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It’s impossible to screenshot a Quibi show, and that’s detrimental to its success

Sharing is just as important as watching

Illustration by Grayson Blackmon / The Verge

Trying to describe Quibi’s essence to people is difficult. There are shows where food explodes in chefs’ faces, series about flipping murder homes, and Chrissy Teigen presiding over a small claims court. Quibi’s best content operates on the belief that “the more ludicrous, the better,” but that’s easier to show than tell.

Or it would be if people could share any of what they were watching. Quibi doesn’t allow people to take screenshots while shows are playing. Any effort to do so produces a black screen. Quibi isn’t the only streamer in this predicament. Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and other video apps also have their content blacked out when people take screenshots.

(Disclosure: Vox Media, which owns The Verge, has a deal with Quibi to produce a Polygon Daily Essential, and there have been early talks about a Verge show.)

Unlike its bigger competitors, however, Quibi lacks any kind of web browser support. There’s no desktop experience. So while it’s trivially easy to screenshot something on your computer, there’s no equivalent for Quibi. If I want to share a moment from a series or movie, I can just load up Netflix on my laptop.

Fans of actors and musicians who star in shows on Quibi have to seek out other ways of sharing the programming with friends and other fans. Ariana Grande’s appearance in &Music, one of Quibi’s midtier reality shows, is a perfect example. Stans on Twitter wanted to share moments of their favorite singer but couldn’t do it using Quibi. The only way for fans to share any aspect of Grande’s work was to screen record Grande’s Instagram story promoting the show.

Not being able to share outlandish or impressive parts of a series is detrimental to new shows looking for success. That’s especially true when there’s no preexisting IP to draw viewers in. Quibi’s Dishmantled is trying to find an audience among a sea of people already splitting their attention between passive, short-session apps (Instagram, TikTok) or streaming services with full-length shows that do have preexisting fanbases built into popular IP (Stranger Things, The Mandalorian). Trying to carve out a spot in someone’s life was difficult enough two or three years ago; now, they’re faced with a plethora of services and content that can feel daunting.

Breaking through to a large audience takes more than just having a good show. It has to be shareable, too. Take The Mandalorian’s Baby Yoda. Baby Yoda became a viral sensation from the very first episode, with screenshots of The Mandalorian’s breakout star flooding Twitter minutes after the first episode aired. Disney spent a hefty budget on marketing, but it was screenshots on social platforms that caught the world’s attention. More than 2 million tweets about Baby Yoda were sent in two weeks, according to Vulture, and there were fights over being able to upload GIFs of the character to Giphy. People wanted to tweet about Baby Yoda with screenshots and GIFs. What became a total advantage for Disney is something Quibi simply can’t accomplish right now.

No one knows this better than Netflix. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, told investors in October 2019 that while established IP will always have a leg up with audiences, Netflix has worked to build new brands out of thin air by leaning into what helps shows and films go viral.

Netflix’s strategy has also been to establish “brand creation” through social media buzz. The company’s strength comes from “the ability to create a brand almost out of thin air,” Sarandos told investors. Netflix’s Twitter accounts are full of memes built around screenshots with captions flipped on, trying to turn a 30- or 60-minute show — or even something marathon-length like The Irishman — into the meme equivalent of a soundbite.

It happened with Birdbox, which became a cyclone of memes and YouTube challenges, and then again with Tall Girl. Screenshots of actress Sandra Bullock in various situations started popping up all over Instagram, while Tall Girl’s best dunks became instant fodder for Facebook posting. Simply presenting subscribers with the option to watch a new movie isn’t enough to ensure they actually do; memes built around small moments from the films assist in turning a movie from an option to a must-watch.

And then there’s Tiger King. Writer Doreen St. Félix noted in a New Yorker essay that she “might have passed over Tiger King had not so many memes appeared on my timeline.” The wild documentary about a number of kooky private zoo owners in the United States with a love for jungle cats is intriguing on its own, but it found an entirely new audience through a series of popular memes. Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter became inundated with screenshots, GIFs, and clips from the show. It paid off for Netflix.

Nielsen released its findings on Tiger King’s popularity since it debuted on March 20th. Although there’s some traffic, it isn’t until the seventh day of its release that Tiger King really sees a boom in audiences showing up, according to the Nielsen chart above. Tiger King has sat at the top of Netflix’s Top 10 list in the United States for close to two weeks — an unprecedented amount of time. To compare, Stranger Things’ second season reached 31.2 million people in its first 10 days, while Tiger King saw 34.3 million people in the same time.

“Propelled by home page promotions and unending social media buzz, Tiger King season one became the first Netflix program measured by Nielsen to rival streaming megahit Stranger Things 3,” the research report found.

Quibi was designed from the ground up to be a mobile experience. A big part of what people do with their phones is share. They share photos from their lives on TikTok, information with strangers on Twitter, and swap memes with people on Facebook. Quibi wants to be part of that mobile universe. But by disabling the ability to let people share what they’re seeing, it has shut down a core experience that comes with being on our phones. For a self-proclaimed game-changing mobile experience, it isn’t very mobile-friendly.