OPINION: Quibi is a unique but messy take on streaming services

New streaming app provides short-form television on your phone


Graphic by Bradley Hinkson

Bradley Hinkson

When I talk about Quibi, it almost sounds like I’m describing a parody app.

It’s a streaming service where television episodes are no more than 10 minutes long and you can only watch them on your phone. That’s why it’s called Quibi — it’s short for “quick bites.”

When I first heard about it, I couldn’t believe it. So, of course, I downloaded it as soon as it dropped because I was just too curious. Turns out, it’s kind of a mess.

There is, at least, a variety of programming on the app. There are narrative-driven shows like “Survive” and “Most Dangerous Game,” competition style shows like “Dishmantled” and “Gayme Show,” and shows with premises that feel like a joke such as “Chrissy’s Court” and “Murder House Flip.”

But the major question is, are any of them good? Well, it’s hard to tell with some of them. At the time I am writing this, I have only seen the first six episodes of these shows (though Quibi promises new episodes daily).

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The thing that hurts these shows is the limited runtime of the episodes. With the shows that rely on a narrative, having each episode be less than 10 minutes long means the actual plot of the series doesn’t really start to kick in until the end of the third or even fourth episode.

For example, the show “Survive” focuses on the main character Jane (Sophie Turner) surviving a plane crash and trying to stay alive in the wilderness where she landed — but you wouldn’t figure that out til the fourth episode. All we find out is that Jane is suicidal and plans to kill herself on the plane. Before you ask, yes, the representation is extremely problematic and poorly handled. I don’t think we should have a character state that they committed self-harm for attention.

It isn’t until the end of the third episode that the plane crash happens, and then at the start of the fourth episode we see the aftermath. In terms of story progression, this is way too far into a show to finally get the plot going. The quick episodes get the story started too late but also rush the episodes. The pacing is all over the place.

Even shows I somewhat enjoyed had this problem.

The show “Flipped” focuses on Jann (Will Forte) and Cricket Melfi (Kaitlin Olson), a couple who decide to start their own home renovation show, but find themselves caught in a mix-up with drug cartel members. The show is fairly amusing, thanks in part to Forte and Olson bringing a lot to their roles, but it still takes quite a while to figure out where the show is going.

The men from the drug cartel don’t show up until a cliffhanger at the end of the third episode, and the couple’s decision to renovate their house is at the end of the fifth episode. I kind of enjoy watching the show, but it’s somewhat frustrating to only get so far into the story more than halfway through.

Are there any programs on the app that benefit from the short format? Kind of.

The reality/competition shows don’t suffer as much from the short runtime as the narrative shows do. In just under 10 minutes, you get the concept of the show, see the contestants play, and find out the winner. For a service that tries to pride itself with  having content you can watch quickly to pass the time, these shows are where it thrives.

“Gayme Show,” which admittedly is the most enjoyable show on the service, has two straight contestants compete in games centered around gay culture to be named “Queen of the Straights.” The concept is definitely ridiculous, but thanks in part to its energetic hosts, Dave Mizzoni and Matt Rogers, and the show’s upbeat tone, it is fun to watch.

It benefits by having most of the episodes be only seven minutes. It never overstays its welcome.

Unlike most streaming service apps, Quibi can be watched vertically on your phone. The show will format itself while you’re holding your phone vertically. I mostly watched these shows horizontally because the thought of watching highly produced media vertically on my phone pains me.

So, is it worth getting a Quibi subscription? Only if this concept sounds interesting to you.

Until the end of April, users can get a subscription free for 90 days. After that, it is $4.99 per month with ads, and $7.99 per month without ads.

There are more shows and episodes on the way, so who knows if Quibi will be able to figure out their weird niche and find the right footing. For now though, Quibi comes off as a strange experiment that is going to have a hard time beating out other top streaming services.

Consider it bad timing to release a streaming service only made to be watched quickly on your phone while a pandemic is occurring, and everyone is stuck at home and needing much longer and more substantial content.