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Short-form content has graduated from YouTube to attracting big stars, big studios and big Hollywood backing. Is watching in snippets the future of TV?

State of the Union opens in a bar, where Tom (Chris ODowd) and Louise (Rosamund Pike) hash out an agenda for their marital therapy session over drinks and witty diversions. The two banter and alternately confront and avoid the flailing state of their marriage, before the scene cuts at the therapists door.

And by scene, I mean episode. Each instalment of State of the Union, developed and written by Nick Hornby for Sundance TV, lasts a mere 10 minutes less than half the length of a standard sitcom, and just over a tenth of the latest episode of Game of Thrones. The show, with its two principal characters and single-scene conceit, is peak TV in short-form, specifically designed to fit the time spent between subway stops. At 100 minutes a season, its a refreshing antidote to seemingly endless hours of original shows, said Daniel DAddario, chief TV critic at Variety. There are so many shows nowadays where I think people really feel the burn, because shows can be as long as creators and streaming services want them to be, and they can often be longer than consumers need them to be, he told the Guardian.

Short-form content is not new ask anyone who has gone down a YouTube hole of music videos, makeup tutorials or cooking how-tos but State of the Union represents a growing trend of snackable, stylish short-form from some of Hollywoods major players.

Netflix recently debuted two series with episodes of about 15 minutes: Special, a show about life as a gay man with cerebral palsy adapted from writer and star Ryan OConnells memoir, and Bonding, a series based on creator Rightor Doyles past as the bodyguard for a dominatrix. Just last week, Adult Swim greenlit the quarter-hour comedy series Three Busy Debras, from star Sandy Honig (Isnt It Romantic) and producer Amy Poehler. And the upcoming short-form video platform Quibi arriving from Hollywood titan Jeffrey Katzenberg, formerly the head of Dreamworks, and former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman announced the series #Freerayshawn, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring If Beale Street Could Talk breakout star Stephan James.

In other words, short-form has gone prestige. Once the purview of DIY YouTubers and aspiring creatives looking for a big break (Issa Rae graduated from the minutes-long webseries The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl to HBOs full-length comedy Insecure), short-form now commands a deep well of resources the backing of major studios, streaming-service budgets and top talent. And as the slate of original content continues to expand, scripted short-form TV may become the most contested battleground for heavyweight tech and content companies, as everyone from Snap to YouTube to Sundance TV compete for a quarter-hour snippet of attention.

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A still from Special Photograph: Netflix

Katzenberg has declared the shift to short-form as era-defining, telling a crowd at South by Southwest: Five years from now, we want to come back on this stage and if we were successful, there will have been the era of movies, the era of television and the era of Quibi. What Google is to search, Quibi will be to short-form video.

Quibi, short for quick-bite, is a $5 a month subscription service that will break full-length TV and movies into mobile-optimized six to 10 minute chunks. Set to launch in April 2020, the service is already worth more than $1bn and is developing projects with Lena Waithe, Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro, Justin Timberlake and a Fatal Attraction 2.0 thriller with Naomi Watts.

Its still too early to tell whether Quibis world of short-form will fundamentally reshape the hierarchy of Hollywood content. But shows like State of the Union have already demonstrated that scripted short-form can open up TV to new formats and voices that might not otherwise make it to series in a traditional length.

Special and Bonding, for example, both feature marginalized perspectives who challenge the TV status quo, and were probably considered a risk in finding a broad audience on broadcast. Netflixs vice-president of product, Todd Yelling, has said that the decision to go short, standard or long depends on the material. Its really about flexibility in storytelling. Some stories are best told in six minutes and some stories are best told in 10 hours, he told Variety in March.

State of the Union isnt about inclusion, but it is a show that for many reasons couldnt really work at 30 minutes because of Rosamund Pikes stature, because of the kind of story that its trying to tell, said DAddario. Each episode is less truncated sitcom than entry in a length-based genre a short story to a novel, DAddario said, made possible by the proliferation of streaming. Streaming presents this real opportunity to experiment that on broadcast and even on a lot of cable, you cant really do a shorter show, he said. Youre locked into these time slots and these formats.

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Chris ODowd and Rosamund Pike in State of the Union. Photograph: Marc Hom/SundanceTV

For Sundance TV, which has both a cable arm and a streaming service, the quality of the short product justified the risk of finding viewers. We loved the idea of using these incredibly talented people to break new ground in television, its executive director Jan Diedrichsen said to the Guardian. Sundance TV played each new episode of State of the Union linearly, at 10pm each night, and made them available for streaming at 5pm, in time for the evening commute. If youre on the train, youre on the bus, youre carpooling, what a great time to be able to catch 10 minutes of an episode in a way that a 50-minute episode may not be open to you, said Diedrichsen of the reasoning.

DAddario said thats exactly how he watched I Think You Should Leave, Tim Robinsons 15-minute sketch comedy show on Netflix and enjoyed it.

These kind of fast-moving 15-minute shows that are trying to do a couple things really well, and are youre in and youre out in a quarter of an hour, are a really satisfying mobile experience.

I love the fact that the creativity around this format really gives you a different sort of satisfying feel in premium television, said Diedrichsen of the length experiment. While its too soon to know how viewers responded to State of the Union did they watch episodes individually? All at once? Diedrichsen loves how the show takes the short-form structure and it makes it premium. The talent, the production values everything about it feels prestige and high-end.

Snappy dialogue, expensive lighting, slick production its the hallmarks of so-called prestige TV, pared down to the anti-Thrones extreme. In that way, the new short-form is as characteristic of the streaming era as is an overlong, somewhat bloated series, said DAddario.

I started watching State of the Union for this piece, intending to get a taste of the format through two or three episodes. But soon I fell into the rhythm of binge-watching, that liminal space where real-life hours become show minutes and the pull of responsibilities faded with each autoplay. Its not unusual for me to lose a whole sleepless night to an engaging seven episodes of TV. This time, though, it was just my lunch break.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/may/14/short-form-tv-future-state-of-the-union

Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman today announced a slate of new series and projects heading to their forthcoming video streaming service, Quibi. The list includes an origin story to complement Telemundo’s hit show “El Señor de los Cielos;” a music competition show produced by Justin Bieber manager and entertainment exec Scooter Braun; a show from Jennifer Lopez’s company about the power of giving and paying it forward; as well something called “Frat Boy Genius,” which will focus on the rise of Snapchat — and specifically its creator, Evan Spiegel.

“It is the story of how he built and created Snapchat, which is one of the great social platforms of our time,” touted Katzenberg. “And we want to tell a story that is as compelling and interesting about the creation of Snapchat and Evan’s story as “[The] Social Network” was for Facebook,” he added.

The project will be based on the screenplay by the same name, which had written Spiegel as a hard-partying Stanford student, according to Vulture’s review of the much-hyped script.

“He should be flattered,” remarked Katzenberg, of Quibi’s plans for the Spiegel-focused project.

Katzenberg and Quibi CEO Meg Whitman were at SXSW to speak about the upcoming streaming video service, which plans to offer short-form video designed for mobile. On Quibi, consumers watch “quality” video cut into smaller pieces, including both scripted and unscripted original content, exclusives from Quibi’s partners and other daily news and sports programming.

Already, some of Quibi’s content plans have been announced.

For example, Deadline reported last fall that filmmakers Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro and Antoine Fuqua and producer Jason Blum will all create series for the service. And a pitch deck had touted other examples of Quibi’s programming — like a show called “Inspired By” with Justin Timberlake and “Under the Gun” with Kobe Bryant. Plus, Katzenberg himself had revealed in a LinkedIn post that Quibi was working on a basketball-related series with Steph Curry’s production company.

However, the story about Snapchat’s founding highlights how Quibi could benefit from its combination of tech and entertainment industry roots, in terms of deciding what to greenlight.

Whitman, a former HP Enterprise president and CEO, also pointed to another example: her penchant for using data to make decisions.

“I am deeply analytical and Jeffrey will argue in stories and allegories,” Whitman said. “And I will say: ‘Jeffrey, do you have any data to suggest that what you have just said is true?’ And he’ll say, ‘no I don’t have any data — but it’s true,’ ” she explained.

“Then I will come with data, facts, total available market size, market segmentation, market research, and he will say, ‘you know, not everything yields to analysis.’ And I’ll say ‘no, not everything does, but most things do,’ ” she said.

For the most part, today’s onstage discussion was a pitch for why Quibi will work and why it needs to exist — with Katzenberg touting its promise as an app that will benefit from 5G mobile networks as well as the cord-cutting behavior among younger millennials, who are no longer interested in traditional pay TV.

Both execs also stressed that Quibi was not a Netflix or YouTube competitor — despite angling for the same share of consumers’ mobile minutes and a set amount of downtime not spent on social media and mobile gaming, for example. They instead believe Quibi will be additive, and other services — like Netflix and Disney+ — can still win, even as Quibi wins.

Katzenberg said that Quibi aims to grab 20 minutes of the 70 minutes per day people spend watching short-form video, but doesn’t believe it will necessarily come at the expense of YouTube or others.

“Six years ago it was six minutes. A year and a half ago, it was 40 minutes. And today it’s 70 minutes,” he said, illustrating mobile video’s rise. “People love being able to watch great short-form content on the go.”

“What we know is that our users are watching a lot of video on mobile. They’re excited about the opportunity to see something differentiated. But honestly, we’re using a lot of judgment, and we’ll know whether it works when it launches,” Whitman added. 

Quibi will publish more than 100 pieces of content every week, meaning it’s going to be making 5,300-5,400 pieces of content per year, Katzenberg said. He also mentioned a few others examples of programming, including a daily round-up of the best of late night TV, and spoke more vaguely of the potential for a show that delivered music news, the way that MTV’s Kurt Loder once did.

The streaming service is launching in April 2020, Katzenberg also confirmed today, putting a more definitive time stamp on the launch time frame beyond “early 2020” or “spring.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/03/08/jeffrey-katzenbergs-streaming-service-quibi-is-doing-a-show-about-snapchats-founding/