Quibi insiders explain how its Hollywood roots led to a traditional approach to mobile TV: 'If it can be on YouTube, it can't be on Quibi'


When mobile-video platform Quibi was commissioning its initial programming slate, the mandate from founder Jeffrey Katzenberg was clear: Quibi's shows needed to be different from the videos on YouTube, Instagram, or Snapchat. 

"If it can be on YouTube, it can't be on Quibi," Katzenberg is known to say, sources close to the company told Business Insider.

Quibi confirmed in statements to Business Insider that Katzenberg believes content that can be on social media shouldn't be on Quibi.

But in trying to distance Quibi's subscription service from social media, the company also modeled what is meant to be a modern platform for the millennial generation after a rather traditional view of TV, some Quibi insiders said. Business Insider spoke with eight people who worked on or with Quibi content, including five who said the company took a traditional approach to programming.

Quibi's current lineup looks a lot like programming that can be found on network TV. What's different is that Quibi's shows — its daily news and lifestyle series, scripted and alternative shows, and "movies told in chapters" — are under 10 minutes long.

Quibi's dance competition series, "Floored," is basically a mashup between "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Wipeout," even if it is hosted by YouTube star Liza Koshy. Its latest news show, "60 in 6," is inspired by the classic CBS news program "60 Minutes." "Chrissy's Court" is a celebrity-infused take on a syndicated reality court show. And Quibi rebooted cable shows from the 2000s, including "Punk'd" and "Reno 911." 

To some content partners, it felt like a missed opportunity to rethink what shows and movies could look like on an exclusively mobile screen.

"By taking something traditional and shrinking down the time, it doesn't make it more innovative," one producer who worked on a Quibi show said. 

While some of the programming, like the Anna Kendrick-starring "Dummy" about a woman who befriends a sex doll certainly feel fresh, it's not hitting in a major way with Quibi's target audience of 25- to 35-year-olds.

It gets to the heart of the problem. Quibi doesn't need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to programming. But it does need shows that resonate with the millennial audience it chose to pursue, the same way Disney Plus enchanted kids and parents with "The Mandalorian"; Netflix made itself a home for hard-hitting dramas and unconventional comedies with "Orange Is the New Black" and "House of Cards"; and Hulu became known for more than next-day TV with the "The Handmaid's Tale."

"What's going to make any of these service is having shows that people start talking about," said Alan Wolk, cofounder and lead analyst at TVREV.

At launch, Quibi leaned more on Hollywood celebs like Teigen, Anna Kendrick, Reese Witherspoon, Kevin Hart, and Liam Hemsworth, than influencers who have been innovating on mobile platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

"The reason why we went with stars, and celebrities, and well-known talent is because it's brand new," Katzenberg said on Thursday, speaking at SeriesFest, an annual festival for episodic content that is being held virtually this year. "We needed to clearly define for the consumer, for people that would subscribe to this, why is it different? What differentiates it from what you would see on TikTok? ... not because there's anything wrong with TikTok, or Instagram, but ours is a subscription service, and we're asking you to pay."

Katzenberg said at the event that Quibi wants to work with online storytellers and young filmmakers to help broaden the audience for the platform.

The company is already working with a few digital stars. In addition to Koshy, "Kirby Jenner" is a reality show about an influencer who pretends to be the fraternal twin of Kendall Jenner. And the gaming organization FaZe Clan is headlining an upcoming competition series.

Quibi, which launched in April, has about 75 shows out, Katzenberg said at SeriesFest. The company is preparing its next slate, which begins rolling out in July.

It'll be a second chance for Quibi to win over audiences.

"The first wave of content didn't connect," said Stephen Beck, the founder and managing partner of the consulting firm cg42. "The stakes get higher every day for them to get something that breaks through and captures the attention of just a subset to be able to drive traction."