creators to regain the rights to distribute these shows and so-called "movies in chapters," it's likely this programming will be scattered to the wind, with some programs potentially popping up elsewhere for viewers to watch and some disappearing into the ether. 

Watch this: Quibi's video tech hopes to dazzle