The mobile-first streaming service Quibi launched in the US on Monday, despite concerns the coronavirus outbreak might impact its viewership.
The company has raised $1.8bn (£1.47bn) for the project intended to rival Netflix and YouTube.
Quibi’s shows are 10 minutes or shorter and movies are broken into segments.
It has lined up a host of Hollywood stars including Idris Elba, Sophie Turner, Steven Spielberg, Chrissy Teigen and Jennifer Lopez.
Viewers are meant to watch the shows on their mobile phones, and a feature called Turnstile allows the video to stay full screen in both portrait or landscape.
Some shows even encourage viewers to turn the device mid-show to reveal a different angle to the scene.
On social media, Quibi’s launch was met with mixed reviews.
Some of its highly promoted shows – like Punk’d featuring Chance the Rapper and Survive starring Sophie Turner – received praise.
But watching alone on your smartphone – a fundamental feature of the app – was criticised. Users complained they couldn’t share what they were watching with housemates or partners.
The service costs $4.99 a month with adverts and $7.99 for ad-free viewing, although Quibi is giving away a 90-day free trial in the US. The company had said it planned to roll out service to other countries gradually, but on Monday the ad-free version app appeared to be available outside of the US including in the UK.
Quibi’s chief executive Meg Whitman and founder Jeffrey Katzenberg decided to stick with the 6 April debut in the US despite concerns the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns could impact its target audience. Many analysts expected Quibi viewers to watch while commuting or during a break at work or school, but those activities are on hold for many during government lockdown periods.
Quibi says its target audience is between 18-44 years old – viewers already comfortable with short-form storytelling and streaming on their smartphones.
by Zoe Thomas, BBC News Technology Reporter
In several ways, I am exactly the audience Quibi is after. I’m not what you would call a “binge watcher” – I find it hard to sit still through multiple 30-minute episodes. But I do watch plenty of short videos on YouTube and social media throughout the day.
Still, the coronavirus lockdown has given me a lot more time to stream TV and movies, so did I need a service with only sub-10-minute episodes?
After several hours of perusing Quibi’s content, I think the service is on to something.
The shows are entertaining and the creators clearly thought about how the audience would view the screen. The episodes are no more than 10 minutes long and none of them felt cut off or too short.
There are downsides – my arm is tired from holding the phone up all day, you can only share content with other Quibi subscribers and you can’t play it on your television if you happen to be at home.
I began my Quibi viewing with the show Survive, starring former Game of Thrones actor Sophie Turner. The drama was promoted at the top of the app and given the current state of the world – why not start with a drama about a young woman battling suicidal thoughts while struggling to survive on a frozen mountaintop after a plane crash?
I was hooked pretty fast.
I also immediately started to test out the Turnstile feature that changes perspective of the pictures when the screen is turned from vertical to horizontal.
To my great delight the shifts from portrait to landscape were fairly seamless. In Survive the picture always re-centred to keep you locked in the emotion of the scene – and the scenes are very emotional.
As I kept watching throughout the day, I found myself using the Turnstile feature more naturally.
If I got up to get water or stretch my legs I would take the phone, turning it from horizontal to vertical rather than pausing the show.
Yes, I did bump into some things and I can imagine in world of commuting and crowded walkways Quibi could be a hazard.
Quibi has poured money into its scripted shows and non-scripted/reality shows. Judging from the comments on Twitter I wasn’t alone in really enjoy Punk’d – a revival of the MTV prank show now starring Chance the Rapper.
Not only did I find the show funny I really wanted to share it with my friends, but as none of them had signed up for Quibi yet they couldn’t view the episodes.
For me this felt like a drawback. If I saw something funny on YouTube or Tiktok I could send it to friends – not with Quibi.
Another feature I really liked were the news episodes (surprise surprise).
Quibi has teamed up with NBC, BBC, ESPN and others to make bespoke news packages for the app. I found the ones I watched to be informative, the right length and pretty engaging. But I can’t see why any of these videos should be unique to Quibi. Turning them doesn’t make much of a difference so I couldn’t see why news outlet couldn’t just publish these videos themselves.
I began my Quibi journey thinking I didn’t need anything else to make me more anti-social these days. While hosting a Netflix viewing party may give me a way to interact with my friends in real time, the quality content on Quibi leaves me thinking that when more people download it I’ll have plenty to discuss with them.