Unboxing Quibi: Inside the New Mobile Streaming App and Its Shows

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

Unboxing Quibi: Inside the New Mobile Streaming App and Its Shows
Courtesy Quibi

Quibi deserves credit. The app is top-notch and the content that I watched is high-quality (I suppose it ought to be, given reported production costs of up to $100,000 per minute for some shows, and all-star talent across its initial slate of 50 programs).

Even the daily weather report was witty, with a fun shoutout to Quibi's founder and chairman: "Down in SoCal," reported my mobile-sized meteorologist, "I'm calling for sunshine and low 70s -- that's just for you, Mr. Katzenberg."

And it was gutsy to stick with its April 6th release date, despite the coronavirus crisis.

But what it amounts to, for now, is breakfast for dinner.

Let me explain.

Quibi has spent the last year focused on three things, as their chief product officer put it on Wednesday.

Number one:elevating the mobile viewing experience. With technology that allows viewers to watch shows in either portrait or landscape mode, and a collection of exciting mobile-oriented features yet to come, they've achieved this. (Several times during my sheltered-in-place viewing party extravaganza, I rotated my phone 90 degrees, watched the shot seamlessly adjust, and thought to myself, "Neat!")

Number two:striving for simplicity. The app has just four tabs. It opens onto the Today For You page, which includes recommendations based on what and how you've watched.

Unboxing Quibi: The 'Today For You' tabwww.youtube.com

The Browse tab enables searching across category, genre, title, cast member or creator, or scrolling through different groupings like Trending, New Releases, and More to Explore.

Unboxing Quibi: The 'More to Explore' Tabwww.youtube.com

The Following tab hosts the episodes you've flagged.

Unboxing Quibi: The 'Following' Tabwww.youtube.com

And last is the self-explanatory Downloads tab (which are unlimited).

Number three:focusing solely on mobile. Steadfast in its belief that young companies -- even if they've raised $1.75 billion -- should "strive to be the best in the world at something," Quibi will not be available on tablets, laptops or television screens.

"Our content is made exclusively for the phone app with new technology that makes a beautiful watching experience," Jeffrey Katzenberg told Screen Daily on March 31st. He has repeatedly described Quibi as pioneering a "new form" of media.

Put another way, Quibi has merged innovative technology with premier content to try to optimize video for mobile phone viewing. And in my book, they've absolutely succeeded.

But the thing is, stuck at home in lockdown, I found that I would have preferred to watch these shows on my tablet, laptop, or TV.

It's like this. I love breakfast. And I eat breakfast, most of the time, in the morning.

Now, I could optimize breakfast for eating it in the evening. I'd like that -- breakfast for dinner -- once in a while. Who wouldn't?

But here's the rub: I prefer breakfast in the morning. Much as I appreciate the effort to optimize breakfast for dinner, I quite like breakfast as it is. In the morning. So I sincerely commend Quibi for optimizing video for a mobile screen; it's just that I would prefer to watch these shows on, well, a bigger screen. I don't want to eat breakfast for dinner when I could just as easily eat breakfast for breakfast.

And during the quarantine, while I'm cocooning at home with my tablet, my laptop and my TV all accessible as can be, I am surrounded by breakfast. I don't need a different way to eat breakfast right now.

As for when the quarantine ends, that could be a different story.

Quibi, after all, was built for "in-between" moments, from 7am to 7pm, as Chief Executive Meg Whitman has explained. It's not meant to compete with the many other ways that I can watch shows when I'm not "on the go." It's supposed to be for when I'm commuting, or standing in line, or waiting for my bank robbery getaway car to pull up.

But no one's robbing banks right now; we're in lockdown.

Katzenberg has his response: "You have as many in-between moments today as you had a month ago. They're just different," he told the L.A Times.

That may be true. People may indeed want to tune into a 5-minute newscast in between homeschooling their kids (demand for news is way up right now, after all, and Quibi's got a lot of it). Or, when folks are sitting on the couch and their family is hogging the big screen, they may enjoy catching an episode of blindfolded chefs getting a dish exploded onto them then having to guess what it is and cook it for judges who themselves don't know what it's supposed to be. Some may enjoy basking in the fresh air of a backyard, reaching into their pocket and watching a movie-in-chapters, like Most Dangerous Game (I certainly did).

But although these bite-sized episodes are undoubtedly high-quality; and the six-to-ten minute episode length feels fresh and workable; and the variety of shows promises to include something for just about anyone in Quibi's target demographic of 18-44 year olds, I'm not sure I would pay $4.99 (with ads) or $7.99 (without) per month--especially when I have so many other options immediately at my disposal.

Once things go back to some semblance of normal, and those on-the-go in-between moments return, I wouldn't be shocked if Quibi caught on.

In the meantime it's available for a 90-day free trial to anyone who signs up in April. The problem for Quibi is that at that point we may still be in lockdown. Then again, I do find myself wondering what will happen to Liam Hemsworth....


Sam Blake covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA


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Creandum’s Carl Fritjofsson on the Differences Between the Startup Ecosystem in Europe and the U.S.

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Carl Fritjofsson
Carl Fritjofsson

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Creandum General Partner Carl Fritjofsson talks about his venture journey, why Generative-AI represents an opportunity to rethink products from the ground up, and why Q4 2023 and Q1 2024 could be "pretty bloody" for startups.

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AI Is Undergoing Some Growing Pains at a Pivotal Moment in Its Development

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
AI Is Undergoing Some Growing Pains at a Pivotal Moment in Its Development
Evan Xie

One way to measure just how white-hot AI development has become: the world is running out of the advanced graphics chips necessary to power AI programs. While Intel central processing units were once the most sought-after industry leaders, advanced graphics chips like Nvidia’s are designed to run multiple computations simultaneously, a baseline necessity for many AI models.

An early version of ChatGPT required around 10,000 graphics chips to run. By some estimates, newer updates require 3-5 times that amount of processing power. As a result of this skyrocketing demand, shares of Nvidia have jumped 165% so far this year.

Building on this momentum, this week, Nvidia revealed a line-up of new AI-related projects including an Israeli supercomputer project and a platform utilizing AI to help video game developers. For smaller companies and startups, however, getting access to the vital underlying technology that powers AI development is already becoming less about meritocracy and more about “who you know.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Elon Musk scooped up a valuable share of server space from Oracle this year before anyone else got a crack at it for his new OpenAI rival, X.AI.

The massive demand for Nvidia-style chips has also created a lucrative secondary market, where smaller companies and startups are often outbid by larger and more established rivals. One startup founder compares the fevered crush of the current chip marketplace to toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic. For those companies that don’t get access to the most powerful chips or enough server space in the cloud, often the only remaining option is to simplify their AI models, so they can run more efficiently.

Beyond just the design of new AI products, we’re also at a key moment for users and consumers, who are still figuring out what sorts of applications are ideal for AI and which ones are less effective, or potentially even unethical or dangerous. There’s now mounting evidence that the hype around some of these AI tools is reaching a lot further than the warnings about its drawbacks.

JP Morgan Chase is training a new AI chatbot to help customers choose financial securities and stocks, known as IndexGPT. For now, they insist that it’s purely supplemental, designed to advise and not replace money managers, but it may just be a matter of time before job losses begin to hit financial planners along with everyone else.

A lawyer in New York just this week was busted by a judge for using ChatGPT as part of his background research. When questioned by the judge, lawyer Peter LoDuco revealed that he’d farmed out some research to a colleague, Steven A. Schwartz, who had consulted with ChatGPT on the case. Schwartz was apparently unaware that the AI chatbot was able to lie – transcripts even show him questioning ChatGPT’s responses and the bot assuring him that these were, in fact, real cases and citations.

New research by Marucie Jakesch, a doctoral student from Cornell University, suggests that even users who are more aware than Schwartz about how AI works and its limitations may still be impacted in subtle and subconscious ways by its output.

Not to mention, according to data from Intelligent.com, high school and college students already – on the whole – prefer utilizing ChatGPT for help with schoolwork over a human tutor. The survey also notes that advanced students tend to report getting more out of using ChatGPT-type programs than beginners, likely because they have more baseline knowledge and can construct better and more informative prompts.

But therein lies the big drawback to using ChatGPT and other AI tools for education. At least so far, they’re reliant on the end user writing good prompts and having some sense about how to organize a lesson plan for themselves. Human tutors, on the other hand, have a lot of personal experience in these kinds of areas. Someone who instructs others in foreign languages professionally probably has a good inherent sense of when you need to focus on expanding your vocabulary vs. drilling certain kinds of verb and tense conjugations. They’ve helped many other students prepare for tests, quizzes, and real-world challenges, while computer software can only guess at what kinds of scenarios its proteges will face.

A recent Forbes editorial by academic Thomas Davenport suggests that, while AI is getting all the hype right now, other forms of computing or machine learning are still going to be more effective for a lot of basic tasks. From a marketing perspective in 2023, it’s helpful for a tech company to throw the “AI” brand around, but it’s not magically going to be the answer for every problem.

Davenport points to a similar (if smaller) whirlwind of excitement around IBM’s “Watson” in the early 2010s, when it was famously able to take out human “Jeopardy!’ champions. It turns out, Watson was a general knowledge engine, really best suited for jobs like playing “Jeopardy.” But after the software gained celebrity status, people tried to use it for all sorts of advanced applications, like designing cancer drugs or providing investment advice. Today, few people turn to Watson for these kinds of solutions. It’s just the wrong tool for the job. In that same way, Davenport suggests that generative AI is in danger of being misapplied.

While the industry and end users both race to solve the AI puzzle in real time, governments are also feeling pressure to step in and potentially regulate the AI industry. This is much easier said than done, though, as politicians face the same kinds of questions and uncertainty as everyone else.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been calling for governments to begin regulating AI, but just this week, he suggested that the company might pull out of the European Union entirely if the regulations were too onerous. Specifically, Altman worries that attempts to narrow what kinds of data can be used to train AI systems – specifically blocking copyrighted material – might well prove impossible. “If we can comply, we will, and if we can’t, we’ll cease operating,” Altman told Time. “We will try, but there are technical limits to what’s possible.” (Altman has already started walking this threat back, suggesting he has no immediate plans to exit the EU.)

In the US, The White House has been working on a “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights,” but it’s non-binding, just a collection of largely vague suggestions. It’s one thing to agree “consumers shouldn’t face discrimination from an algorithm” and “everyone should be protected from abusive data practices and have agency over how their data is used.” But enforcement is an entirely different animal. A lot of these issues already exist in tech, and are much larger than AI, and the US government already doesn’t do much about them.

Additionally, it’s possible AI regulations won’t work well at all if they aren’t global. Even if you set some policies and get an entire nation’s government to agree, how to set similar worldwide protocols? What if US and Europe agree but India doesn’t? Everyone around the world accesses roughly the same internet, so without any kind of international standard, it’s going to be much harder for individual nations to enforce specific rules. As with so many other AI developments, there’s inherent danger in patchwork regulations; it could allow some companies, or regions, or players to move forward while others are unfairly or ineffectively stymied or held back.

The same kinds of socio-economic concerns around AI that we have nationally – some sectors of the work force left behind, the wealthiest and most established players coming in to the new market with massive advantages, the rapid spread of misinformation – are all, in actuality, global concerns. Just as the hegemony of Microsoft and Google threaten the ability of new players to enter the AI space, the West’s early dominance of AI tech threatens to push out companies and innovations from emerging markets like Southeast Asia, Subsaharan Africa, and Central America. Left unfettered, AI could potentially deepen social, economic, and digital divisions both within and between all of these societies.

Undaunted, some governments aren’t waiting around for these tools to develop any further before they start attempting to regulate them. New York City has already set up some rules about how AI can be used during the hiring process while will take effect in July. The law requires any company using AI software in hiring to notify candidates that it’s being used, and to have independent auditors check the system annually for bias.

This sort of piecemeal figure-it-out-as-we-go approach is probably what’s going to be necessary, at least short-term, as AI development shows zero signs of slowing down or stopping any time soon. Though there’s some disagreement among experts, most analysts agree with Wharton professor and economist Jeremy Siegel, who told CNBC this week that AI is not yet a bubble. He pointed to the Nvidia earnings as a sign the market remains healthy and not overly frothy. So, at least for now, the feverish excitement around AI is not going to burst like a late ‘90s startup stock. The world needs to prepare as if this technology is going to be with us for a while.

Rivian CEO Teases R2, New Features in Instagram AMA

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Rivian CEO Teases R2, New Features in Instagram AMA

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe took to Instagram last weekend to answer questions from the public about his company and its future. Topics covered included new colors, sustainability, production ramp, new products and features. Speaking of which, viewers also got a first look at the company’s much-anticipated R2 platform, albeit made of clay and covered by a sheet, but hey, that’s…something. If you don’t want to watch the whole 33 minute video, which is now also on Youtube, we’ve got the highlights for you.

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