STREAMING WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE SHORT-FORM

Quarantine’s a strange thing. When you’re stuck at home, looking for distractions or entertainment from the global pandemic many are turning to Netflix, Disney+ or Video Games. I know for a fact that my Nintendo Switch has gotten more use this year than any previous year as the world goes on hold.

But besides these mediums, there’s a new arena emerging with some real contenders – short form content. I would argue this has spiralled more out of social media than anything – especially with YouTube which fused both social media with visual content.

There’s a fight for eyeballs going on, and with that come new platforms and new types of media to challenge the status quo. But in a world where formats are getting longer and longer; especially on YouTube, that leaves a gap in the market for short form content: that’s where we’re seeing a rise of challengers come to bat.

With TikTok recently reaching 800 million monthly active users worldwide and Quibi raising over $1.8 billion prior to launch, there’s a lot to unpack with these platforms.

THE TIKTOK GENERATION

For those “Gen-Zers” out there, media exists in a very different form to anything that’s come before. Pop culture was simply a one-way street from producer-to-consumer. But for an entire generation that’s changed. Now, we exist in a world of memes and social media.

Originally Musical.ly, TikTok is a Chinese-based video sharing service that launched in 2016 where users can share videos built around a musical basis. With videos at roughly 20 seconds long, and built around music more than language, there’s a simple element of global communication beyond anything written.

I think that’s where a lot of the appeal comes from. Having browsed the app, myself I can say there’s a real innocence to it all. With sites like Facebook getting bogged down by political polarisation, data scandal, and countless negative effects on mental health, TikTok feels more refreshing – rewarding creativity with videos that feel more like fun escapism than anything else.

TikTok Commercial – Superbowl 2020

Will it have the same decline as Facebook? Difficult to say. Part of me thinks these social apps have a “best-before” date. No doubt the generation after Gen Z will find another app to call their own. But the other part of me thinks that the nature of the app is fundamentally different from things like Facebook and Instagram – which are designed more to sell yourself than your content.

It may seem strange to discuss TikTok on a blog that’s focused more on the film industry than anything, it’s equally important to look at how young people are engaging with media and how distributors and producers can respond and adapt.

Netflix recently stated that’s it’s more concerned with Fortnite than services like HBO or Amazon Prime, as that’s what’s drawing their customers and potential subscribers away and has a more social element to it.

TikTok is also very much a competitor: a social tool that draws eyeballs away from distributors and producers like Netflix. The world is becoming more social, and studios need to understand and act.

That’s where Quibi comes in … with Hollywood taking some strange lessons away from this trend.

WHAT’S A QUIBI?

So, I’ve been using Quibi since its launch … and it’s really weird. It’s honestly one of the weirdest experiences I’ve had; and in a world with global lockdowns and quarantines, that’s saying something.

For context, Quibi – “Quick Bites” – is a mobile app that’s been generating a lot of buzz in Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Described by its founders, former Dreamworks founder CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, and former HP CEO Meg Whitman. Together they’ve raised a staggering $1.8 billion for a platform that promises to give the consumers a Hollywood-level mobile experience.

But after trying it out, it’s very odd. I haven’t seen everything yet, but some things caught my attention: The Most Dangerous Game, Flipped, The Stranger, #FreeRayshawn, and Cup of Joe – which follows the life of celebrity Joe Jonas.

Quibi’s “Bank Heist” Commercial 2020 (523 likes to 238 dislikes)

There’s a good variety of thrillers – my personal favourite being The Most Dangerous Game; adapted from the Richard Connell short story of the same name where a guy gets hunted for sport. It works given the apps parameters, but there were two things that really stuck out to me.

On the one hand, it was well directed. After the first seven minutes I was hooked and waiting for more … then the chapter ended. OK. Around ten minutes later … another chapter end …. Then another chapter … and another …

I was getting pretty frustrated at this point. Whenever I got sucked in the format spat me back out again. Katzenberg described Quibi as doing to film what the Da Vinci Code did for books; short, quick chapters (some only two pages long) to create a rapid page-turning experience.

But this isn’t a book; this is film, and the ways we engage with visual media have changed considerably since the blockbuster era of Hollywood. Now we have memes, repurposing existing screenshots, gifs, or characters in a social context – it’s not only a means of engagement, it’s a way to generate intrigue and investment.

The question is, is it the “Anti-TikTok.”

NO SOCIAL AT ALL

The big issue with Quibi is the platform takes precedence over the content.

They’ve already got award winning directors like Spielberg producing high-quality short form content for the mobile which definitely got me interested.

The appeal of YouTubers and “TikTokers” is a feeling of authenticity you can’t get from film and television.

Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg stated that they’ll be adding social functions into the app following their free trial feedback, which can only be a good thing. But then it’s also been revealed that viewers will be able to watch Quibi on their TVs; something I’m less keen on – especially if they’re not changing the format from the mobile standard.

Sadly, Quibi’s made social engagement difficult as well – making it impossible to take screenshots, and making it difficult to engage with on a social level. No wonder the only memes out there are about roasting the platform itself.

… that and a weird weird anthology story from 50 States of Fright where a woman from Michigan is obsessed with a golden prosthetic. Just … just watch.

This platform raised $1.8 Billion!!!!

It’s a strange time for media, but I think a social element is practically unavoidable for any medium. Look online and you’ll quickly see that the bestselling modern video games have a social element to them. Cuphead speed runs, Undertale memes, Five Nights at Freddy’s theorising, “Pokétubers,” Minecraft builders, and most prominent – Fortniters. The same can be said for Netflix series, Marvel films, and VR enthusiasts – it’s the social space that drives engagement.

Whilst I believe it’s admirable for Quibi to turn to Hollywood-standard media, it’s social networks that truly build up a following. But so far the only content coverage we’ve really seen online is a Tweet reaching 1.32 Million followers.

Content is king, and people will talk about it – for better or worse.

A TRANSMEDIA FUTURE?

I often wonder how best to use short form content; especially when there’s a vast swathe of content available on different networks, channels, and platforms. Quibi’s thesis is that people are incredibly busy, so we’ll give them bite sized chunks which feels like a full viewing experience.

Except there are more effective ways to use the short form. Instead of just being an isolated series, if these series could be incorporated into other franchises then I think Quibi could see more use. Let’s say they had a Five Nights at Freddy’s mobile series to coincide with the popular gaming series, or if there was a tie into something like Stranger Things.

Quibi’s viewing experience can feel more immersive, and although some of their shows are impressive, they are still defined by the format; not the content. Looking at how Netflix got off the ground, it was heavily driven by content – either with already recognisable films, or exclusive Netflix originals.

Quibi only has “Quibi originals” and a relatively niche platform. To truly succeed they need to branch into the social space, create content that ties into other media, and better establish an authentic identity.

It’s certainly not to late to turn things around, and with senior execs taking a 10% pay cut, and staff being laid off, I think the team know they need to prioritise building a grassroots following than reaching for that Hollwood quality..

Gen Z is more receptive to new technologies, but until Quibi adjusts to meet consumer demand I see no reason why they don’t just stick with TikTok.