Mobile streaming service Quibi continues to release multiple new series weekly and hauled in 10 Emmy nominations last month, but is it a rewarding experience watching Quibi’s “quick bite” episodes — no more than 10 minutes each — which are designed to run on your phone?
It varies by program.
This week, Quibi — pronounced “kwih-bee” — is releasing a new take of “The Fugitive.” The 14-installment first season debuts Aug. 3, with new episodes dropping every weekday through Aug. 18. This version of “The Fugitive” stars Kiefer Sutherland as Clay, an occasionally Southern-accented LAPD counterterrorism boss who refers to his subordinates as “young man” and “young lady” and demands they all reply to his orders with, “Copy, boss.”
“Somebody has attacked my city — again!” Clay thunders after a bomb explodes on a Los Angeles subway. (This may or may not be an intentional nod to Sutherland’s previous role saving Los Angeles from terrorists multiple times as Jack Bauer on “24.”)
Clay enters in the second eight-minute episode after viewers get to know Mike Ferro (Boyd Holbrook), who is on parole for a financial crime he didn’t commit and quickly becomes Clay’s No. 1 suspect in the subway bombing.
Directed by “24” vet Stephen Hopkins, “The Fugitive” is more propulsive than Quibi’s dull Liam Hemsworth-starring, Emmy-nominated “Most Dangerous Game,” which premiered in April at Quibi’s launch. “The Fugitive” also feels more episodic — with well-planned cliffhangers to drive viewers to the next episode — and less like a 90-minute movie that’s been carved into bite-sized morsels.
And yet there’s little in “The Fugitive” — from the title to the plot to the irresponsible TV news reporter who wrongly implicates Mike — that wouldn’t be at home on a CBS series.
That may help explain why Quibi hasn’t broken through in a crowded streaming marketplace: Its content is largely “meh” and unessential.
One of Quibi’s touted features, “Turnstyle,” offers the ability to watch its programs in either portrait (holding your phone vertically) or landscape (horizontal). Viewers can switch between by turning their phones at any point during a program (this is accomplished by Quibi sending both portrait and landscape streams to phones simultaneously). Given the prevalence of Tik Tok viewers who are accustomed to a vertical view — an easier way to hold a phone one-handed — it’s probably a feature some users appreciate. But watching episodes of “Most Dangerous Game” in portrait feels like an old VHS pan-and-scan, cramped viewing experience. It’s as if you’re missing content just out of frame. Turn the phone to landscape and you discover there are several other characters in the scene who weren’t visible in portrait.
Big action scenes on a phone, like a subway exploding, also make one long for a bigger screen. (Quibi can now be cast to a TV via Apple’s Airplay and Google’s Chromecast).
At least one comedy series works better on Quibi than it did on linear TV. Quibi’s revival of former Comedy Central show “Reno 911!” proves more palatable in quick bursts.
“Reno 911!” was always a compilation of sketches and on Quibi, there’s no need to conjure up an episode-long plot to connect them.
The Emmy-nominated “Reno 911!” reboot, which will resume dropping new episodes Aug. 24, also proves worthwhile because there have been so many changes in technology and culture since the show originally ended in 2009 that there’s actually something new for “Reno 911!” to comment on in its over-the-top, comedic way.
And yet most of the buzz around Quibi has been bad buzz.
App analytics firm Sensor Tower’s rankings through July routinely found the app falling outside the Top 100 downloaded iOS apps daily (though Quibi remained in the Top 20 of entertainment apps almost the whole month). The app has had more than 5.6 million downloads to date, a Quibi rep says.
An early July report, which Quibi executives disputed, suggested only 72,000 of the 910,000 subscribers who took advantage of a three-month free trial decided to stick around and pay $5 per month for the ad-supported service (or $8 per month for the ad-free version), a dismal 8% conversion rate.
The choice to stick to the April launch date for Quibi — a service specifically designed to be used by commuters on the go at a time when many Americans were working from home and not commuting — now seems like a potentially fatal error.
For viewers accustomed to watching a streaming service on a TV while multitasking on their phones — often engaging in social media — Quibi’s initial reluctance to allow for casting to larger screens seemed out of sync with the times.
Nevertheless, Quibi is pushing forward with program launches and renewals.
Quibi recently introduced the Kevin Hart-starring scripted action comedy “Die Hart” and on Aug. 10 debuts the Paula Pell-starring “Murder, She Wrote” sendup “Maplewirth Murders.” The service’s August offerings also include unscripted shows such as the Seattle-set docuseries “Sex Next Door.”
So far Quibi has renewed “Most Dangerous Game,” “Chrissy’s Court,” “Gayme Show,” “Murder House Flip,” “Thanks a Million,” “Dishmantled,” “Nikki Fre$h,” “Punk’d” and “Singled Out” for a second season each.