I’m in Austin for SXSW. It’s my fourth straight year, and I cant help being drawn back, year after year, for an intensive five days of blue sky inspiration (from some of the world's best presenters), practical ideas (from some of the world’s best brands), and authentic Texan BBQ (from some of the world’s best BBQ joints).
Day one of 2019 didn’t disappoint. I parked myself in ‘Convention Centre Ballroom D’ for five straight sessions, soaking in wisdom from SXSW greats including researcher Brene Brown, acclaimed psychotherapist Esther Perel and trend forecaster Rohit Bhargava. All three are best selling authors in their own right, and between them their talks have amassed almost 100 million views on TED.
In a stacked line up, the session that left me with the most ‘after the show’ thinking was actually the one I least expected. It was a one on two interview (which I usually hate as a format), disguised as a keynote, innocuously titled ‘The Next Form of Storytelling: The Future of Technology-Enabled Entertainment’. Vom.
As it turned out, the next form of storytelling is actually pretty bloody interesting. The two people being interviewed were Jeffrey Katzenberg (former chairman of Walt Disney Studios, producer of animated greats including Lion King and Aladdin, and cofounder of DreamWorks) and Meg Whitman (former CEO of HP, former CEO of eBay, former executive at Hasbro, Procter and Gamble and DreamWorks). According to Wikipedia, they also have a combined net worth of almost $5 billion!
They were there to talk about their new startup, Quibi.
Quibi is short for ‘Quick Bites’, and is essentially a content and technology platform built around high quality film that’s specifically designed for mobile consumption. All films are six to ten minutes in length, and are shot to seamlessly transition between full screen landscape (watching on the bus) and full screen portrait (watching while walking from the bus stop to the office).
Quibi has been dubbed the perfect love child, spawned by Silicon Valley and Hollywood (Sillywood?), which, looking at its parents/cofounders, kind of makes sense. So attractive is Quibi’s promise, that anybody who’s anybody (including eight of the largest Hollywood studios) have already invested in it. With this backing, Quibi is working with the biggest names in film and TV, including AAA list directors, producers and actors, to build a gigantic library of content, for a whole new, custom built environment (all of which could be yours, for just $5 a month).
While the one hour interview was a machine gun spray of knowledge bombs, some that are still rolling around in my mind hours after the event include:
An hour of commercial television is exactly 42:30. How much are we compromising our stories, making them shorter or longer than they need to be, to meet an arbitrary, predefined time frame that’s been set by the broadcasters rather than by filmmakers?
Traditionally, books were written in chapters of 20-40 pages. The theory was that people read a page a minute, and after half an hour, most people’s eyes got tired and needed a break. Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown broke up his 400+ page book into chapters of around five pages each, declaring that ‘people didn’t have as many 30 minute windows to read as they used to’. It seemed to work out OK for him.
While Netflix is huge, the majority of viewing (at least by ‘attractive audience bases’) is done on TV sets between the hours of 7pm and 7am. That leaves 12 hours a day of (largely busted up) time slots for people to consume purpose built content on the go.
When it comes to quality content production for mobile, we ain’t seen nothing yet. The most polished creators on YouTube are spending around $3,000 a minute producing their content. Quibi are giving guys like Steven Spielberg $100,000 a minute to play with. Buckle up!
The guys spoke at length about making information and entertainment as convenient as Spotify has made music. Seven years ago, all music was freely accessible, but not convenient to access. Spotify changed all that. Today, they posit, all information and entertainment is freely accessible, just not convenient to access in the way and manner we want it to be. Enter Quibi.
Content in the works includes the day’s news in 6.5 minutes (produced in conjunction with the BBC UK, which, according to their research, is the most trusted news source for millennials), 6 minutes of daily music news (all in one place), the best of last night's late shows (monologues, skits, interviews) and a new take on sports highlights.
There’s no doubt that the hype, the hope and the investment being ploughed into Quibi could make it ‘too big to fail’. But I, for one, can’t wait to enjoy the future of information and entertainment, six to ten minutes at a time, starting April 2020.
Tomorrow is looking to be another cracking day, in which I also get my first (and second!) shot at presenting on the SXSW stage with my friend, strategy ‘ring in’ and podcast co host Dr Melissa Weinberg.
Come say hi if you’re there!
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.