January 27, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Quibi died but its shows will live on with Roku

The final chapter in defunct streaming service Quibi is coming to an end.

The Hollywood company, which shut down in December, sold the global distribution rights to more than 75 shows and documentaries to San Jose streaming platform Roku for an undisclosed price.

The programs, which include Emmy award winning drama “#FreeRayshawn” to and the Kevin Hart comedy “Die Hart,” will live on Roku’s free, ad-supported streaming service, the Roku Channel later this year, Roku said in an announcement on Friday.

Founded in 2002, Roku makes money through advertising, licensing its technology and selling connected-TV hardware. It also collects a cut of the subscriptions sold on its platform.

The company has long positioned itself as a one-stop hub for customers where they can access a variety of streaming platforms through Roku — whether it be Netflix, Disney+ or HBO Max.

For Roku, Quibi’s content could be especially valuable because it features well-known celebrities. Hollywood also is hungry for new content because the COVID-19 pandemic has canceled or delayed new production. And the programming also can help set Roku apart from its bigger rivals, which include the tech giants Apple and Amazon.

“If you’re going to be in that game in any manner, shape or form, content is still king,” said Maribel Lopez, founder of Lopez Research in Mount Pleasant, S.C. “Quibi had a lot of original content that they had spent a lot of money on, so this gives Roku an opportunity to have content.”

The sale provides relief and an opportunity for many creators who built shows for Quibi and were dismayed when the streaming service suddenly went dark.

“Honestly, I would be stoked for it to be available anywhere,” said Cody Heller, creator of “Dummy,” a Quibi comedy starring Anna Kendrick. “I still am very proud of the show and would love more people to see it, so Roku sounds very exciting to me.”

Quibi aimed to become the next generation of storytelling by creating premium content for mobile phones.

Led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, the company raised $1.75 billion, spending up to $100,000 a minute on programs. It attracted Academy Award-winning directors such as Steven Spielberg and A-list actors such as John Travolta to take part in its projects, but Quibi faced insurmountable challenges.

The service targeted millennials on the go, who would watch Quibi videos of 10 minutes or less while they were riding the subway or waiting for a table at a restaurant. But the pandemic forced the company to pivot.

Additionally, the start-up lacked a way to view Quibi on a TV at launch and simply did not have enough hit shows to attract a big enough audience willing to pay for the service.

Still, some shows that never got a chance to succeed could get a new life on the Roku Channel, which has the scale that Quibi lacked, reaching 61.8 million people.

“The shows with Anna Kendrick, Chrissy Teigen, Chris Hemsworth, and big stars are going to do well because you can put their face in a thumbnail,” said Evan Shapiro, a producer and former executive at NBCUniversal who sold a non-scripted series to Quibi that never got made. “If you’re already on Roku, and you’re getting the content for free … why not give it a try?”

Roku has seen a surge in viewership during the pandemic as people looked for ways to entertain themselves at home. Viewers spent 17 billion hours streaming on Roku in the fourth quarter, up 55% from a year earlier, the company said.

The unique ownership agreements Quibi had with creators could complicate Roku’s plans for the shows. Under those deals, creators were given the rights to their shows after seven years and could shop longer versions of their shows to other platforms after two years on Quibi.