By Michael Schneider
CREDIT: JOHN SHEARER/INVISION/AP/SHUTTERSTOCK
Katzenberg was at the Banff World Media Festival in Canada to answer more questions about his and CEO Meg Whitman’s burgeoning short form programming incubator, and also revealed more programming plans.
“Steven Spielberg came in, and said, ‘I have a super scary story I want to do,'” Katzenberg said. “He’s writing it himself. He hasn’t [written anything in a while] so getting him to write something is fantastic.”
Katzenberg said Spielberg has already “written five or six episodes (which Quibi calls “chapters,” like a novel) of a 10- or 12-chapter story.” The program is being developed under the title “Spielberg’s After Dark.” (Spielberg is also developing a revival of his anthology series “Amazing Stories” for another new content programmer, Apple TV Plus.)
Spielberg had an unusual request however: He wanted viewers to only be able to watch the program after midnight. Given that phones can track where it is at the moment — and keep tabs on when the sun rises and sets in its area — Katzenberg and Whitman challenged their engineers to come up with an idea for how to view the show when it’s spooky out.
The result: A clock will appear on phones, ticking down until sun sets in wherever that user is, until it’s completely gone. Then the clock starts ticking again to when the sun comes back up — and the show will disappear until the next night.
Short for “quick bites,” Quibi has raised $1 billion from investors for an April 2020 launch, with more funding to come, and is hoping to trigger a “third generation of film narrative,” following movies and TV. But don’t call it short form, Katzenberg said.
“What Quibi is doing, it’s not really short form,” he said. “We’re putting those sciences together. Chapters or act breaks that are 7 to 10 minutes long. They are specifically shot to be watched on the go. If you’re 25-35 years old, you get up and you’re on [a smartphone] for over five hours.”
At launch, Quibi will offer a two-week free trial period, and have eight “super premium” productions (which Katzenberg still called “movies”) ready to view. After that, there will be 26 more “lighthouse” (read: signature projects) productions that will roll out, every other Monday, for the first year.
These projects, he said, will be the equivalent to what “House of Cards” was for Netflix and “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been for Hulu.
Quibi will also offer in addition, “a great assortment of alternative programming, non-scripted,” and a “Daily Essentials” news product.
All told, Katzenberg said Quibi will offer 125 pieces of content a week — or 7,000 pieces in year one.
Katzenberg and Whitman (who did not attend the Banff event) have been on a bit of an industry road show in recent months, offering up various explainers about the service to industry crowds. Katzenberg revealed over the weekend at the Produced By conference that Quibi will have two pricing tiers at launch on April 6, 2020. The first costs $4.99 with one pre-roll ad before each video segment — a 10-second ad if the video is less than 5 minutes and a 15-second ad for 5-10 minute videos. An ad-free option will cost $7.99.
“We have to have a quantity,” Katzenberg said of the investment in Quibi. “You can’t take an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ and cut it up, it’s crap, it doesn’t work. The only way to get to the volume is if everybody gets on board, into the same boat and rowing in the same direction.”
And that’s why, Katzenberg said, virtually every major media conglomerate is an investor in Quibi.
Besides Spielberg, talent that have already been tapped to produce for Quibi or star in its projects include Steven Soderbergh, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi, Catherine Hardwick, Anna Kendrick, Doug Liman, Laurence Fishburne and Antoine Fuqua. Animated fare includes “Doomlands,” from Blue Ant Studios’ Look Mom! Prods.
“Those people who are the most skilled and talented in the TV industry today are going to be the ones who make Quibi a success,” he said. “If we’re right this becomes a growth for the entire industry… If we are successful, we will have brought on this third generation of film narrative.”