Hollywood-backed Quibi thinks you'll pay for its video bites

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People take pictures of a display of LG Signature OLED R TVs at the LG booth during the CES tech show, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS, NV – A startup heavily backed by Hollywood is wagering that you're ready to set aside YouTube and TikTok to watch star-studded short videos on your phone — for a price.

The company behind this billion-dollar bet is Quibi (KWIH-bee), which is preparing to offer movies, shows and other short form video designed for viewing in short bursts on mobile devices. It's an enormous gamble, especially considering that several earlier efforts in mobile entertainment — most notably Verizon's ill-fated Go90 service — fell flat.

Founded by former Disney studios chief and DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and helmed by former Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman, Quibi is heavy on big ideas and Hollywood muscle. It has backing from all the major movie studios and entertainment companies, $1 billion invested in original programming and star power in the form of creators and producers from Steven Spielberg to Chrissy Teigen.

Quibi plans to launch on April 6. It will charge $5 a month for an ad-supported service, and $8 a month for an ad-free version.

Company executives argued at CES that Quibi will offer the first entertainment platform designed exclusively for the phone. In an interview at CES, Katzenberg said it represents the first time "professional storytellers" have tackled the problem of delivering a high-quality viewing experience on mobile.

But the big question is whether a subscription service like Quibi can attract mobile viewers — particularly younger ones — already immersed in an ocean of free-to-watch short video on YouTube and other social-media services. It will also go up against roughly a half-dozen other paid streaming platforms from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu to Disney Plus and upcoming services from WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal.

During the keynote Quibi previewed shows including “Don't Look Deeper,” a sci-fi show starring Don Cheadle and Emily Mortimer, and "#Freerayshawn" a crime thriller starring Laurence Fishburne as a cop and executive produced by “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua. Shows and movies, as well as other material like news and weather, are designed to be watched in “quick bites” of 10 minutes or less.

“'Paid premium short form' (video) has never been in the same sentence. It has never really been proven," said Seth Shapiro, managing partner at Pacific Strategy Partners. “That's the challenge.” Among other things, he noted, it's already possible for people to watch those other services in the same quick bites Quibi plans.