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Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile-only streaming video service Quibi is asking media companies and production studios to produce up to twice the amount of content for each episode of the programs they are creating for the platform so that viewers can choose between horizontal and vertical versions of a show. While that increases the workload for these companies, entertainment executives largely are not balking at Quibi’s so-called dual asset demand, though some worry that offering vertical and horizontal versions of videos will overcomplicate the viewing experience and turn off audiences.
When Quibi debuts in April 2020, it will be neither a horizontal video platform like Netflix nor a vertical video platform like Snapchat. Instead, it will be a hybrid of the two. Viewers will be able to watch Quibi’s shows vertically or horizontally and switch between the two while watching a video on their phones. That may sound like Quibi is hedging its bet by neither following Snapchat’s vertical-only model nor risking ridicule by asking audiences to “Go90” and turn their phones horizontally. However, entertainment executives who have seen demos of Quibi’s product said its horizontal-vertical hybrid viewing experience may help the platform to stand out in an increasingly crowded market. A Quibi spokesperson did not provide a comment by press time.
Quibi has been an object of fascination for the entertainment industry since Katzenberg said in 2017 that he planned to raise $2 billion to build the mobile video platform. Ahead of the platform’s launch next year, conversations tend to center on whether Quibi will be able to convince people to pay $5 a month for its ad-supported service or $8 a month for its ad-free tier, especially as it will have to contend with not only Netflix, Hulu and Amazon but also Disney+, HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s streaming service for audiences’ subscription budgets. While being able to swap between horizontal and vertical versions of shows is unlikely to be what convinces people to subscribe to the service, the feature combined with programming from Oscar winners like Guillermo del Toro and Steven Spielberg may suffice in piquing their interest to at least give Quibi a try.
In private meetings with producers, Quibi executives have demonstrated how shows can be designed to offer different experiences based on whether people are viewing a video vertically or horizontally. In one example featuring a thriller series, the horizontal version of a scene shows a character sitting on a sofa in her home, and switching to the vertical version reveals someone standing outside her front door. “It’s both shockingly instantaneous and shocking that it’s taken so long for someone to figure out,” said one entertainment exec who has been given a demo.
While platforms like YouTube and Facebook adjust their video players based on whether someone is viewing a video holding their phone vertically or horizontally, the difference with Quibi is that the app is not reorienting a single video but switching between two separate videos (the dual assets). When people hold their phone vertically, the vertical version of the video plays, and when they turn the phone to hold it horizontally, Quibi’s videos player switches to the horizontal version. “There’s no pause in the audio or lag. It just catches right up,” said a second entertainment exec who has seen a prototype of Quibi’s product.
Editing the two clips alone to work seamlessly requires companies allotting an extra day’s worth of post-production work, according to the second exec.
Producers cannot simply crop a vertical version from a horizontal clip and call it a day, though. “They will not be okay with that,” said the first exec, who viewed Quibi’s dual-asset demand as a “brilliant” move because it “necessitates all productions to be original.” Quibi is pushing producers to come up with horizontal and vertical versions of videos that add to the viewing experience. Fortunately for producers — and despite what Quibi’s demo might suggest — that doesn’t mean that show makers have to go so far as shooting entire scenes specifically for the different versions of a video.
One company that is making an unscripted program for Quibi is focusing on shooting the horizontal version and editing it together with extra footage to create the vertical version. For example, the vertical version may feature a split-screen of a scene where the top of the screen shows the center frame from the horizontal clip and below it will appear a clip of the same scene but from a different angle. “It’s like the director’s cut,” said an exec from this company.
Quibi appears to recognize the extra work that it is asking producers to put into their programming by factoring it into production budgets, according to entertainment execs. As Digiday has previously reported, Quibi is paying companies as much as $125,000 per minute for scripted shows and $50,000 per minute for unscripted shows. That’s shy of the $200,000 to $300,000 per minute that Katzenberg has said Netflix and HBO pay for shows like “House of Cards” and “Game of Thrones,” but it exceeds the $40,000 to $50,000 per episode that Snap has been willing to pay for original shows. According to entertainment execs who are producing shows for Quibi, the company’s high production budgets more than compensate for the extra work required to produce two separate versions of each video. “I don’t think they’re asking for too much,” said the first exec.
However, while Quibi may not be asking too much of producers, there is a concern among entertainment execs that the company may be asking too much of viewers if too many programs offer too different of a viewing experience between their programs’ horizontal and vertical versions. “I think the audience is a lot lazier than people give them credit for,” said an entertainment exec who is not producing a show for Quibi.
Executives who are producing shows for Quibi acknowledged the possibility that viewers may gravitate to one orientation over another and be unwilling to flip back and forth between the two. While they plan to include signals within shows, such as graphics, to indicate when a viewer may want to change a video’s orientation, they also plan to produce the programs so that viewers don’t feel like they’re missing anything if they only watch one version. And if it turns out that the horizontal or vertical versions of their shows go almost entirely unwatched, that might be okay too, given how producers will be able to repurpose those videos for bonus revenue down the line as they did with their Go90 shows.
Producers also see an opportunity to make more money from the dual assets in the long run. Two years after a show premieres on Quibi, the show’s producers will be able to reformat the program, such as cutting it into different episode lengths, to distribute elsewhere. By having horizontal and vertical versions of a program, a company could tweak the horizontal version for YouTube and the vertical version for Snapchat and generate ad revenue from each platform, or it could edit the horizontal version into more TV-like lengths to license to a streaming service looking to fill its library.
“Whether or not this actually leads to a new generation of video storytelling, who knows. But there’s a chance for it to happen,” said the first exec.