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Full Stream Ahead

Cord cutters may have once been limited to Netflix and Hulu for their TV fix, but the future of video streaming has arrived, bringing top players now taking advantage of tech breakthroughs like 4K ultra HD and HDR content. An array of streaming services offer viewers plenty of choice, but that also means the market’s getting crowded, with new additions Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus jostling original favorites like Amazon Prime, HBO Now, YouTube TV and Sling. Plus, HBO Max and NBC Peacock are set to launch later this year. Still, developers of streaming innovation aren’t stopping. According to advertising pros at this year’s CES conference, TV’s about to get even more exciting.

Quibi Steals the Spotlight
Enter Quibi, the newest subscription-based member to join the streaming platform party. Founded by former Disney and DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg and helmed by CEO Meg Whitman of eBay and Hewlett-Packard fame, this media-services provider differs fundamentally from the rest.

To start, it’s mobile-first, meaning all content is designed to be viewed exclusively on phones. Costs kick off at $5 a month for an ad-supported version or $8 to go ad free, and in return users get treated to “quick bites”—hence, “Quibi”—of 10-minute (or less!) video installments spanning various genres of original television programming, from news segments and documentaries to comedies and reality shows. The idea is to catch up on favorite shows during what Katzenberg dubs the “in-between times”—aka, commuting on the train or waiting in line for your Sweetgreen salad. Jennifer Lopez will hand out cash prizes on a competition series. Steven Spielberg already signed on to develop a horror project. Naomi Watts, Idris Elba and Reese Witherspoon are among additional A-list talent enticed early by Katzenberg, who knows everybody in the business and has a proven 40-year track record of industry success. Thus far, Quibi has confirmed over 30 different inaugural programs in conjunction with a cool $1 billion seed money invested by backers who believe in Katzenberg’s vision.

Advertisers are likewise feeling the love. By October of last year—six months ahead of Quibi’s scheduled April 2020 launch date—it had sold out its full stock of first-year ad inventory, totaling $150 million. General Mills, T-Mobile, Taco Bell and Procter & Gamble are all onboard. By design, they feel the platform is inherently brand safe. Its snackable content appeals to millennials and Gen Z viewers, the most highly coveted consumer demographic. Further, P&G’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard praised Quibi for evolving with direct input from advertisers. Case in point: encouraging P&G to create native (and, arguably, revolutionary) 60-second ads that will get broken into 15-second segments following the same format as show “chapters.”

Hitting Pause
P&G doesn’t stand alone when it comes to embracing nontraditional ad formats. Because consumers are increasingly loath to sit through long commercials, Hulu and Xandr, AT&T’s advertising division, recently announced plans to unveil pause ads. (Coca-Cola and Charmin have already signed on as Hulu partners.) As the name implies, a pause ad appears 30 seconds after viewers hit pause on their streaming (Hulu) or linear (Xandr/Verizon) TV content. Ads are designed to complement the viewing experience as opposed to detract from it, since they show up only when users are already taking a content break. They arrive as banners that pop on one side of the screen, or silent, animated screensavers that glide across it momentarily, as opposed to traditional videos, which were deemed too jarring. No one wants to stop the sound and picture on their show, only to have their TV suddenly start talking seconds later.

Costs and Competition
As streaming continues the march forward, popular services grapple with the pain of password sharing. It’s reported that close to one third of TV customers give their password to a friend or family member, with 13-24-year-olds registering as most generous—81 percent share that information. In 2019, the practice cost Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus a combined loss of $9.1 billion. Streaming groups are looking to develop technology limiting the number of devices that can log into a single account, but in the meantime, password piracy plus gratis content available on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube beg the question: why pay for new services like Quibi when others are already free? Katzenberg admits he’s got a tough sell to make, yet the visionary isn’t worried. He believes the world is ready to pony up for Quibi.