TV TATTLE

Quibi may have overvalued the star power of celebrities

  • Seemingly every big-name celebrity was attached to a Quibi show, from Dwayne Johnson to Steven Spielberg to Liam Hemsworth to Kevin Hart and Reese Witherspoon -- who reportedly earned $6 million to narrate a nature dosuseries. Even Chrissy's Court star Chrissy Teigen couldn't drive her nearly 33 million Instagram followers to subscribe to Quibi. Vulture's Josef Adalian says Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg may have misunderstood the value of celebrities these days. "Even if there may be some place for so-called 'premium' short-form, I still wonder if Katzenberg also fundamentally misread how folks under 35 — and maybe all of us — think of programming these days," says Adalian. "The idea that 'name' talent, either in front of or behind the camera, matters anywhere near as much today as it did even ten years ago may simply be wrong. Sure, celebrities still draw attention and bring eyeballs to projects, but we also live in a world where an Idaho skateboarder lip-syncing to 'Dreams' on TikTok can become a star overnight, inspire dozens of copycats, and put Fleetwood Mac back in the Billboard Top 10. Audiences will of course always crave movies as big as Avengers or TV shows as lavish as The Crown. But there is now a massive supply of traditional-length 'premium' TV programming and an even bigger array of massively compelling DIY short-form content on which audiences can feast. Katzenberg’s notion that he needed to bring his Hollywood wizardry to that latter category, when audiences seem quite happy with the no-frills versions of Quibi (TikTok, Snapchat Originals) that already exist, may well end up being his idea’s true fatal flaw. In that way, Quibi really was the New Coke of the streaming age: A product not enough real people wanted, a solution to a problem that didn’t really exist."

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    • Quibi was an old man's attempt at speaking his grandchildren's language: "By all reports (Jeffrey) Katzenberg, at least, sincerely believed in the promise of the galactically stupid idea of 'TV, but seven minutes long, and you can only watch it on your phone,'" says Albert Burneko. "It is not hard to imagine how a 69-year-old billionaire who made the bulk of his fortune betting on the production of entertainment for kids 30 years ago might come to genuine enthusiasm for this idea. If you close your eyes you can almost hear the pitch forming in your grandfather’s mind: Every time I see these kids, the kids, they’re always on the phones, staring at the phones, my gosh, you can’t even talk to them. What are they doing on the phones that’s so interesting? Is it the texting? Is it the, the YouTube? My gosh! They don’t even look up! So I says to myself, I says, 'To get to these kids, you gotta make something they can watch on the phones.'" At heart it was an old man’s attempt at speaking his grandchildren’s language; as such, they should have named it 'Intendo.' To the kind of very rich man given to understand that an idea is a billion-dollar idea if he first encountered it inside his own mind, this would have seemed a self-evidently ingenious business idea. And besides, look at all the stupid sh*t that comes out of the tech industry and makes people rich! But there’s another sad generation gap manifesting itself in Quibi’s crashing failure: It was bedeviled, from the beginning, by the very antiquated belief that in order for a startup business to succeed, it must actually succeed. Like, as a company that makes and sells a product, even! They dumped over a billion dollars into this thing, they built it at an absurd scale, they gave Quibi programming creators ownership of their shows instead of fashioning some flamboyantly evil legal framework for extracting even their own personal names from them, because they actually thought they were starting a company that would create and sell a good product and fill what they perceived to be an actual opening in the entertainment industry. Those dolts. Those absolute fools!"
    • Quibi was the perfect example of old media grift: "It took the best of modern user-generated content—some would say the worst—and packaged it in a way that looked and smelled Hollywood," says John Biggs. "The goal, obviously, was to beat TikTok and YouTube and every other service that lets you upload short videos and amass millions of followers and views. Imagine the frustrated movie executives watching 'OMG I TOLD MY HUSBAND I WAS PREGNANT WHILE WEARING A DINOSAUR COSTUME CAN’T STOP SHAKING' get its 4-millionth view and wondering why their big-budget movies and TV shows weren’t hitting. They had done cinema verite once before, with reality TV, right? Why couldn’t they get back some of that magic?...There is an uncrossable distance between the best TikTok video and the worst network TV show. Traditional media is regimented, controlled, and massaged into what some would call perfection and others would call pablum. Millions are spent on PR for stars, plastic surgery, and fitness regimens. Everything about Hollywood, the good and the bad, costs money. Quibi figured that if the kids could do it with a selfie stick and a ring light, the adults could do it way better. Quibi wanted to break with tradition—within reason. They had a billion and a half dollars—enough to make 130 episodes of Game of Thrones—and, in startup parlance, gave them a runway for a few years of cheap content. They apparently didn’t pay union wages—the short videos came in just below the union requirements for length—and they could grab rising and falling stars on the cheap. In short, they were doing what YouTubers did every day: rerun a little popularity through a machine that turns it into even less money. Unfortunately, the old methods that served them so well on backlots and Oscar parties just didn’t work when it came to bite-size garbage."
    • Quibi had more talent than it knew what to do with: "In recent weeks, as the writing on the wall got clearer and clearer, it’s been easy to mock the death of Quibi and its 'quick bites," says Caroline Framke. "But looking back over its programming, and the many people who now find themselves without jobs during an unprecedented moment of instability, it’s also sad and frustrating to realize how much talent and potential the Quibi experiment wasted along its way to irrelevance. When Quibi first launched, its slate looked like a grab bag of random attempts to catch people’s interest. And yet, looking past its splashier big ticket items — Liam Hemsworth in the plodding drama Most Dangerous Game, the stomach-turning Sophie Turner vehicle Survive, Chrissy Teigen entertaining petty squabbles on Chrissy’s Court — revealed some decent show concepts, were they fortunate enough to air on an actual television."

    TOPICS: Quibi, Chrissy Teigen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Meg Whitman




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