The short, strange life of Quibi

“All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down,” Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman wrote, closing out an open letter posted to Medium. “We cannot thank you enough for being there with us, and for us, every step of the way.”

With that, the founding executives confirmed the rumors and put Quibi to bed, a little more than six months after launching the service.

Starting a business is an impossibly difficult task under nearly any conditions, but even in a world that’s littered with high-profile failures, the streaming service’s swan song was remarkable for both its dramatically brief lifespan and the amount of money the company managed to raise (and spend) during that time.

A month ahead of its commercial launch, Quibi announced that it had raised another $750 million. That second round of funding brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

“We concluded a very successful second raise which will provide Quibi with a strong cash runway,” CFO Ambereen Toubassy told the press at the time. “This round of $750 million gives us tremendous flexibility and the financial wherewithal to build content and technology that consumers embrace.”

Quibi’s second funding round brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

From a financial perspective, Quibi had reason to be hopeful. Its fundraising ambitions were matched only by the aggressiveness with which it planned to spend that money. At the beginning of the year, Whitman touted the company’s plans to spend up to $100,000 per minute of programming — $6 million per hour. The executive proudly contrasted the jaw-dropping sum to the estimated $500 to $5,000 an hour spent by YouTube creators.

For Whitman and Katzenberg — best known for their respective reigns at HP and Disney — money was key to success in an already crowded marketplace. Indeed, $1 billion was a drop in the bucket compared to the $17.3 billion Netflix was expected to spend on original content in 2020, but it was a start.

Following in the footsteps of Apple, who had also recently announced plans to spend $1 billion to launch its own fledgling streaming service, the company was enlisting A-List talent, from Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott to Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez and LeBron James. If your name carried any sort of clout in Hollywood boardrooms, Quibi would happily cut you a check, seemingly regardless of content specifics.

Quibi’s strategy primarily defined itself by its constraints. In hopes of attracting younger millennial and Gen Z viewers, the company’s content would be not just mobile-first, but mobile-only. There would be no smart TV app, no Chromecast or AirPlay compatibility. Pricing, while low compared to the competition, was similarly off-putting. After a 90-day free trial, $4.99 got you an ad-supported subscription. And boy howdy, were there ads. Ads upon ads. Ads all the way down. Paying another $3 a month would make them go away.

Technological constraints and Terms of Service fine print forbade screen shots — a fundamental understanding of how content goes viral in 2020 (though, to be fair, one shared with other competing streaming services). Amusingly, the inability to share content led to videos like this one of director Sam Raimi’s perplexingly earnest “The Golden Arm.”

It features a built-on laugh track from viewers as Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan lies in a hospital bed after refusing to remove a golden prosthetic. It’s an allegory, surely, but not one intentionally played for laughs. Many of the videos that did ultimately make the rounds on social media were regarded as a curiosity — strange artifacts from a nascent streaming service that made little sense on paper.

Most notable of all, however, were the “quick bites” that gave the service its confusingly pronounced name. Each program would be served in 5-10 minute chunks. The list included films acquired by the service, sliced up into “chapters.” Notably, the service didn’t actually purchase the content outright; instead, rights were set to revert to their creators after seven years. Meanwhile, after two years, content partners were able to “reassemble” the chunks back into a movie for distribution.

#apps, #entertainment, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #meg-whitman, #quibi, #streaming-media

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4 quick bites and obituaries on Quibi (RIP 2020-2020)

In memory of the death of Quibi, here’s a quick sendoff from four of our writers who came together to discuss what we can learn from Quibi’s amazing, instantaneous, billions-of-dollars failure.

Lucas Matney looks at what the potential was for Quibi and how it missed the mark in media. Danny Crichton discusses why billions of dollars in VC funding isn’t enough in competitive markets like video. Anthony Ha discusses the crazy context of Quibi and our interview with the company earlier this year. And Brian Heater looks at why constraints are not benefits in new products.

Lucas Matney: A deadpool company before it was even launched

#jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #meg-whitman, #quibi, #startups, #wndrco

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Motif Foodworks preps commercial production for its first ingredient, improving the flavor of beef substitutes

Motif Foodworks, the Ginkgo Bioworks spinout focused on developing new plant-based flavorings and food ingredients, is readying commercial scale production of its first product an ingredient to improve the flavor of beef substitutes.

The expansion of Motif’s manufacturing capacity presages the commercial availability of its new flavoring, which should be on folded into consumer products by the fourth quarter of 2021, according to Motif chief executive Jonathan McIntyre.

“We’re making the product at pilot scale and we’re happy with the pilotization and now we’re scaling up to do large scales in formula development and characterization and talking to contract manufacturers about getting the product put in,” McIntyre said.

There’s a second product under development that’s focused on nutritional attributes for applications in sports nutrition and nutritional supplements, McIntyre said.

In all, Motif has nine ingredients under development with academic partners that will soon be coming to market.

“The first wave of those [ingredients] is targeted at plant-based meats,” McIntyre said. “Ground beef is the first one and the thing that you usually validate in.”

As the industry matures, there’s a growing sense among the lab grown meat and plant-based meat substitute manufacturers that the process isn’t as simple as just coming up with novel proteins to replicate the bloody taste of meats (like plant-based heme). Instead there’re going to be an array of ingredients and proteins that need to be identified and developed to replicate the fibrous textures and fats that make meat taste like meat.

It’s not just the muscle meat, what is critical is getting the flavor attributes and the other tissue attributes. When you get a steak and you see the marbleizing. That marbleizing creates a relationship between the protein fibers and the fat… has a lot to do with taste… that does not occur in a plant based product. Even when you cook a plant based burger next to a beef burger you see the fat behavior differently.”

So Motif is working on new ways to make that connective tissue using plant-based substitutes. It’s part of the company’s mission to be the plant-based ingredient company that can replace the chemicals and animal byproducts currently used to add texture and flavor to a whole range of food products.

“The technology is a plant-based set of ingredients that have been transformed to have properties that have connective tissue,” McIntyre said. “We don’t lock in to just one technology. We lock into what is the issue that is going to taste better. We have been building as strong as a food science, food application, culinology approach as we have protein science. Those ingredients are in the late analysis stage.. Where we’ll be making tens of kilos of material and getting those in front of consumers quickly.”

Looking ahead McIntyre said that Motif Foodworks is looking to create what he called new “food forms”. The idea, McIntyre said is to start making foods that have their own unique flavor profiles and ingredients that won’t necessarily need to be compared to an animal substitute.

“If you’re figuring out a way to make the plant-based option taste better, can you do other food forms that may not suffer by comparison to a burger?” McIntry said. “We want to show the plant-based food world it’s not about replacements.”

This is the next step in the evolution of a company that’s not yet two years old.

Motif spun out of Ginkgo Bioworks in February 2019 with a $90 million investment from Fonterra, the New Zealand-based multinational dairy company; the global food processing and trading firm Louis Dreyfus Co.; and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the climate focused investment fund financed by a global gaggle of billionaires including Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Reid Hoffman, John Doerr, Vinod Khosla, Jack Ma, Neil Shen, Masayoshi Son, and Meg Whitman.

Motif isn’t just focused on making new ingredients and alternatives to traditional meat-based products. The company is also looking at ways to make existing food healthier with novel ingredients.

 

“That fortification game has been played a lot. We need to figure out how to get more servings of fruits and vegetables to consumers,” said McIntyre. “It could be that our list of ingredients could be more expansive to include not just plant protein.. It might be having two servings of vegetables combined with all of that in a great new food.”

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Affirming the position of tech advocates, Supreme Court overturns Trump’s termination of DACA

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that President Donald Trump’s administration unlawfully ended the federal policy providing temporary legal status for immigrants who came to the country as children.

The decision, issued Thursday, called the termination of the Obama-era policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals “arbitrary and capricious.” As a result of its ruling, nearly 640,000 people living in the United States are now temporarily protected from deportation.

While a blow to the Trump Administration, the ruling is sure to be hailed nearly unanimously by the tech industry and its leaders, who had come out strongly in favor of the policy in the days leading up to its termination by the current President and his advisors.

At the beginning of 2018, many of tech’s most prominent executives, including the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google, joined more than 100 American business leaders in signing an open letter asking Congress to take action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before it expired in March.

Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai who made a full throated defense of the policy and pleaded with Congress to pass legislation ensuring that Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and were granted approval by the program, can continue to live and work in the country without risk of deportation.

At the time, those executives said the decision to end the program could potentially cost the U.S. economy as much as $215 billion.

In a 2017 tweet, Tim Cook noted that Apple employed roughly 250 of the company’s employees were “Dreamers”.

The list of tech executives who came out to support the DACA initiative is long. It included: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty; Brad Smith, the president and chief legal officer of Microsoft; Hewlett-Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman; and CEOs or other leading executives of AT&T, Dropbox, Upwork, Cisco Systems, Salesforce.com, LinkedIn, Intel, Warby Parker, Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Box, Twitter, PayPal, Code.org, Lyft, Etsy, AdRoll, eBay, StitchCrew, SurveyMonkey, DoorDash, Verizon (the parent company of Verizon Media Group, which owns TechCrunch).

At the heart of the court’s ruling is the majority view that Department of Homeland Security officials didn’t provide a strong enough reason to terminate the program in September 2017. Now, the issue of immigration status gets punted back to the White House and Congress to address.

As the Boston Globe noted in a recent article, the majority decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts did not determine whether the Obama-era policy or its revocation were correct, just that the DHS didn’t make a strong enough case to end the policy.

“We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” Roberts wrote. 

While the ruling from the Supreme Court is some good news for the population of “dreamers,” the question of their citizenship status in the country is far from settled. And the U.S. government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has basically consisted of freezing as much of the nation’s immigration apparatus as possible.

An Executive Order in late April froze the green card process for would-be immigrants, and the administration was rumored to be considering a ban on temporary workers under H1-B visas as well.

The President has, indeed, ramped up the crackdown with strict border control policies and other measures to curb both legal and illegal immigration. 

More than 800,000 people joined the workforce as a result of the 2012 program crafted by the Obama administration. DACA allows anyone under 30 to apply for protection from deportation or legal action on their immigration cases if they were younger than 16 when they were brought to the US, had not committed a crime, and were either working or in school.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the President tweeted “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”

 

 

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