EXCLUSIVE: Back in June 2019, when Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman unveiled that their $1.7BN-backed streaming platform would launch on April 6, 2020, the world looked very different than it does today. Flash forward 10 months and the planet is in the grips of a deadly pandemic that has infected one million people, with many countries on lockdown. Safe to say, it’s probably not the celebratory atmosphere that Quibi’s head honchos were looking forward to.
And yet, millions of people are stuck at home in isolation, and most of us are voraciously consuming entertainment. That could help Quibi attract some curious early adopters, and as Katzenberg told us in an interview last week, the company’s response to the crisis is to offer the service free for the first 90 days, in acknowledgment of the challenges for people in this uncertain time. With 50 shows at launch, and a total of 175 originals to come in its first year, totaling around 8,500 episodes, that’s lots of fresh content for audiences to get their eyeballs into.
As well as entertainment, news is also highly in demand. Step forward Ryan Kadro, the former CBS This Morning exec producer who joined Quibi in February 2019 as Head of News for its Daily Essentials programming, a series of 5-10 minute shows that will be produced day in, day out, for subscribers. If that wasn’t challenging enough for a brand new service, Kadro’s stable has been further disrupted by the need to now put together these shows remotely, with hosts presenting from their bedrooms and editing and producing being done in different locations via link. In an exclusive chat below, Kadro filled us in on how the process is set to work during the crisis.
Quibi’s Daily Essentials shows include morning, evening, and weekend reports by NBC News (anchored by Paul Gerke, Michelle Fisher, Valerie Castro), Around The World By BBC News (anchored by Ben Bland and Victoria Fritz), Pulso News From Telemundo (hosted by Andrea Martinez), a weather show from The Weather Channel, two daily shows from Canada’s CTV News, The Replay by ESPN, and a variety of further lifestyle and entertainment programming.
DEADLINE: How are you feeling ahead of Monday’s launch?
Ryan Kadro: We feel really good about where we are. We have amazing partners like BBC, NBC, and ESPN. All of those organizations have figured out how to keep their employees safe while also delivering a show. We pivoted to remote workflows weeks ago [after the coronavirus lockdown], again to make sure everyone was safe, and then to ensure we could deliver these news programs.
DEADLINE: So much production is shutdown around the world, can you outline how these daily shows are going ahead?
Kadro: Whether it’s BBC or NBC, we have home setups for all the anchors, which you’re already seeing on cable. The audience has become quite familiar with seeing their presenters’ living quarters. That’s taken a degree of engineering ingenuity to make sure it all works. The biggest challenge is trying to figure out how to get some of the edit systems set up in people’s homes, and then have them communicating with servers back in 30 Rock or BBC headquarters. The technical teams have done an incredible job. We had to buy some new equipment to make sure we had the setup, and we had to shut down our test shows for a week so we had the right workflows when they came back up. I think the shows look amazing, given everything that is happening.
DEADLINE: Have you seen tests of the new remote shows?
Kadro: Yes. the BBC has been doing test shows remotely for two weeks and it looks great. NBC has been delivering two shows a day recently. The biggest challenge right now is that typically you’d have editorial producers sitting in the edit room, shaping the stories, with senior and executive producers taking a look at it. A lot of that is obviously impossible now as you have a team of 30+ people and they’re all spread out. The editorial oversight of the shows has become more challenging, we have to upload a segment, someone has to download it, they then give notes, then those have to be implemented, then we take another pass at it. We’re trying to find more efficiencies in the workflows to maintain that editorial control which is so important.
DEADLINE: So how does this compare to the work you’ve done before?
Kadro: The production values that we’re insisting on are really high, it’s tough to achieve the intricate synchronicity between the graphics, music, pictures and the anchors that you get in a more linear production. I come from a traditional TV background where you run everything through a control room, your graphics are plugged in live, your pictures are plugged in live, and you have an anchor there reading. It’s all done on the fly. For us now, nothing is really being done on the fly, everything is being done in post. Once you have a script locked, you have graphics being made and editors building out other sequences on the timeline. It takes two to three hours in the best of circumstances to actually piece the show together, but it takes longer now and that’s a challenge we’re trying to overcome.
DEADLINE: How long does it take to put one of these shows together in the current situation?
Kadro: For our NBC and BBC news shows, which are for the morning, they’re identifying stories the day before and building out some of those sequences. In the middle of the night they start to whittle down and get a script locked. You’re looking at minimum 12 hours. We’re trying to work ahead as much as possible, including on some of the stuff at the back end of the show, which tends to be more feature-y and enterprising. That’s a place where we feel we can find value and angles to stories that maybe you’re not getting in other places, to try and go a bit more in-depth, that’s really important to us. That helps us save the breaking stuff for later on.
DEADLINE: What’s your editorial approach? It’s an intense time for news media. We’re all trying to strike a balance of serious acknowledgement for how horrible this situation is, while also being able to entertain and occasionally provide a light touch. How are you finding your tone?
Kadro: You’ve really hit it on the head there, we do have a responsibility to inform and help people understand; people who work in news take that very seriously. But we also have an obligation, particularly now, to highlight some of the amazing acts of humanity that are happening all around the world. The BBC has done a great job of identifying those, so has NBC, and our Latinx program from Telemundo is ending the show every day with a Latinx hero, someone in the community who is helping people in this time of need. The NBC test show that they delivered this morning had a fantastic piece highlighting some of the challenges facing different healthcare workers around the country. The tenants of Quibi are ‘inform, entertain and inspire’.
DEADLINE: How many people do you have working on these shows?
Kadro: I have seven people on my team, as does my colleague Becky Brooks (Head of Lifestyle, Daily Essentials) in Los Angeles who oversees the more entertainment-focused shows. It’s divide and conquer. I have two executives who report into me, they have associates who report into them, each of those executives is responsible for five to six shows. We license the shows from our partners, and the size of the producing teams is based on those organizations. The news orgs tend to be a bit more robust in terms of staffing than some of the other shows.
DEADLINE: In this scary and troubling time, there is clearly still a need for new viewing content, particularly with people stuck at home. Do you feel an added level of responsibility because of that?
Kadro: We’ve always felt a responsibility to the audience, to provide great news and also entertain, and to show things they haven’t seen before. We take that really seriously, and that has become even more important now than before.
DEADLINE: Is there an added challenge from the fact you’ve basically lost the possibility of having a commuter audience, at least for now? I’d imagine that’s prime viewership for you.
Kadro: Great question. All the shows are delivering at set times to the platform: we have a batch at 6.30AM, a batch at noon, and a batch at 5PM (all ET). Yesterday we made the decision to move the 5PM shows back to 6PM. One of the reasons is that people aren’t necessarily commuting, and it also allows us more time for the editorial control to take shape. But as Jeffrey pointed out recently, everyone still needs to have moments in the day where they step away from teaching their kids, or Zoom meetings. There’s definitely opportunities for people to Quibi.
DEADLINE: Will you be making further news programming outside of North America?
Kadro: The idea is to scale as quickly as possible. I’m already mapping out what it would look like to do news programming in the UK, Asia, Latin America, and more. We’re eyeing the world right now.