Television’s most important award might be going to its least important streaming service: Quibi. The service was nominated for 10 Emmy Awards, of which it’s almost certain to win at least one.
Quibi — which one estimate claims retained only 8 percent of people who signed up for its three-month free trial — hasn’t suddenly started putting out content on the same level as Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. Instead, the short-form streaming service is competing in a game that no one else is playing.
At face value, Quibi’s nominations and near-certain win seem impossible: Quibi only has 16 original drama or comedy shows, has been around for just over three months, and has made about the same impact on the media landscape as a water balloon has on an Abrams tank.
Quibi’s playing an entirely different game
But Quibi’s potential award show success has almost nothing to do with the quality of its content or the success (or lack thereof) of the service. It has everything to do with the kind of content that Quibi is making. Let’s look at the categories Quibi is nominated in, shall we? (Quibi nominations bolded for emphasis):
Outstanding Actor in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series
- Laurence Fishburne as Lt. Steven Poincy, #FreeRayshawn (Quibi)
- Stephan James as Rayshawn, #FreeRayshawn (Quibi)
- Christoph Waltz as Miles Sellers, Most Dangerous Game (Quibi)
- Corey Hawkins as Paul, Survive (Quibi)
- Mamoudou Athie as Jerome, Oh Jerome, No (FX)
Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series
- Anna Kendrick as Cody, Dummy (Quibi)
- Kaitlin Olson as Cricket, Flipped (Quibi)
- Jasmine Cephas Jones as Tyisha, #FreeRayshawn (Quibi)
- Kerri Kenney-Silver as Deputy Trudy Wiegel, Reno 911! (Quibi)
- Rain Valdez as Belle Jonas, Razor Tongue (YouTube)
Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series
- Better Call Saul Employee Training: Ethics Training With Kim Wexler (AMC)
- The Good Place Presents: The Selection (NBC)
- Star Trek: Short Treks (CBS All Access)
- Reno 911! (Quibi)
- Most Dangerous Game (Quibi)
Quibi’s nominations are exclusively in the short-form-specific Emmy categories. Its competition is a few web-series spinoffs of larger shows and a YouTube series. Unless things go very badly for the mobile-focused streaming service, it’ll be walking away with at least one award come September.
Are these prestige categories? Not to the extent that the full-length Best Actor, Actress, and Drama categories are. But! They’re still Emmy Awards that Quibi can boast about — and use to market its shows to viewers and advertisers alike. Quibi’s overall strategy of big-budget, small runtime shows with A-list actors attached may not have done much in getting viewers to tune in, but they’re practically tailor-made for these short-form Emmy categories — categories that Quibi is poised to dominate.
Emmy Awards aren’t a salve for low subscriber numbers, nor is it likely that a win will help reverse Quibi’s fortunes. A report from Sensor Tower earlier in July claimed that the company was only able to convert about 72,000 of its initial 910,000 users into paid customers when the three-month free trial offer expired. Quibi refuted those numbers at the time, claiming that Sensor Tower’s numbers were “incorrect by an order of magnitude,” but it failed to provide its own subscriber count. Even if the service fails to turn things around, an Emmy Award or two might not make a bad consolation prize.
Disclosure: Vox Media, which owns The Verge, has a deal with Quibi to produce a show, and there were early talks about a Verge show as well.