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CES 2020: Google Grabs Big Tech Role in Quibi's Phone-Focused Video Service

Las Vegas -- Google has emerged as a key technology partner for Quibi's premium, short-form video streaming service, which is optimized for smartphones by seamlessly transitioning how content is viewed as the device is rotated from landscape to portrait mode and vice versa.

Quibi, a startup founded by Hollywood icon Jeffrey Katzenberg and led by CEO Meg Whitman, used the stage here to announce the service's content plans and launch details, alongside some of the technical special sauce it will use to deliver its big slate of high-end fare to the small screen.

"We're not shrinking TV onto phones; we're creating something new," Whitman proclaimed.

The service will launch on April 6 and support two tiers -- $4.99 per month for an ad-supported version of Quibi, and an ad-free version that will fetch $7.99 per month. T-Mobile is on board as both a distribution and advertising partner for Quibi.

Quibi plans to stream out 175 shows and 8,500 episodes of short-form fare in its first year, and will break that content out into three primary categories: movies episodic unscripted series and documentaries and Daily Essentials (news and lifestyle content). Quibi's ad load will be 2.5 minutes per hour, versus the 17-minute average for traditional TV, Whitman said.

The general idea behind Quibi (a shortening of "quick bites") is to build a lineup of high-end, premium content that can be watched on the go in small segments via the smartphone. Movies and TV series, for example, will be broken down into chapters of seven to ten minutes, while all episodes for the Daily Essentials category (from partners such as NBC, BBC and The Weather Channel) will all be less than six minutes in length.

In addition to laying out the prices and content slate for the service, Quibi spelled out some info on how its platform has been optimized for the smartphone. A big piece of that is accomplished with "Turnstyle," a proprietary technique designed to maintain the full-screen experience as content is viewed in portrait or landscape mode.

But rather than simply cropping or expanding the frame for each mode, Quibi's content partners will edit discrete versions for viewing in landscape and portrait mode. But on the other end, Quibi's platform will deliver the asset for each orientation at the same time to allow for a seamless experience as the viewer rotates the phone.

"We are obsessing about mobile video like no one else," Rob Post, Quibi's CTO, said.

This Mountain Dew ad for Quibi embedded in this tweet illustrates how Turnstyle works as the viewer alters the orientation of the phone:

To help enable that optimization, Quibi is collaborating on the backend with Google Cloud and Google's Pixel team.

Tariq Shaukat, president of industry product and solutions for Google Cloud, said Quibi is tapping into new, low-latency and caching capabilities on Google Cloud's content delivery network to help Quibi deliver content using the Turnstyle technique without buffering. Quibi will allow users to stream and download its content.

The big question facing Quibi as it heads toward launch is whether its focus on mobile, despite new optimizing techniques and top-shelf talent, will be successful. After all, Verizon's mobile video service, Go90, didn't survive despite a massive investment in technology and content.

The good news for Quibi, which has raised about $1 billion, is that the advertising side of its hybrid business model is off to a solid start, as it has already sold out its first year of inventory (worth about $150 million) and attracted some big name brands, including PepsiCo, Walmart, Discover and Anheuser-Busch.

But the subscription end of that model will need to prove itself as Quibi attempts to lure viewers to the service. T-Mobile will offer some important help early on, as it will bundle Quibi to its 68 million mobile customers.

"We're going to go big," Mike Sievert, T-Mobile's president and COO and incoming CEO, said. He noted that mobile video represents 57% of the payload on his company's network, with 80% of that being short-form video.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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