Quibi’s secret weapon: videos that work in portrait and landscape mode

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What is that Quibi? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself over the past year, as the video streaming company founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg has steadily raised a whopping $ 1 billion in funding. We’ve seen notable names like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro sign up to do very short shows (up to 10 minutes) for the service, although it didn’t look much different from other similar offerings (RIP Go90) . What did all Quibi supporters know we didn’t know?

Today, during the company’s keynote at CES, we finally got to know its flagship feature: Turnstyle, a patent-pending technology that lets you easily switch between portrait and landscape display modes, while still keeping what matters in the frame. Each Quibi program plays both formats at the same time, using their audio track to synchronize them. Of course, this is not just a technical solution: artists should also keep in mind the framing of the two viewing modes. But according to Katzenberg, it’s also a challenge that many creators have taken up.

“We’ve now created a very detailed playbook, if you will, based on this first year of some of the best filmmakers,” Katzenberg said in an interview with Engadget, describing Quibi’s first group of directors as Doug Liman (Bourne’s identity) and Catherine Hardwick (dusk). “They were kind of trailblazers who not only showed us the way, but also showed themselves the way. It’s a pretty phenomenal discovery process, and the learning curve is steep.”

Basically Turnstyle means you’ll never see black bars around Quibi shows no matter how you hold your phone. That’s a huge step up from all other mobile video solutions today: if you’re watching a movie on the big screen, you’re forced to switch to landscape mode. And if you’re a Snapchat junkie, you’re mostly stuck with the portrait. While Turnstyle may seem superfluous at first, it was a revelation the first time I saw it. As I watched Tom Conrad, Product Manager at Quibi (and founder of Pandora) effortlessly jump between portrait and landscape modes, I thought to myself, “Why hasn’t anyone done this before?”

Meg Whitman, CEO of Quibi and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Founder

Richard Bord via Getty Images

The creators of Quibi can also use the different orientations for interactivity. Watching a short excerpt from the thriller Wireless, Conrad has traditionally seen it in landscape mode – but when he switched to portrait, Quibi switched to the main character’s iPhone screen, where I watched him browse texts, Instagram posts, and Snapchat. It’s a bit like the multi-angle feature of early DVDs, crossed with the screen-based narrative of a movie like Research Where Without friend. Switching between the different modes can help you engage more with the story.

As unique as the Turnstyle is, Quibi still has a long way to go. For one thing, you’ll have to pay to see its short mobile shows: $ 4.99 per month with ads, or $ 7.99 without ads. It’s also only accessible through an app on iPhone or Android, there’s no easy way to watch its shows on larger screens (other than something like AirPlay) or use it on tablets. And, to be completely honest, it remains to be seen whether people really want to pay to watch tiny bits of video.

Quibi plans to address these issues with the brute force of content that $ 1 billion can buy (which Apple is also doing with Apple TV +). It plans to have over 175 original broadcasts and 8,500 media shortcuts (or “quibis”) in its first year. And it is also difficult to acquire celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez, Kevin Hart, Bill Murray and Chrissy Tiegen, to attract viewers. (And by the way, Quibi plans to raise another billion to produce more shows.)

Quibi

And then, of course, there’s the problem of having so many competing services today, all vying for your listening time. But Meg Whitman, the former CEO of HP and founding CEO of Quibi, isn’t too worried. “I think we don’t really compete with the big streaming services for time,” she said in an interview with Engadget. “Because in fact, only 10% of Netflix viewing is on the phone. Much of it is a way to spend time in the living room in the evenings and on weekends. It’s a different use case… We think we’re a third category of that. an on-the-go viewing opportunity that people will make room for in their entertainment budgets because it will be great content for a mobile use case. “

So what can you actually watch on Quibi when it launches on April 6? The company plans to release over 35 films narrated in 7-10 minute chapters (making them small in size); unscripted, episodic and documentary content on topics such as food, fashion and sports; and 25 “daily essential” programs to keep you up to date with current events and the weather. Quibi has even managed to get partners like NBC News and the BBC to produce brand new shorthand content so that they don’t just repackage stories from their existing channels. You will also get new Quibi content daily and you can easily download videos to watch them offline, so that you will always have something new to watch.

It is still too early to tell if Quibi can succeed where so many other mobile video companies have failed. But a demo turned me from a complete skeptic into someone curious about where the business is heading. Still, it will be difficult to fight against all the established video players, as well as the variety and richness of content on a free service like YouTube. All the best talent in the world might not be enough to make Quibi a reality.

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