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Quibi placed a Hollywood-style bet but is now 'iterating' like Silicon Valley

The service designed for mobile viewing added AirPlay to its app this week, with Chromecast support coming next.

Tom Conrad

Tom Conrad, chief product officer for Quibi, says of the service's launch and subsequent changes, "This is the life we've chosen. It's a game of risk-taking and iteration, and following the data. We'll put new versions of Quibi out into the world every couple of weeks and iterate our way through this opening chapter."

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After launching with a singular focus on mobile short-form video, Quibi is starting to change its tune: The service added AirPlay support to its iOS app this week to let subscribers watch its shows on their TVs. Chromecast support is slated to go live next month, Quibi's Chief Product Officer Tom Conrad told Protocol this week.

"We've heard loud and clear from our users that they're, particularly in this environment, interested in being able to cast our shows to their television," Conrad said.

Some of Quibi's novel features don't easily translate to TV screens, but for the company, the addition of living room viewing is not just a technical challenge. It also marks a transition from placing Hollywood-sized bets based largely on gut feelings to a more Silicon Valley-like approach of product iteration, which may be key to the flailing service turning things around.

To say things didn't exactly go as planned for Quibi is an understatement. Helmed by Hollywood veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg and former HP CEO Meg Whitman, Quibi set out to reinvent mobile video with a subscription service focused on bite-sized entertainment. Quibi raised a whopping $1.75 billion, struck deals with major Hollywood stars and produced dozens of shows with episodes of 10 minutes or less that were meant to be viewed in line at Starbucks or during your morning train ride.

But when Quibi launched April 6, all of those scenarios had disappeared from people's lives. "We have spent the last couple of years building a bespoke mobile-video service designed for these in-between and on-the-go moments," Conrad said. "And we launched in this new world where we find ourselves at home."

Quibi's app was installed around 1.5 million times during its launch week, according to estimates from app intelligence specialist Sensor Tower. By last week, the number of new installs had declined to approximately 224,000. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that 1.5 million people had signed up for its 90-day free trial — far shy of the 7 million paying users the company was aiming to reach this year. As a result, some advertisers are looking to renegotiate their deals, according to the Journal.

Katzenberg made headlines this month when he blamed all of Quibi's struggles on COVID-19. Reflecting on the launch from a product perspective, Conrad struck a more upbeat note, saying, "Really, truly, we're exactly where I imagined we might be, six or eight weeks after our launch." He noted that many viewers are using Turnstyle, a Quibi-exclusive feature that allows people to switch between landscape and portrait viewing. "Turnstyle turns out to be like a really shining success point in what we've delivered so far," Conrad said.

Eventually adding ways to watch Quibi content on TVs had always been on the company's roadmap, according to Conrad, but it wasn't exactly top of mind. "We were really focused on getting the mobile use cases right," he said. "The COVID situation has changed the world enough that it's made us revisit some of those decisions."

To quickly add TV support, Quibi had to make some compromises. Turnstyle, for instance, won't be working with AirPlay or Chromecast for the time being. Instead, TV viewers will get to see the landscape cut of a show by default.

That's notable because Quibi didn't just pitch Turnstyle as a screen orientation feature. The company has been encouraging creatives to take advantage of Turnstyle, and other mobile phone features, to enhance storytelling. A reboot of "Reno 911" features a few scenes that use Turnstyle to let viewers switch between different camera angles. A thriller that's scheduled to launch later this year makes extensive use of the feature to augment its plot.

The company was still trying to figure out how to bring those features to the TV screen, Conrad explained. "This is all a learning process for us," he said. "We wanted to get something out there quickly, start to learn, and iterate as feedback comes back." The company was more "philosophy-driven" ahead of its launch, he said. "Post-launch, you have to be customer-driven."

It's no surprise that Quibi took gutsy bets on the future of video. The company is headquartered in Los Angeles, where studios frequently spend hundreds of millions of dollars on movies with hopes that some of them become blockbusters. Quibi is also, by all accounts, very much Katzenberg's idea. In other words: It's a child of Hollywood, not Silicon Valley.

Conrad argued that Quibi had to approach its launch differently than, say, a note-taking app that could have started more modestly, with a minimum viable product. "We launched with 50 shows, which meant that we had to make all of that initial content investment up front," he said.

With its focus on mobile viewing, Qubi didn't want to license cheaper catalog content, and with a huge content budget, it only seemed appropriate to also spend big on marketing — at least until the pandemic. Katzenberg recently told The New York Times that Quibi was dialing back its marketing expenses to weather the downturn.

Now that Quibi is live, it's all about refining that initial bet, Conrad said. "This is the life we've chosen. It's a game of risk-taking and iteration, and following the data. We'll put new versions of Quibi out into the world every couple of weeks, and iterate our way through this opening chapter."

Protocol | Fintech

Jack Dorsey is so money: What Tidal and banking do for Square

Teaming up with Jay-Z's music streaming service may seem like a move done for flash, but it's ultimately all about the money (and Cash).

Jay-Z performs at the Tidal-X concert at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2017.

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

It was a big week for Jack Dorsey, who started by turning heads in Wall Street, and then went Hollywood with an unexpected music-streaming deal.

Dorsey's payments company, Square, announced Monday that it now has an actual bank, Square Financial Services, which just got a charter approved. On Thursday, Dorsey announced Square was taking a majority stake in Tidal, the music-streaming service backed by Jay-Z, for $297 million.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

Viewers like you: How PBS is adapting to the streaming age

The public broadcaster has had considerable success on YouTube and other digital platforms. Now, it is looking to revamp pledging.

PBS has begun to talk to ad-supported video services, including some that distribute programming via free 24/7 channels, to help it compete in the streaming age.

Image: PBS

If there were a playbook for the streaming wars, it might read something like this: Take your most valuable assets, slap a plus behind your most recognizable brand name, and start counting the money.

For PBS, things aren't quite that easy. While the public broadcaster has made some inroads in streaming, it has been slower to embrace digital business models than some of its commercial competitors. But that could change in the coming months. PBS is in discussions to bring its app to additional platforms, including a new crop of ad-supported video services, and has plans to turn smart TVs into donation machines that could ultimately make the old-fashioned pledge drive obsolete.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

Citizen’s plan to keep people safe (and beat COVID-19) with an app

Citizen CEO Andrew Frame talks privacy, safety, coronavirus and the future of the neighborhood watch.

Citizen added COVID-19 tracking to its app over the summer — but its bigger plans got derailed.

Photo: Citizen

Citizen is an app built on the idea that transparency is a good thing. It's the place users — more than 7 million of them, in 28 cities with many more to come soon — can find out when there's a crime, a protest or an incident of any kind nearby. (Just yesterday, it alerted me, along with 17,900 residents of Washington, D.C., that it was about to get very windy. It did indeed get windy.) Users can stream or upload video of what's going on, locals can chat about the latest incidents and everyone's a little safer at the end of the day knowing what's happening in their city.

At least, that's how CEO Andrew Frame sees it. Critics of Citizen say the app is creating hordes of voyeurs, incentivizing people to run into dangerous situations just to grab a video, and encouraging racial profiling and other problematic behaviors all under the guise of whatever "safety" means. They say the app promotes paranoia, alerting users to things that they don't actually need to know about. (That the app was originally called "Vigilante" doesn't help its case.)

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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