New Nvidia Shield Android TV streaming device leaks via Amazon listing

The fact that Nvidia is updating its Shield TV hardware has already been telegraphed via an FCC filing, but a leak earlier today paints much more of a detailed picture. An Amazon listing for a new Nvidia Shield Pro set-top streaming device went live briefly before being taken down, showing a familiar hardware design and a new remote control and listing some of the forthcoming feature updates new to this generation of hardware.

The listing, captured by the eagle-eyed Android TV Rumors and shared via Twitter, includes a $199.99 price point, specs that include 3GB of RAM, 2x USB ports, a new Nvidia Tegra X1+ chip and 16GB of on-board storage. In addition to the price, the Amazon listing had a release date for the new hardware of October 28.

If this Amazon page is accurate (and it looks indeed like an official product page that one would expect from Nvidia), the new Shield TV’s processor will be “up to 25% faster than the previous generation,” and will offer “next-generation AI upscaling” for improving the quality of HD video on 4K-capable displays.

It’ll offer support for Dolby Vision HDR, plus surround sound with Dolby Atmos support, and provide “the most 4K HDR content of any streaming media player.” There’s also built-in Google Assistant support, which was offered on the existing hardware, and it’ll work with Alexa for hands-free control.

The feature photos for the listing show a new remote control, which has a pyramid-like design, as well as a lot more dedicated buttons on the face. There’s backlighting, and an IR blaster for TV control, as well as a “built-in lost remote locator” according to the now-removed Amazon page.

This Amazon page certainly paints a comprehensive picture of what to expect, and it looks like a compelling update to be sure. The listing is gone now, however, so stay tuned to find out if this is indeed the real thing, and if this updated streamer will indeed be available soon.

UPDATE: Yet another Nvidia leak followed the first, this time through retailer Newegg (via The Verge). This is different, however, and features a Shield TV device (no “Pro” in the name) that has almost all the same specs, but a much smaller design that includes a microSD card, and seems to have half the amount of on-board storage (8GB versus 16GB) and a retail price of around $150.

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TiVo’s ad-supported streaming service, TiVo Plus, launches today

TiVo’s answer to The Roku Channel, TiVo Plus, is launching today. The company had already unveiled its plans for ad-supported streaming earlier this month with the debut of two new models of its DVR, the TiVo Edge. Like The Roku Channel, TUBI, Vudu’s Movies on Us, and others, TiVo Plus is available to stream for free. But unlike others in this space, TiVo Plus is available exclusively to TiVo devices owners.

The service is enabled by a TiVo partnership with XUMO, Jukin Media and other publishers.

It includes a variety of content from sources like TMZ, America’s Funniest Home Videos, FilmRise, Outside TV+, PowerNation, FailArmy, Hell’s Kitchen | Kitchen Nightmares, Food52, Ameba, BatteryPOP, Baeble Music, Kid Genius, Journy, NatureVision, People are Awesome, Puddle Jumper, The Asylum, The Pet Collective, The Preview Channel, Unsolved Mysteries, Adventure Sports Network, AllTime, Complex, and others.

TiVo also has deals with Gannett, Loop Media, Revry, Newsy, Tastemade, Latido Music and Mobcrush to expand TiVo Plus even further.

The company says there will be “thousands” of movies and TV shows available in an app-free environment.

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Despite the obvious comparisons to The Roku Channel, the TiVo Plus interface isn’t as well-designed. Where Roku puts the focus on the content that’s available for free streaming, TiVo Plus highlights the publishers. The content is organized in generic and broad groupings, like “Movies and TV,” “Sports,” “Kids and Family,” “Entertainment, Comedy Pop Culture,” and others, instead of being more editorially curated or personalized to the viewer.

Though TiVo Plus is a free service, being a TiVo owner is not. For example, the new TiVo Edge DVR for cable customers is $400, followed by a $14.99 per month service fee, which can be paid either as an annual fee ($149.99) or all at once with a lifetime plan ($549.99).

The same DVR for cord-cutters is $350 and the service fee is $6.99 per month, or $69.99 per year and $249.99 for a lifetime fee.

The DVRs include support for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision HDR, 2TB of storage, TiVo’s OnePass, SkipMode (automatic commercial skip),

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This was the first time that TiVo lowered its subscriptions for the DVR for antenna users, in an effort to respond to market pressures. Most streaming media devices — like Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, etc. — don’t require subscriptions, as the companies don’t license TV guide data for their users nor do they operate with cable TV-like business model involving ongoing service fees. That’s allowed customers, and particularly cord-cutters, to get comfortable with one-time purchase fees and has weakened TiVo’s position.

With a dwindling customer base, TiVo has turned to advertising — not only with its new ad-supported streaming service on its devices, but also with skippable pre-roll ads on DVR recordings, as recently reported and confirmed by TiVo. 

TiVo Plus is rolling out starting today and continuing over the next few weeks to customers with Series 6 devices with Experience 4 (TE4). It will be available on the Home screen, when it goes live.

How Bongo, the ‘Netflix of Bangladesh’, won the local video streaming market with just $10M

Thousands of miles away from the U.S., where technology giants, cable networks, and studios are locked in an intense multi-billion dollar battle to court users to their video streaming services, a startup in Bangladesh has already won the local video streaming market.

And it did all of this in six years with just $10 million. And it’s also profitable.

Ahad Mohammad started Bongo in 2013. The on-demand video service began life as a channel on YouTube in 2014 before expanding as a standalone app to users a year later.

Of the 96 million people in Bangladesh who are online today, 75 million of them are subscribed to either Bongo’s YouTube channel or to its app, Mohammed said.

Bongo’s domination in Bangladesh is second to none in the nation. iFlix, which raised $50 million a few months ago to expand its presence in several Asian markets, and India’s Zee5 are among the players that Bongo competes with, though their market share remains tiny in comparison.

TechCrunch caught up with Mohammed to get an insight into the early days of building Bongo and what holds next for the “Netflix of Bangladesh” as it increasingly expands to international markets.

Meet Venn, the company hoping to build MTV for the gaming generation

Maybe a network will be the thing that replaces the single streaming media star.

VENN, a new company launching with $17 million in funding from some of the biggest names in gaming is hoping to harness the power of streaming media’s online celebrities and funnel them into a channel that can command the kind of advertising revenues of the networks of old.

The vision harkens back to the golden days of MTV, when shows like TRL ruled the media landscape and a New York-based network set the cultural agenda through the prism of pop music.

For the creators of VENN, who include Ariel Horn, a four-time Emmy winning producer who brought the commercial storytelling from his network days working on Olympics broadcasts for NBC (a division of Comcast) to the esports phenomenons of Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment; and Ben Kusin, a former global director of new media at Vivendi Games, MTV is the template for creating a cultural commodity from what’s becoming the lingua franca of a new generation of consumers.

Where music (and particularly music videos) was once the genre-spanning language for a generation, the two entrepreneurs see gaming culture as the touchstone for a new audience. And where fragmentation has created a confusing market for advertisers to reach that audience, the content funnel and single source that a network can provide offers an attractive alternative to reaching out to a single celebrity gamer, streamer, or platform.

Tthat’s the pitch behind VENN, which not only stands for Video Game Entertainment News Network, but also represents the venn diagram whose center resides at the intersection of gaming, music, fashion, and entertainment broadly, according to the two co-founders.

Ben Kusin Ariel Horn

VENN co-founders Ben Kusin and Ariel Horn

“You’re looking at a $150 billion per-year industry,” says Kusin. “We think streamers, casters, content creators, these are the new celebrities… what MTV TRL used to be back in the day if that were to launch today what would it look like? This culture would be seen through the lens of gaming.”

His co-founder, Horn, agrees. “We see gaming as the lens through which we want to create and contextualize Gen Z,” says Horn.

Horn knows the potential audience better than nearly anyone. In his last job, he presided over eSports events that commanded viewership in the hundreds of millions. Both Kusin and Horn think that the same sized audience could exist for their network — if not larger, because the two producers and their channel aren’t beholden to a single title, franchise or publisher.

Nor are they subject or beholden to a single distribution platform.

“We’re a universal network,” says Kusin. “We will be distributed on Twitch, on YouTube, and on Pluto, Hulu, and Roku… Anywhere and everywhere that our customers are consuming content.”

The company is currently looking to recruit top-tier talent and bring their sponsor-based streams and formats into a traditional network environment, with higher production values and something approximating the types of talent contracts and deals that would be afforded to a network figure. These streamers, gamers, and others would be able to supplement their existing sponsor-based income with their work on VENN, the two-co-founders said.

The executives would not comment on what, specifically, the programming would include, but indicated that VENN was in discussions with a number of the top streamers in the gaming corners of services like YouTube and Twitch from which they’d pull programming. One genre that will likely make its way onto the network is an American Ninja Warrior-style competitive show for speedruns through different levels of games.

“There are already shows on Twitch,” says Horn. “It’s reported out there for you in real-time. You’re getting all kinds of feedback.” What’s necessary, he says, is to elevate the production value and add other kinds of more traditional programming around it.

“There are two hundred million people consuming YouTube gaming content… There are esports teams [like] Liquid [and] G2 whose talent consider themselves entertainers,” says Kusin. “We’re giving the entire industry a home and a heartbeat.”

The appeal for brands is obvious. If there’s a single place to go to capture the audience that follows streaming celebrities like Ninja, Tfue, or VanossGaming, that real estate is far more desirable than pursuing independent sponsorship deals with each individual streamer.

LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 12: Gamers ‘Ninja’ (L) and ‘Marshmello’ compete in the Epic Games Fortnite E3 Tournament at the Banc of California Stadium on June 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Brands trying to put their money into gaming is not that straightforward,” says Horn.”There isn’t really a network  like this that exists right now… that exists for the industry at large.”

Other companies that have emerged to capture advertising dollars or create networks of entertainers in something akin to an agency model may beg to differ. These are companies like 3blackdot or Popdog, which represent a significant chunk of online gaming talent. Or more traditional sites that have significant followings like IGN, which bills itself as the #1 games media company.

Beyond the competition, VENN is still rolling the dice on whether the new generation of consumers wants to have a more produced, mediated entertainment network rather than continue to gravitate to the unmediated experience of watching live streams of their peers do the things that they’re doing themselves. YouTube is more than just a vehicle to mainstream stardom, these streamers are their own mainstream stars for millions of viewers who seem fine with the no-fi production values that YouTube almost demands.

Investors are betting that they are, because VENN has raised a $17 million treasure chest to spend on bringing its vision to the market. The money comes from some of the biggest names in gaming, led by the European investment firm BITKRAFT. Additional investors include: Marc Merrill, the co-founder of Riot Games; Mike and Amy Morhaime, the co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment and its former head of global esports; Kevin Lin, the co-founder of Twitch; and aXiomatic Gaming, an esports investment group with stakes in Epic Games, Team Liquid and Niantic. 

“It’s about time we significantly raise the bar for video content in gaming and esports. We need to elevate the stars and stories in our community and provide a better and larger opportunity for brands to reach gamers,” said Jens Hilgers, Founding Partner of BITKRAFT in a statement.   

Roku expands its TV licensing program to Europe

Roku TV today represents more than 1 in 3 smart TVs sold in the U.S. Now, the company is bringing its TV licensing program to European markets. At the consumer tech show IFA in Berlin, Roku announced it will now allow manufacturers to license its TV reference designs and use its Roku OS to build smart TVs for sale in Europe. It also said Hisense would be its first European Roku TV partner.

Today, the connected TV market is no longer limited to just the dongles, sticks, and streaming media players that plug into the HDMI ports of consumers’ TV sets.

Top companies like Roku, Google and Amazon are also making their operating systems and reference designs available to TV makers themselves, in a battle to gain consumer market share. Apple has been rumored to be working on its own television set powered by tvOS, as well.

Roku, to date, done well on this front in its home market, after first introducing the Roku TV platform at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2014. Hisense was then one of its first partners on the effort. Fast-forward to 2019, and there are now over 100 models available from over 10 brands in North America, and the company estimates that Roku TV is now the No. 1 selling smart TV OS in the U.S.

Roku isn’t alone in targeting Europe with its TV platform. Amazon this week announced more than 20 new Fire TV devices, 15 of which were TVs licensing its Fire OS. Many of these were also aimed at European consumers through partnerships with local brands and retailers.

The new Hisense Roku TV models will support 4K Ultra HD resolutions and HDR, and will come in sizes ranging up to 65 inches, Roku says. The models will launch in the U.K. in the fourth quarter.

“While consumers love Roku TV’s simplicity and advance features, TV manufacturers benefit from the low manufacturing cost, a variety of technology options, and support from Roku,” said Roku CEO and Founder Anthony Wood, in a statement. “The ability to quickly bring to market a leading smart TV experience that is regularly updated by Roku and is packed with entertainment gives TV manufacturers an edge in the competitive TV business. We are pleased to bring the Roku TV licensing program to Europe and look forward to the first Hisense Roku TVs in market this year,” he said.

 

Paid streaming music subscriptions in U.S. top 60M, says RIAA

Streaming music subscriptions continue to drive the U.S. music industry’s growth and revenues, according to a new report from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) released this week. The organization said total music revenue grew 18% to $5.4 billion in the first half of 2019, with streaming music accounting for 80% of industry revenues. The report also noted the number of paid subscriptions topped 60 million in the U.S. for the first time.

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Streaming revenues grew 26% to $4.3 billion in the first half of the year.

This broad figure includes paid versions of Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and others, as well as digital radio service revenues like those from Pandora, Sirius XM, and other internet radio, plus ad-supported streaming like YouTube, Vevo, and the ad-supported version of Spotify. Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.46.43 PM

Meanwhile, paid subscription streaming is continuing to grow, too, said the RIAA. Year-over-year, paid subscriptions grew 31% to reach $3.3 billion and remain the biggest growth driver for industry revenues.

In the first half of 2019, paid subscriptions made up 62% of all U.S. industry revenues and 77% of U.S. streaming music revenues.

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The number of paid subscriptions to full on-demand streaming services grew 30% to 61.1 million in the first half of the year, at an average pace of over 1 million new subscriptions per month.

This doesn’t include the “Limited Tier” subscriptions like Pandora Plus or that Echo-only subscription to Amazon Music, for example, where various factors limit access to a full catalog across devices or restrict some on-demand features. This category saw $482 million in revenues, up 39% from the year prior.

“Thanks to that breakneck growth, plus continued modest drops in digital downloads and new physical sales, streaming now generates 80% of music business revenues and has fundamentally reshaped how fans find, share, and listen to the songs and artists they love,” wrote RIAA Chairman & CEO Mitch Glazier, about the new figures.

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Ad-supported on-demand services grew 25% year-over-year to $427 million, while digital radio service grew 5% to $552 million in the first half of 2019.

However, the gains made by streaming were somewhat offset by declines in digital downloads, as Glazier noted.

Revenues in this category fell 18% to $462 million in the first half of the year, with digital track sales down 16% year-over-year and digital album revenues down 23%. Overall, digital download only accounted for 8.6% of total industry revenues.

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Physical product revenues grew 5% to $485 million in the first half of 2019, but the RIAA attributed this to a reduction in returns.

 

MIT built a better way to deliver high-quality video streams to multiple devices at once

Image via Getty Images / aurielaki

Depending on your connection and the size of your household, video streaming can get downright post-apocalyptic – bandwidth is the key resource, and everyone is fighting to get the most and avoid a nasty, pixelated picture. But a new way to control how bandwidth is distributed across multiple, simultaneous streams could mean peace across the land – even when a ton of devices are sharing the same connection and all streaming video at the same time.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab created a system they call ‘Minerva’ that minimizes stutters due to buffering, and pixelation due to downgraded stream, which it believes could have huge potential benefits for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that increasingly serve multiple members of a household at once. The underlying technology could be applied to larger areas, too, extending beyond the houseful and into neighbourhoods or even whole regions to mitigate the effects of less than idea streaming conditions.

Minerva works by taking into account the varying needs of different delivery devices streaming on a network – so it doesn’t treat a 4K Apple TV the same as an older smartphone with a display that can’t even show full HD output, for instance. It also considers the nature of the content, , which is important because live action sports require a heck of a lot more bandwidth to display in high quality when compared to say, an animated children’s TV show.

Video is then served to viewers based on its actual needs, instead of just being allocated more or less evenly across devices, and the Minerva system continually optimizes delivery speeds in accordance with their changing needs as the stream continues.

In real-world testing, Minerva as able to provide a quality cup equivalent to going from 720p to 1080p as much as a third of the time, and eliminated the need for rebuffing by almost 50 percent, which is a massive improvement when it comes to actually being able to seamlessly stream video content continuously. Plus, it can do all this without requiring any fundamental changes to network infrastructure, meaning a streaming provider could roll it out without having to require any changes on the part of users.

Elon Musk: Spotify is “coming” to Tesla vehicles in North America

Tesla owners in the U.S. and Canada may finally get that free Spotify Premium integration they’ve been asking for.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted late Wednesday night that Spotify premium integration is “coming.” Musk, who has talked about bringing Spotify to owners in North America before, did not provide a timeline. In other words, the music streaming service could be integrated next week or a six months from now.

But still, it’s a moment of celebration for many Tesla owners who have complained about Slacker Radio, the streaming music service integrated into all vehicles in the U.S. and Canada. Owners in Europe, Australia and Hong Kong have had Spotify Premium in their vehicles since late 2015.

Slacker Radio, which launched in 2007, has customizable radio stations based on the listener’s personal music tastes. The free and subscription-based service also tried to differentiate itself from the likes of Spotify and Pandora by using DJs to curate programs and at one time, even sold a portable music player. Despite its efforts, Slacker has been overshadowed by Spotify, which had 232 million monthly active users and 108 million paying subscribers at the end of June 2019.

Slacker was acquired in 2017 for $50 million in cash and stock by the LiveXLive, an entertainment and streaming service that focused on live music performances.

Last year, LiveXLive announced a partnership with Dash Radio, a digital radio broadcasting platform with more than 80 original live stations. Under the deal, Dash channels will be available across Slacker Radio a move meant to bring more live radio on the streaming service.

Earbuds lets audiences stream the playlists of athletes, entertainers and each other

Earbuds, a new startup from Austin founded by former Detroit Lions lineman Jason Fox, wants to bring the power of social media to your eardrums.

The company is one of a growing number of startups trying to rejuvenate the music streaming market by combining it with social networking so that audiences can listen to the playlists of their favorite athletes and entertainers… and their friends.

For Fox, the idea for Earbuds sprung from his experiences in the NFL, watching how other players interacted with crowds and hearing about the things fans wanted to know about their favorite players’ routines.

“We were playing Caroline in the first game of the season and Cam Newton was warming up right next to me,” Fox recalled. “He was jamming. Getting the crowd into it. And I was thinking there’re 85,000 people here and millions of more people watching at home…  And I thought… how many people would love to be in his headphones right now?”

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Earbuds founder Jason Fox

It wasn’t just Cam Newton who received attention. Fox said at every press conference one or two questions would be about what songs teammates played before games. On social media, players would take screenshots of their playlists and post them to platforms like Twitter or Instagram, Fox said.

The company has been out in the market in a beta version since February and has focused on lining up potential Earbuds devotees from among Fox’s friends in the NFL and entertainers from music and media.

“We made a decision to tweak something and make it very very heavily around influencers because that’s what’s really driving traffic for us,” Fox says. 

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Image courtesy of Earbuds

At its core, the app is just about making music more social, according to Fox. “There’s a social platform for everything, but in the days of terrestrial media distribution music has remain isolated,” he says. 

Logging on is easy. Users can create a login for the app or use their Google or Facebook accounts. One more step to link the Earbuds app with Spotify or Apple Music (the company offers one month free of the premium versions of either service to new users) and then a user can look for friends or browse popular playlists.

A leaderboard indicates which users on the app have streamed the most music and users can create their own streams by adding songs from their libraries to build in-app playlists.

Earbuds isn’t the first company to take a shot at socializing the music listening experience. The olds may remember services like Turntable.fm, which took a stab at making music social but shut down back in 2013. Newer services, like Playlist, are also combining social networking features with music streaming. That site focuses on connecting people with similar musical tastes.

Fox thinks that the ability to attract entertainers like Nelly (who’s on the app) and athletes could be transformative for listeners. Basically these artists and athletes can become their own online radio station, he says.

Fox spent nearly a year meeting with streaming services, music labels, athletes, artists and college students (the app’s initial target market) before even working with developers on a single line of code. The initial work was done out of Los Angeles, but after a year Fox moved the company down to Austin and rebuilt the app from the ground up to focus more on the user experience.

Early partnerships with Burton on an activation had snowboarders streaming their music as they rode a halfpipe proved that there was an audience, Fox said. Now the company is working on integrations across different sports and even esports.

Fox raised a small friends and family round of $630,000 before putting together a $1.5 million seed to get the app out into the market. Now the company is looking for $3 million to scale even more as it looks to integrations with sports teams and other streaming services like Twitch (to capture the gaming audience).

The company currently has seven employees.

Earbuds is available on iOS.

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Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi partners with NBC News for a daily news show aimed at millennials

NBC News today announced an exclusive partnership with Jeffrey Katzenberg’s upcoming mobile streaming service, Quibi, which will see the media company becoming the first major producer for the service’s “Daily Essentials” news programming, aimed at millennial viewers. As part of the deal, NBC will produce both a six-minute morning and evening news show for the service. The programming will air seven days a week and feature dedicated news hosts as well as original news content.

This is not the first time NBC News has targeted millennial viewers in particular. The company also runs a Snapchat news show called Stay Tuned that reaches millions, and it just launched its own digital streaming news network, NBC News Now, which is delivered through its NBC app.

NBC News Now will also power the breaking news coverage for Quibi, says NBC.

However, the deal is not just about repurposing NBC’s existing news content for a new platform. Instead, NBC will build out a full production team exclusively for the Quibi programming, while also providing access to NBC News resources and technical support.

In addition, the Quibi news show will be filmed in a custom-built studio in 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, and will be staffed by morning and evening news hosts and dedicated correspondents.

“NBC News’ worldwide reach brings in millions of viewers across its many platforms, and we are excited to work with them to deliver an innovative new way for millennials to get news in a format that fits into their lives,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, Quibi founder and chairman of the board, in a statement. “NBC News’ powerful original reporting for Quibi will take viewers around the world in six minutes and provide them with the important stories they care about at the start and end of each day.”

Quibi had earlier discussed some of its ideas about programming, including its concept for short-form news and sports.

The mobile-only streaming service is due to launch in April 2020, and has recently issued a steady stream of content announcements as more deals fall into place.

Some of the highlights include commitments from filmmakers Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro and Antoine Fuqua and producer Jason Blum to create series for the service, plus a show called “Inspired By” with Justin Timberlake and “Under the Gun” with Kobe Bryant.

There also will be a show about Snapchat’s founding, an action-thriller starring Liam Hemsworth, a murder mystery comedy from SNL’s Lorne Michaels, a documentary series from Tyra Banks, a Steven Spielberg horror show, a comedy from Thomas Lennon and more.

Quibi’s idea is to produce higher-quality programming than what you’d find from the creator community YouTube, but distributed in a way that resonates with a younger audience — that is, shorter segments optimized for mobile viewing. These “quick bites” of content are also how Quibi got its odd name.

It’s at the very least a unique idea in a market now teeming with subscription video services, with launches from WarnerBros (HBO+), Apple and Disney still on the way.

That said, most subscription video today is still watched on the television’s big screen, not on mobile devices. Quibi’s emphasis on being an “on-the-go” app may not quite work in the end, given the competition for users’ time and attention from social apps and games that are often our go-to time-fillers these days when we have a few minutes to spare. Even if Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok aren’t direct Quibi rivals because of their vast differences in content and business models, they still eat up a ton of people’s downtime — while commuting, waiting in line or taking a break from work, for example.

Quibi believes that younger people will launch its app instead in order to catch up with favorite shows. That’s a challenge that will require more than just good content — and it remains to be seen how Quibi will address this.

But with $2 billion in funding, $100 million in pre-launch ad revenue commitments and Katzenberg at the helm, it’s too soon to count Quibi out yet.