Hello hello, and welcome back to Week in Review. Last week, I wrote about the possibility of a pending social media detente, this week I’m talking about a rising threat to Facebook’s biz.
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The Big Story
First off, let me tell you how hard it was to resist writing about Quibi this week, but those takes came in very hot the second that news dropped, and I wrote a little bit about it here already. All I will say, is that while Quibi had its own unique mobile problems, unless Apple changes course or dumps a ton of money buying up content to fill its back library, I think TV+ is next on the chopping block.
This week, I’m digging into another once-maligned startup, though this one has activated quite the turnaround in the last two years. Snap, maker of Snapchat, delivered a killer earnings report this week and as a result, investors deemed to send the stock price soaring. Its market cap has nearly doubled since the start of September and it’s clear that Wall Street actually believes that Snap could meaningfully increase its footprint and challenge Facebook.
The company ended the week with a market cap just short of $65 billion, still a far cry from Facebook $811 billion, but looking quite a bit better than it was in early 2019 when it was worth about one-tenth of what it is today. All of a sudden, Snap has a new challenge, living up to high expectations.
The company shared that in Q3, it delivered $679 million in reported revenue, representing 52% year-over-year growth. The company currently has 249 million daily active users, up 4% over last quarter.
Facebook will report its Q3 earnings next week, but they’re still in a different ballpark for the time being, even if their market cap is just around 12 times Snap’s, their quarterly revenue from Q2 was about 28 times higher than what Snap just reported. Meanwhile, Facebook has 1.79 billion daily actives, just about 7 times Snapchat’s numbers.
Snap has spent an awful lot of time proving the worth of features they’ve been pushing for years, but the company’s next challenge might be diversifying their future. The company has been flirting with augmented reality for years, waiting patiently for the right moment to expand its scope, but Snap hasn’t had the luxury of diverting resources away from efforts that don’t send users back to its core product. Some of its biggest launches of 2020 have been embeddable mini apps for things like ordering movie tickets or bite-sized social games that bring even more social opportunities into chat.
Snap’s laser focus here has obviously been a big part of its recovery, but as expectations grow, so will demands that the company moves more boldly into extending its empire. I don’t think Snapchat needs to buy Trader Joe’s or its own ISP quite yet, but working towards finding its next platform will prevent the service from settling for Twitter-sized ambitions and give them a chance at finding a more expansive future.
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin
Trends of the Week
These next few weeks are guaranteed to be dominated by U.S. election news, so enjoy the diversity of news happenings out there while it lasts…
Quibi is dead
Few companies that have raised so much money have appeared quite dead-on-arrival as Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile video startup Quibi. This week, the company made the decision to shut down operations and call it quits. More here.
Pakistan unbans TikTok
It appears that the cascading threat of country-by-country TikTok bans has stopped for now. This week, TikTok was unblocked in Pakistan with the government warning the company that it needed to actively monitor content or it would face a permanent ban. Read more here.
Facebook Dating arrives in Europe
Facebook Dating hasn’t done much to unseat Tinder stateside, but the service didn’t even get the chance to test its luck in Europe due to some regulatory issues relating to its privacy practices. Now, it seems Facebook has landed in the tentative good graces of regulatory bodies and has gotten the go ahead to launch the service in a number of European countries. Read more here.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
Quibi dies…and no one was surprised
There was so much wrong with Quibi’s premise that it’s sometimes hard to even know where to start. But at the core, its problem was that it fundamentally misunderstood how, when and why users would watch video on their phones.
The company’s thinking was that you could fund high-production value content ($100K/minute, yikes) then chop it up into smaller “bites,” add a technology layer, then call this a reinvention of cinema.
When people want to appreciate high-quality filmmaking (or even TV production), they tend to want a bigger screen — they’ve spent money for their fancy high-def or 4K TV, after all. Pre-COVID, they might even pay to go a movie theater. On mobile, the production value of content is far less of a concern, if it even registers.
Quibi also misunderstood what users want to watch in terms of video on their phones when they have a few minutes to kill.
By positioning its app in this space, it had to compete with numerous and powerful sources for “short-form” content — existing apps like YouTube, TikTok, Facebook (e.g. News Feed content, Watch feeds), Instagram Stories, Snapchat and so on. This is content you don’t have to get invested in, since you’re just distracting yourself from a few minutes of boredom. It’s not a time or place to engage with a longer story — chopped or otherwise.
Quibi also cut the length of content to serve its artificial limitations — at the expense of story quality and enjoyment.
A reality show dumbed down to just its highlights is almost unwatchable, as it exposes the editors’ machinations and manipulations that are better hidden among longer stretches of fluff. And there was simply no reason to cut down movies — like Quibi’s “The Dangerous Game,” for example — into pieces. It didn’t elevate the storytelling; it distracted from it. And if you wanted a quick news update (e.g. Quibi’s “Daily Essentials”), you didn’t need a whole new app for that.
Quibi content may have been considered “high quality,” but it often wasn’t good. (I still can’t believe I sat through an episode of “Dishmantled,” where chefs had to recreate dishes of food that were thrown in their face. And Quibi had the nerve to shame YouTube’s low-quality and lack of talent?!)
Quibi also wanted to charge for its service, but its catalog wasn’t designed for families, with content that ranged from kids to adult programming. It didn’t offer parental controls. This immediately limited its competitiveness.
At launch, Quibi also limited itself to the phone, which meant it limited your ability to use the phone as a second screen while you watched a show. (There was no PiP support). TechCrunch hasbeenwriting about phones as the second screen for the better part of a decade, often with a focus on startups. But in Quibi’s case, it killed the second screen experience, seemingly forgetting that people text friends, order food, check Twitter and peek in on other apps while a TV show plays in the background. Did it really think that a reboot of “Punk’d” deserved our full attention?
Quibi naturally blamed COVID for its failure to thrive. It had imagined a world where users had ample time to kill while out and about: commuting on the subway, standing in long lines, that sort of thing.
But even this premise was flawed. It would have eventually caught up to Quibi, too; COVID just accelerated it. The issue is that Quibi imagined the U.S. as only a swath of urban metros where public transportation is abundant and standing in lines is the norm. In reality, more than half (52%) the U.S. is described as suburban, 27% is urban and 21% is rural. Non-urban commuters often drive themselves to work. Sure, they could stream Quibi during those commutes, but not really look at it. So why burn high-production value on them? And standing in long lines, believe it or not, is not actually that common in smaller cities and towns, either. If it only takes two minutes to grab a coffee or a burrito before you hop back in your car, do you really want to start a new show?
So where would that have left Quibi? Hoping for Gen Z’ers attention as they lounge around their bedrooms looking for something to do? And yet it wanted to appeal to these kids using Hollywood A-Listers they don’t even know? As COVID pressed down, it left Quibi in competition with (often arguably better) content that streamed natively on the TV from apps like Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, and others where you could binge through seasons at once instead of waiting every week for a new “quick bite” to drop.
There’s more, so much more that could still be said, including the fact that a former eBay and HP CEO may not be the right person to lead a company that wanted to dazzle a younger demographic. Or how its video-flipping TurnStyle feature was clever, but added complexity to filmmaking, and was not enough of a technological leap to build a business around. Or how, no matter how much money it had raised, it was still not enough, compared with the massive budgets of competitors like Netflix and Amazon.
You can read a further post-mortem round-up here. And another here. Because we can’t get enough post-mortems, apparently.
Snapchat’s maker was forecast to bring around $555 million in revenues in Q3 but posted $679 million instead, a 52% YoY increase, in a surprise earnings beat. EPS were an adjusted $0.01, beating an expected loss of $0.04. The company also grew daily active users by 4% (11 million) to 249 million, an 18% YoY increase. Snap’s net loss of $200 million was a 12% improvement over last year, too.
During earnings, the company touted it now reaches 90% of the Gen Z population and 75% of millennials in the U.S., U.K. and France. User growth was attributed to new products, including Profiles, Minis, Lens creation tools and AR ads. In particular, Snap leveraged the Facebook ad boycott to reach out to brands that wanted to “realign their marketing efforts” with companies that “share their corporate values,” the company said.
Apple releases iOS and iPadOS 14.1. The first major update to iOS 14 delivers multiple bug fixes, including those impacting widgets, streaming video and Family Setup on Apple Watch, among others. It also added support for 10-bit HDR video playback and editing in Photos on iPhone 8 and later.
AirTags patent applicationsdescribe use cases like locating the nearest defibrillator, monitoring users’ posture and playing avatar-based games, giving a little more insight into how Apple envisions the future of its smartphone-findable tags.
Google embraces iOS 14 widgets.Google already offered one of the more useful widgets for iOS 14 with its Search widget, which has been downloaded by “millions.” This week, it introduced more, including a Google Photos widget that let you revisit your memories, and a YouTube Music widget.
RCS support in Android Messages expands. Following the U.S. debut, RCS has rolled out to a number of new countries, and can now be found in Italy, Portugal, Singapore, Argentina, Pakistan, Poland, Turkey, Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Kosovo, Lithuania, New Zealand, Serbia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Australia, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lebanon, Uganda and Ukraine. The last nine were just this month.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
Buy Now, Pay Later app usage in the U.S. up 186% year-over-year as of Sept.According to Sensor Tower, apps that let consumers make purchases on payment plans have been climbing steadily this year since the COVID-19 pandemic. The report looked at Klarna, Affirm, Afterpay and QuadPay, which together have generated 18 million lifetime installs across the App Store and Google Play. Installs were up 115% YoY in September, while monthly actives were up 186%.
U.S. contact-tracing apps are a disjointed wreck.The WSJ examined the state of COVID-19 contact-tracing apps in the U.S. and found that states focusing on their own efforts, due to the lack of a national plan, has left a disjointed patchwork of tools. Only 10 states, plus D.C., have used the framework built by Google and Apple; 11 are piloting or building apps. The EU, meanwhile, switched on cross-border interoperability for its first batch of tracing apps.
Gen Z spends 10% more time using top non-game apps than older users, at 4.1+ hours per month. The figure excludes pre-installed apps and was calculated on Android devices in select markets, including the U.S. Gen Z users also engaged with non-game apps more often than older users, at 120 sessions per month per app.
U.S. consumers spend $20.78/mo on average on their app subscriptions, according to new data from Adjust. The 25 to 34-year-old age group spends the most on subscription apps at $25.85/mo, while those 55 and over spend the least, at $13.97/mo. In addition, more than a quarter of millennials and Gen Z consumers said they have stopped paying for other services in order to buy subscriptions on mobile app services (e.g. option for fitness apps over going to the gym).
Dating apps are on the rise in the U.S., says Apptopia. New users for Hily, Match, BLK, Bumble and Grindr are on pace to grow month-over-month at 32%, 28%, 20%, 18% and 11%, respectively.
Amazon’s Luna game streaming service opens in early access to its first customers. The service offers a library of 50 games and works on Mac, PC, Amazon Fire TV, and iOS devices, courtesy of a web app to work around the App Store rules. Initial reviews describe the service as sometimes struggling with performance over Wi-Fi, but offering a good web app experience. Luna features some big titles but xCloud still has the better lineup. Its real killer feature, however, may be the promised Twitch integration, arriving in the future.
SoundCloud launches a $19.99/month DJ plan, SoundCloud DJ, that offers unlimited offline access to its catalog. Users can also stream high-quality audio and mix tracks using select DJ apps, including Virtual DJ, Cross DJ and Denon DJ.
Put your five-star reviews on your home screen. IMore spotted a must-have motivational tool for developers: a way to put your app’s five-star reviews as a widget on your home screen; $1.99 for this happiness boost.
Windows GravityRAT malware makes the leap to Android. The malware, which has been deployed in targeted attacks against Indian military organizations in the past, was detected in an Android spyware app that steals documents, emails and contacts.
Apple quietly discontinues its Apple TV Remote app. The app was removed from the App Store on Wednesday. Users are now expected to use the Remote feature built into the Control Center since iOS 12 instead.
Google will end support for its location-sharing Trusted Contacts app in December, and removes it from the Play Store. Users are directed to use similar features in Google Maps instead for finding friends and family.
Policies and Politics
Coalition for App Fairness more than doubles a month after its debut. The Coalition for App Fairness (CAF), a newly formed advocacy group pushing for increased regulation over app stores, has more than doubled in size with this week’s announcement of 20 new partners. The organization, led by top app publishers and critics, including Epic Games, Deezer, Basecamp, Tile, Spotify and others, debuted in late September to fight back against Apple and Google’s control over app stores, and particularly the stores’ rules around in-app purchases and commissions.
Pakistan un-bans TikTok. The ban was lifted after 11 days, as TikTok promised to moderate content in accordance with Pakistan’s “societal norms.” Authorities said some of the videos on TikTok were immoral, obscene and vulgar, and it had particular concerns over the sexualization of underage girls. Critics say the move was also intended to limit criticism of the government, however.
Facebook to increase investments in WhatsApp for business. The company said it will expand Shopping on WhatsApp and will charge businesses for some of the services it offers on the chat app, in order to grow revenues. This includes offering to manage businesses’ WhatsApp messages via Facebook’s own hosting services. Facebook offered this info as more of a look into its roadmap, but without specifics on new services or pricing.
Facebook is cloning Nextdoor. The feature is in testing in Canada and sees Facebook automatically generating neighborhood groups to connect local users with people, activities and items for sale.
Court approves Kik’s settlement with SEC. The ruling ends a multi-year court battle by allowing Kik to pay a one-time $5 million fine for its violation of securities law for failing to register its 2017 distribution of its Kin tokens in its ICO.
Roblox passes $2B in mobile player spending ahead of its planned IPO. The company’s revenues, accelerated by the pandemic, crossed the $1.5 billion mark in May 2020, then picked up another $500 million in five months, says Sensor Tower.
Cameo enters B2B sales. The custom celebrity video app repositions its business of personalized greetings for B2B sales through an integration and rev share agreement with corporate gifting platform Sendoso.
Stitcher’s podcasts come to Pandora as acquisition completes. The Stitcher app also got a revamp following the deal’s finalization. The move brought several bigger podcast titles in house, thanks to Earwolf, including “Freakonomics Radio,” “My Favorite Murder,” “SuperSoul Conversations from the Oprah Winfrey Network,” “Office Ladies,” “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” “Literally! with Rob Lowe,” “LeVar Burton Reads” and “WTF with Marc Maron.”
PicsArt brings its app-based design tools to the web. The creative platform is chasing business users with the launch of its AI tools on picsart.com. The debut suite includes a template editor, background and object remover, video slideshow maker, text editor, and others.
Retool raises $50M in funding, led by Sequoia, for its low-code tools for building internal apps that work on either desktop or mobile. The new round values the business at nearly $1 billion. Other backers include GitHub CEO Nat Friedman, Stripe founders Patrick and John Collison, Brex Inc. founders Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi and Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham.
Syte raises $40M to bring visual shoppers to e-commerce retailers. Visual search is already popular in apps like Google, Pinterest and eBay, but Syte wants under retailers to have the option. The round was led by return investor Viola Ventures.
98point6 raises $118M for its AI-powered telemedicine platform that works on web and mobile (iOS and Android).
These include a new gesture-based automatic and manual switcher; tactile touch for enabling and disabling features like exposure warnings, focus peaking, and loupe as you adjust exposure or focus; an overhauled manual mode; new dynamic labeling of controls and actions to explain features to new users; support for the edge-to-edge interface of the iPhone 12 models; a redesigned reviewer with a full metadata read-out; in-app memberships for photo lessons; and over 40 more changes.
A new “Coverage” feature can take a photo with Smart HDR 2/3 and Deep Fusion for maximum quality and computational processing as well as a RAW file — with only a slight delay between captures.
Image Credits: Lux
Halide Mark II also uses machine learning to process an iPhone RAW file in the app (ProRAW) with 17 steps, including detail enhancement, contrast and color adjustment and more. This feature, called Instant RAW, intelligently develops the file to get the best possible results.
And the app includes top pro tools, like a new waveform and color exposure warnings (zebras) that use XDR (Extended Dynamic Range) 14-bit RAW sampling, for accurate exposure previews and readings.
The app is $36 (currently $30 during a promo period) if you want to only pay once. Otherwise it’s $11.99 per year on subscription (currently $9.99 per year if you lock in the price now during the promo period). Subscribers to the membership plan also get perks, like custom icons. Existing Halide 1 users, unbelievably, are upgraded for free but are asked to support the app with a membership.
A new app called ClipDrop launches on iOS, Android, macOS and Windows as a new sort of “copy and paste” experience. The app uses state-of-the-art vision AI to copy images from your desktop with a screenshot to any other app (e.g. Docs, Photoshop, Canva, etc.) and it allows you to extract anything — objects, people, drawings or text.
The mobile app lets you snap photos of real-world items and then digitally transfer them to other apps or websites. In the below demo, the company shows how you could “clip” an image of an article of clothing using the camera, then import the photo into a document.
The company also just released a plugin for Photoshop that lets you drop the image into its app as a new layer with an editable mask.
The app is $39.99 per year (until November 2020, when it ups to $79.99 per year.)
Adobe Illustrator on iPad + Adobe Fresco on iPhone
Image Credits: Adobe
As part of Adobe’s virtual MAX 2020 conference this week, the company launched the first public version of its Illustrator vector graphics app on the iPad and brought its Fresco drawing and painting app to the iPhone. In time, the company plans to bring more effects, brushes and AI features to Illustrator. Fresco 2.0, meanwhile, includes new smudge brushes and support for personalized brushes, among other things.
Designed for landlords, Airbnb owners or other vacation rental property owners, Party Squasher offers a hardware device and paired mobile app that counts the number of people at your house by counting the mobile phones in or around a house. The phones can be counted even if they’re not connected to the home’s Wi-Fi.
Because the device doesn’t include cameras or microphones, it’s ideal for ensuring that renters aren’t hosting large (and these days, potentially illegal) parties without violating privacy.
In the event that a large gathering is present, you’re sent a text or email so you can take action.
The device is $249 and the app charges a $199 per year subscription.
“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.
But when? If you’re looking to blast through all 25 episodes of the Reno 911 revival series before Quibi calls its quits, how long do you actually have?
While it seems even Quibi isn’t 100% certain yet, they’ve at least now given users a rough idea of when they expect the plug to be pulled: early December.
As spotted by Variety, a newly published support page on the Quibi site says streaming will end “on or about December 1, 2020.” The “about” suggests that the shutdown date isn’t fully locked quite yet, but it should be sometime around then.
Will any Quibi shows find their way over to Netflix, Hulu, etc.? That’s still up in the air, too. “At this time we do not know if the Quibi content will be available anywhere after our last day of service,” the company writes in a note on the same page.
Yes, the media f’ing gorged on the Quibi story yesterday. We did, they did, everyone did. And really, truly, how could anyone not? Nearly $2 billion came in (with $350 million heading back), a star-studded lineup of executives and production teams, an absolutely massive advertising campaign, and a PR strategy that all but begged the sun to melt Icarus’ wings.
Our collective exhalation on the complete clusterfuck that was Quibi though leads to a legitimate and interesting question: are we obnoxiously attacking a good-faith failure? Wasn’t Quibi a bet just like every other startup, a bet that just happened to fail? A16Z’s general partner Andrew Chen put it vividly on Twitter, saying “It’s gross” and lauding the entrepreneurial challenge of building a startup:
all the people rushing to their keyboards to type in their "i told you so" hot takes on Quibi:
It's gross. Building a company is hard, why celebrate a fail?
Go build something instead of using your energy to let twitter know how smart you are the say the consensus thing.
I understand this view, deeply. In fact, all of us at TechCrunch understand this. One of the things that we pride ourselves on here is respecting the hustle. We know how hard it is to launch a startup. As a team, we collectively talk to thousands of founders every year, and we hear the heartbreaking stories and the downright trauma at times that comes with building a company. Occasionally (and yes, we focus most of our reporting here), we hear about the wins and successes too.
Let’s be honest: most startups fail. Most ideas turn out wrong. Most entrepreneurs are never going to make it. That doesn’t mean no one should build a startup, or pursue their passions and dreams. And when success happens, we like to talk about it, report on, and try to explain why it happens — because ultimately, more entrepreneurial success is good for all of us and helps to drive progress in our world.
But let’s also be clear that there are bad ideas, and then there are flagrantly bad ideas with billions in funding from smart people who otherwise should know better. Quibi wasn’t the spark of the proverbial college dropout with a passion for entertainment trying to invent a new format for mobile phones with ramen money from friends and family. Quibi was run by two of the most powerful and influential executives in the United States today, who raised more money for their project than other female founders have raised collectively this year.
Why do supposedly dumb ideas turn out to be smart? Part of the reason is that what starts out as dumb slowly iterates into something that is very smart. Facebook was just a “facebook” for checking out your classmates on college campuses. If it had ended there and withered away like many other social networks before it, we might well have put it in the waste bin of history. But Zuckerberg and his crew iterated — adding features like photos, a feed, messaging and more with an extreme focus on growth that made the product so much more than when it started.
We’ve seen this pattern again and again throughout time. Founders get feedback from users, they iterate, they pivot, they try new things, and slowly but surely they start to migrate from what might have been a very raw concept to something much more ready to compete in the ferocious marketplace of business and consumer attention today.
This was never the story with Quibi. There was never an iteration of the product, or a long-range plan to assiduously cultivate users and talent as the company found traction while carefully husbanding its capital for the inevitable tough moments in the growth of any company.
Yes, we in the commentariat do make mistakes, but analysts weren’t dumb in pointing out all of Quibi’s glaring, red-alert flaws. Those analysts were smart. They were right. They might not be right next time, of course — no analyst should get too overconfident in their predictions. But at the same time, we shouldn’t just collectively throw up our hands and declare every idea that comes our way a brilliant gift from the heavens. Most ideas are dumb, and we and everyone else have every right to point that out.
So respect the hustle. Don’t kick a hardworking entrepreneur down who is just trying to get their project out there and show it the world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t call out stupid when you see it. The best entrepreneurs know that — even at its most vituperative — critical feedback is the necessary ingredient to startup success. Lauding everyone lauds no one.
Katzenberg, a longtime Hollywood executive, had blamed the coronavirus pandemic for a lackluster launch in May — an app designed for on-the-go viewing didn’t have much appeal when people were largely stuck at home. And whatever the reason, none of Quibi’s shows ever became a breakout hit.
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
Quibi, the video-streaming service designed to revolve around smartphone screens, is no more, according to The Wall Street Journal.
After launching only in April this year, with a $1.75 billion infusion of cash and the leadership of former NBC bigwig Jeffrey Katzenberg, the service is ending as part of the closure of its holding company, Quibi Holdings LLC, according to “people familiar with the matter,” the WSJ says. The news was delivered directly by Katzenberg to the LLC’s investors on Wednesday, according to the report.
The writing appeared to be on the wall as soon as Quibi’s primary sales pitch—quick-burst videos designed to attract the average on-the-go smartphone user—fell apart all over the United States in the wake of coronavirus-related shutdowns. (People just weren’t watching videos on their phones as much this year while, say, commuting on crowded trains or going to and from schools and universities.) This issue was compounded by Quibi’s surprising lack of home-friendly ways to watch its content, with zero major launches on set-top platforms like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV.
Plagued with growth issues, Quibi, a short-form mobile-native video platform, is shutting down, according to multiplereports. The startup, co-founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, had raised nearly $2 billion in its lifetime as a private company. Quibi did not respond to requests for comment from TechCrunch.
The company’s prolific fundraising efforts spanned prominent institutions in private equity, venture capital and Hollywood, all betting on Katzenberg’s ability to deliver another hit. The startup’s backers included Alibaba, Madrone Capital Partners, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan as well as Disney, Sony Pictures, Viacom, WarnerMedia and MGM, among others.
Their pitch was highly produced bite-sized content, packed with Hollywood star power, and designed to be “mobile-first” entertainment. For the YouTube’s and Snap’s of the world producing mainstream content on a shoestring budget, Quibi wanted to be an HBO for smartphones. Investors and pundits questioned the firm’s ability to monetize this vision, and it became clear soon after launch that the company had miscalculated.
Rumors that Quibi was shutting down began early this week. The Information wrote that Katzenberg has told people within the industry that the company might need to shut down, after unsuccessfully pitching itself as an acquisition to Apple, Facebook, and Warner Media.
In its first few months, Quibi was downloaded 3.5 million times and had 1.5 million active users. While those figures aren’t too shabby, the company had to adjust its original projections, which put the service on a trajectory to reach 7 million users and $250 million in subscriber revenue in its first year. Admitting that the launch hadn’t gone as planned, Katzenberg blamed the coronavirus for the streaming app’s challenges.
The company expanded in Australia in August with a free ad-supported tier for users. It is unclear if the tweak in the business model brought Quibi success, or if the problems for the app had to do with the business model in the first place.
Netflix earnings from earlier this week suggest that the pandemic entertainment boom is slowing. The consumer video service disappointed on new paying customer numbers, and shares were down sharply yesterday after it released its earnings report. Those numbers also potentially showcase just how crowded the market for subscription video content has gotten in the past 12 months, with players like Apple, Disney, HBO and NBC each launching new services and collectively spending billions to acquire rights to past television hits.
“Wireless” is probably the best showcase so far for Quibi’s Turnstyle technology.
That’s the technology that allows the streaming video app to switch seamlessly between landscape and portrait mode depending on the orientation of your phone. With other Quibi shows, you’re essentially getting two views of the same footage — but with “Wireless” (which is executive produced by Steven Soderbergh), you’re switching between traditional cinematic footage (in landscape) and a view of the protagonist’s phone (in portrait).
In this bonus episode of the Original Content podcast, director Zach Wechter told me that he and his co-writer Jack Seidman wrote the initial script — about a college student played by Tye Sheridan who gets trapped in the snow after a car crash, with only his iPhone to save him — before they decided on the phone-centric format. But when they heard about Turnstyle, “It just felt like a match made in heaven that would allow us to facilitate this idea.”
I wondered whether that required going back and adding a bunch of phone interactions to the story, but said Wechter said, “It was quite the opposite. One thing we found in testing was when the phone plot moved really fast, it would be hard, because there are these two perspectives happening at once.”
So that actually meant “reducing some fo the intriacy of the plot happening on the phone” to ensure that viewers didn’t get lost.
And if you’re wondering which mode to focus on as you watch, Wechter has some simple advice: “Go with your gut.” He said he had a “roadmap” for when he was hoping to nudge viewers to turn their phones — like when there’s a notification sound or Sheridan focuses on his phone — “but I think the most important part of the experience is that we’re not indicating when our viewers turn, that it becomes this sort of passive-but-active viewing experience.”
Wechter described making the show — essentially a feature length film divided into episodes of 10 minutes or less — as shooting “two films that had to dance together” in just 19 days. And he made things even more challenging by insisting that all the phone/FaceTime calls and even the text messages be filmed live, rather than just recording both ends separately.
“When I think about directing and my job, really the most fundamental part of it to me is making the actorss comfortable, and I think that having a scene partner is paramount,” he said. “It was a long conversation about why we couldn’t just have them act off of a recording and shoot it separately — because it took a lot of logistical effort and resources to do it — but it really makes the scenes feel very alive and realistic.”
NBCU’s Peacock appears to be having a somewhat better launch than Quibi did, based on data from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower. While numbers pointing to new app downloads aren’t a complete picture of consumer adoption for a cross-platform service, they can provide a window into early traction outside of any official numbers provided by the companies themselves.
In Peacock’s case, Sensor Tower says the mobile app has now been downloaded around 1.5 million times across the U.S. App Store and Google Play within its first 6 days on the market.
For comparison, that’s 25% more than the 1.2 million installs Quibi saw during the same period post-launch in the U.S., but only 12% of the 13 million downloads Disney+ generated within its first 6 days.
Sensor Tower chose not to compare Peacock with HBO Max due to the fact that HBO’s new service replaced the existing HBO Now app, which was already pre-installed on consumer devices. That would not be as apt a comparison.
Peacock, of course, doesn’t have the brand-name recognition of Disney. And arguably, its name doesn’t translate into consumers’ minds as “NBC,” despite its connection to the classic peacock logo. Disney, meanwhile, had a built-in fan base before its streaming service’s launch. And, more broadly, there was pent-up consumer demand for a more family-friendly offering, as well.
Before last week’s launch, Peacock had been available on parent company Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex platforms, but that didn’t include its mobile companion. The mobile app instead officially launched on July 15, and quickly shot up to No. 1 on the iPhone App Store, where it remained through the following day. On iPad, it ranked No. 1 between July 16 and July 18.
Today, the app has since dropped to No. 26 on iPhone (among non-game apps). Meanwhile, on Google Play, it has ranked No. 2 since July 17, and is No. 1 among non-game apps.
Quibi had also seen early traction on the app stores’ top charts shortly after its launch, ranking as high as No. 4 on iPhone on its launch day, April 6. But just over a week later it had rapidly fallen out of the U.S. iPhone app rankings, App Annie’s data indicated, dropping out of the top 50. That saw it coming in behind Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video.
Peacock hasn’t yet fallen that far, which could be a good signal.
There was also much discussion that Quibi’s failure to gain significant early traction had to do with its lack of support for TV viewing, despite launching in the middle of a pandemic when users were staying at home and watching on their living room big screens.
However, it’s worth pointing out that Peacock hasn’t yet rolled out to the two most widely-adopted living room platforms in the U.S.: Amazon Fire TV and Roku. That lends more support to the idea that Quibi hasn’t been struggling to grow because of its mobile-only nature, but because its content wasn’t drawing in viewers.
For what it’s worth, Quibi has disputed recent reports of its slow traction, noting earlier this month its app had gained 5.6 million downloads since launch — more than the 4.5 million Sensor Tower had claimed at the time.
Even if Sensor Tower’s estimates aren’t an exact science, the overall trend its figures paint is one of where neither Peacock nor Quibi have become overnight sensations at launch. Of course, the growth trajectory for any Netflix rival is sure to be tough in today’s crowded market. But these companies have made it even more difficult for consumers to connect due to their lack of a recognizable brand name and their failure to offer dedicated apps for top living room devices at launch.
After teasing the series’ arrival for some months, Quibi is finally ready to launch its take on 60 Minutes for the social media generation. What that mainly means is content tailored to the shortened attention spans of viewers on top which the service has hung all of its hopes, dreams and $1.8 billion.
The new take on the America’s oldest newsmagazine goes under the banner ’60 IN 6’ — slightly confusing, given that its producers are committing to a broader definition of short form content at “10 minutes or less.”
At very least, the first few episodes are timely given the current climate in the U.S. Correspondent Wesley Lowery host the first episode from Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. He’ll be sitting down with Floyd and Reverend Al Sharpton. A subsequent episode features interviews with the President of the Minnesota NAACP and local government and community members.
The series premiers two episodes this Sunday, exclusively on the Quibi app (which mercifully can now be beamed to a TV via AirPlay and Chromecast). Further episodes will be added on Mondays. It joins existing Quibi news programs from the BBC, along with the similarly formatted NBC Snapchat series, Stay Tuned, as old school media giants bank on shorter form version of traditional content as method for breaking through to younger generations.
The update is live on the iOS App Store now, and is rolling out to Android devices through the week. In a tweet, Quibi Chief Product Officer Tom Conrad says that he expects the Android update to be available to all by Friday.
Quibi’s launch hasn’t been the resounding success the company hoped for, with founder Jeffrey Katzenberg openly saying that it was “not close to what we wanted.” Putting aside whether or not anyone wants to watch content on their phone in ten minute chunks, the timing certainly didn’t help; they built a thing meant to be consumed on-the-go at a time when many, many people are anything but on-the-go.
Will AirPlay or Chromecast or any other streaming option be the thing that spikes their numbers? Probably not. But for the folks who were already considering Quibi but didn’t want to be stuck watching it on their phone, it could be enough to get them to give it a spin.
When it launched in April, Quibi carried the express mission statement of offering short form videos designed to watch on-the-fly. The service’s narrow focus rubbed a lot of potential subscribers the wrong way, with many requesting a more traditional method for watching the service’s series.
Ultimately, Quibi’s launch was a disappointing one, with founder Jeffrey Katzenberg blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for the service’s rocky start. It was a strange assertion, given how other streaming services have thrived amid lockdowns. In the same interview, the exec also alluded to the addition of support for streaming to TV.
The move followed an earlier suggestion that the feature was already on the roadmap, though the pandemic and Quibi’s disappointing performance may have accelerated the launch of a feature, which honestly ought to have been present since day one. Quibi has just delivered on that promise, by adding support for Apple’s AirPlay. That means iOS users can now stream Quibi’s frustratingly short content directly to their AirPlay-enabled sets.
Sure we designed Quibi for on-the-go, but these days visiting the family room is like a day trip… so AirPlay support is live for iOS in Quibi 1.3. Working hard on Chromecast too which will be available in June.
Chief Product Officer Tom Conrad noted the change on Twitter, “Sure we designed Quibi for on-the-go, but these days visiting the family room is like a day trip… so AirPlay support is live for iOS in Quibi 1.3.” What’s more, support for Chromecast streaming will arrive next month, according to the executive.
Interesting that the news comes the day HBO is launching its eagerly anticipated Max service, the latest powerhouse in an already crowded streaming market. But it’s certainly nice to see the company continuing to evolve after what’s been mostly regarded as a disappointing launch. Now might we recommend doing something about show length?
Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg is admitting that the short-form video service’s launch hasn’t gone the way he’d hoped — and he knows what to blame for its issues.
“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” Katzenberg said in an interview with The New York Times. “Everything. But we own it.”
Back in April, I actually asked Quibi executives about how they thought the worldwide pandemic and widespread social distancing measures might affect their launch. After all, an app designed to deliver videos under 10 minutes when you’re on-the-go seems less appealing when no one can leave their house (where you can just sit on your couch and watch Netflix).
“I’m looking to take small breaks more than ever before to stand up, walk around, go outside,” CTO Rob Post said at the time. “Our use cases are these in-between moments. Now more than ever, that use case is still present.”
Similarly, Katzenberg told The Times he’d hoped “there would still be many in-between moments while sheltering in place.” Instead, he argued that those moments are still happening, “but it’s not the same. It’s out of sync.”
How badly has the launch gone? Quibi says it has been downloaded around 3.5 million times, and that it currently has 1.3 million active users. That’s a significant audience, especially for a service that was only released a little over a month ago.
Still, Katzenberg admitted it’s “not close to what we wanted.” And the company is apparently adjusting its projections, which had called for the service to reach 7 million users and $250 million in subscriber in its first year.
At least it sounds like Quibi is trying to learn and adapt. For one thing, the marketing has started to shift to promoting specific shows like “Reno 911” reboot, rather than advertising the idea of Quibi itself. For another, the company said it will be adding support TV viewing support for iOS users this week.
Newly launched mobile streaming service Quibi is killing one of its more highly anticipated series — a show depicting Snapchat’s origin story, focused on founder Evan Spiegel. The news was exclusively reported by Variety on Tuesday, which did not detail the source of its news.
Plans for the Snapchat show were first announced at SXSW in 2019, when Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman took the stage to talk about their plans for the new streaming service and its unique technology for mobile viewing.
The Snapchat series was to be based on the screenplay “Frat Boy Genius” by Elissa Karasik, which had depicted Spiegel as a hard-partying Stanford student, according to a review of the much-hyped script by Vulture.
“It is the story of how [Spiegel] built and created Snapchat, which is one of the great social platforms of our time,” touted Katzenberg, at the event. “And we want to tell a story that is as compelling and interesting about the creation of Snapchat and Evan’s story as ‘[The] Social Network’ was for Facebook,” he added.
The show was meant to appeal to Quibi’s target audience of young, on-the-go millennials and Gen Z users who were looking to watch short-form videos while out and about — for example, while riding the subway, waiting for an appointment, standing in line and more.
However, Quibi launched its service at a time when its users are no longer running around town. These days, everyone is sheltering in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And real-world activities are canceled, so there’s nothing much to do but go for walks or stream Netflix.
Quibi’s launch-day downloads had indicated a lack of pent-up demand for the mobile service, topping only around 300,000 after the first day.
However, in an interview with CNBC, Quibi CEO Meg Whitman has since confirmed the app’s first-week downloads have now reached 1.7 million. But these installs were boosted by a high-profile partnership between Quibi and T-Mobile, which is offering the service for free for a year to its unlimited wireless customers on family plans.
Whitman also said Quibi was accelerating its plans to add support for casting features that would allow Quibi content to play on televisions.
The company had earlier confirmed at CES in January that AirPlay and Chromecast were on its roadmap, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed Quibi’s plans. People today are watching movies and TV at home on their big TV screens, and may not be looking for “quick bites” of video they can binge in a few minutes’ time.
Quibi and Snapchat have been asked for comment. We’ll update if any are provided.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.
This week we’re continuing to look at how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world of mobile applications, including Apple and Google’s plans to team up on a contact tracing platform and other COVID-19 apps worldwide. We’re also looking at how WhatsApp is fighting fake news, and how home quarantines are impacting online grocery and dating applications. In non-COVID-19 news, we look at Quibi’s debut, Facebook’s new app for couples and a possible iOS version of Android’s “Slices,” among other things.
Coronavirus Special Coverage
Apple and Google partner on COVID-19 tracing tools
Apple and Google announced on Friday a plan to join forces to create a decentralized tracing tool to help people determine if they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The first phase of the project is an API that public health agencies can integrate into their own apps. This will be followed by a system-level contact tracing system that works across iOS and Android and is opt-in. The system will involve transmitting an anonymous ID over Bluetooth. The servers will relay your last 14 days of rotating IDs to other devices that look for a match based on time spent and distance between two devices. If a match is found, you’re notified so you can get tested and self-quarantine.
The APIs will be available in May, while the Bluetooth-based system will be released in the months ahead.
Other COVID-19 apps in the news
EU suggests standardization: This week, the EU began pushing for its 27 nations to develop common standards for coronavirus tracking technologies that would make apps interoperable or even perhaps develop a single app to be used across the bloc, Bloomberg reported. Today, multiple developers in the U.K., Germany and elsewhere are working on mobile phone apps to track people who’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, but the data will be harder to aggregate and understand in its fractured state.
France to develop a contact-tracing app: France is officially working on a smartphone app to slow the spread of COVID-19, by tracking people living in France. The app will leverage the PEPP-PT protocol, which will involve an open standard using BLE to identify other phones running the app.
How Chinese apps handled COVID-19:A post from Dan Grover analyzes how Chinese apps from major tech companies like Baidu, WeChat, Alipay and others worked to help people get through the coronavirus crisis by offering statistics, e-medicine, tools for quarantine, e-commerce and tools to check your exposure. By comparison, the U.S. has largely just added PSAs from the CDC and WHO to their platforms, instead of having offered more robust solutions. The pros and cons of both are debated from an app-centric point of view, which makes for interesting reading from a more technical perspective.
COVID-19 symptom checker from startup Zoe arrives in U.S.: A free iOS and Android application called COVID Symptom Tracker was originally developed in partnership with food science startup Zoe and released first in the U.K. After a million downloads, the app is now launching in the U.S.
Before we jump into today’s show, don’t forget that the long-form Equity that we’ve done for more than three years still drops on Friday. Last week’s was a particular delight, so make sure you’re caught up. Ready? Let’s go.
What’s coming up this week? Not earnings, or at least not the sort of earnings reports that we care about. Instead, we’re keeping eyes peeled for Q1 VC data and economic information from the United States. Here in the States Friday is off, remember, so this is a short week.
Next, two venture rounds:
Valispace, a Germany-based startup that also has folks in Portugal, raised €2.2M recently led by JOIN Capital. The startup calls itself “Github for hardware,” which TechCrunch summarized as a “collaboration platform for engineers, allowing them to develop better satellites, planes, rockets, nuclear fusion reactors, cars and medical devices” with a browser-based app.
And Vertical Future just raised £1.1M. It’s doing vertical farming, a topic that I’ve read about every few years but now appears to really be a thing! That’s exciting. Vertical Future raised a bigger round last year, and is generating food today in production sites.
Finally, we close with a question: How many more startups are going to die this year, compared to 2019, and what do their deaths mean for staff and investors alike? Will the end of so-called “tourist” money harm young companies or will it merely cull the silly?