Has Quibi killed the quality shorts market?

Sarah Jane Thomson

Sarah Jane Thomson, CEO at global streaming service discover.film, considers how the apparently limp launch of Quibi will affect the long-term future of shortform programming.

Quibi bounded enthusiastically into the market in April 2020, claiming that mobile only and ‘quick bites’ was the future for millennials.

It was evidenced by the mighty YouTube and the recent emergence and excitement of Tik-Tok, which has taken the world by storm with its 60-second user-generated content. But this content is not Hollywood or cinema quality – a genre Quibi were keen to address.

I have been watching the Quibi story with huge professional interest because the quality shorts market is where discover.film firmly sits too. I have a keenness for them to survive and prove the hypothesis – after all if they succeed, they help create the market for us. However, the most recent numbers coming out about Quibi do not make attractive reading. So, what is it about quality shorts and are they really the future?

‘Bottom up versus studio down’

The launch of discover.film four years ago is in many ways the complete antithesis of Quibi. We were born from our independent film festival with creative filmmaking talent at the heart (we have run eight festivals to date and hope to have the next in April 2021), our quality content coming from brilliant filmmakers from all over the world that have a story to tell; bottom up versus studio down. We raised $1m compared to Quibi’s $1.75bn and launched discover.film, the world’s best short films.

Each year we receive thousands of submissions from more than 150 countries and we curate the best, providing a dedicated platform with a global audience. The biggest airlines in the world show our films and the viewing figures are enlightening; data provided shows that our shorts are being watched as much if not more than some of the Hollywood blockbusters.

We launched our own OTT platform eight months ago with a tiny marketing spend – a minuscule fraction of the reported $5.6m Quibi spent on one Super Bowl ad alone – and yet as a result we have amassed subscribers from all over the world, 224,652 today to be precise. So, is this proof that as consumers we like being entertained with quality content in bite sized chunks? We think so.

Spreading the word

So then why is it going wrong for Quibi and how can we and others be successful in this market? Strong distribution is certainly key. In addition to our app, we are today available on TV’s, airlines & trains and have recently partnered with some of the world’s biggest telcos. We will be launching onto more than 400 million handsets over the coming months with more in the pipeline.

The real key to success, however, surely lies in a strong business model. Encouraging millennials to engage with quality shorts is not just about the content; although of course content is king. It is also being able to deliver that content to viewers who either aren’t able or willing to pay for a subscription. Many people in emerging markets simply don’t have the ability to pay whilst millennials are used to the free entertainment that YouTube and others provide.

That’s our strongest weapon. Unlike almost all quality OTT platforms, which spend billions on content, we do not, yet we acquire unique premium content featuring Hollywood talent and emerging talent across all genres. As a result, we can provide a ‘free’ subscription, which is presumably why we have already engaged subscribers from more than 190 countries.

And after all, AVOD should work – the mobile advertising market is the fastest growing medium and expected to reach $408bn by 2026 and it is set to eclipse TV advertising by 2022.

I think it’s clear that demand for quality short form entertainment is here to stay. Even with Covid-19 slowing us all down a little, we do still live in a busy world where the ability to take a few minutes in the day to be entertained in bite sized quality chunks is a pleasure we can all enjoy. The real question is which OTT platforms can sustainably deliver this? Happily, discover.film can.

Sarah Jane Thomson is CEO at discover.film, a global streamer for shortform movies and entertainment that she co-founded in 2016 with Steve Harmston. She previously founded media monitoring and auditing business Ebiquity (formerly known as Thomson Intermedia), which was floated for $30m in 2000 and went on to employ more than 1,000 staff across 55 countries. She has also been behind kids newspaper First News and cyber security firm Priority One.

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