Quibi’s Turnstyle technology is just one tech challenge, says Limelight

Quibi phone
Turnstyle requires that all of Quibi's content be edited in two separate versions: landscape and portrait mode. (Quibi/Pixabay)

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this month Quibi presented some technology that it has invented which optimizes video on mobile devices for viewing in both landscape and portrait mode.

Quibi, which was founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, and is being led by its CEO Meg Whitman, will officially launch on April 6. Its plan is to deliver short-form video on a mobile-only platform. At CES, Whitman said Quibi is a tech platform optimized for people on the go. It will provide video entertainment for viewers in those “in between moments” when they’re waiting in line, for example.

Quibi’s big news at CES was the debut of its new Turnstyle technology, which optimizes video content whether a person is holding a mobile device in landscape or portrait mode.

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Tom Conrad, Quibi’s chief product officer, speaking at CES, said, “Historically filmmakers have projected their craft on wider screens. While at the same time phone makers have made their screens taller. As I’m walking to catch a ride, I hold my phone in portrait, but when I sit down I’m happier to watch in landscape.”

To tackle the challenge, Quibi invented Turnstyle, which allows viewers to shift between the two modes. And it’s more than just cropping or using algorithms to optimize for each mode. Quibi’s CTO Rob Post said each episode on Quibi is actually created with two separate edits: one for portrait and one for landscape. “The best storytelling could only come about if the creators could edit in each orientation,” said Post. “We found the best user experience was obtained by stitching the two edits together, encoding and packaging them as one, and delivering them both to the phone. This is an entirely new technique.”

Limelight

Executives at the global CDN provider Limelight think Quibi might be onto something with its mobile-only video platform. In October 2019, Limelight released its report: The State of Online Video 2019 based on survey responses from 4,500 global consumers who watch one hour or more of online video content each week.

The report says, “Globally, smartphones are now the primary device that viewers use to watch online video followed by computers, smart TVs and connected devices, and tablets. This is a shift that occurred in the last year, when computers were the primary device.”

According to Limelight’s data, smartphones are now the primary viewing device in France, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and the United States.

Mike Milligan, senior director of product and solution marketing at Limelight Networks, said Quibi might be a brilliant idea because people use other devices, such as smart TVs, for appointment viewing, but they have mobile devices in their pockets all the time. It provides an opportunity to deliver short-form mobile video.

But there are challenges to delivering video to mobile devices, aside from the landscape-versus-portrait dilemma. Bandwidth availability and quality of experience can vary quite a bit as consumers move around from mobile networks to Wi-Fi. “Streaming online video requires a consistently good connection,” said Milligan. 

According to Limelight’s recent report, video rebuffering remains the most frustrating aspect of online viewing, with 43.1% of global consumers saying it is their primary issue with watching online video. Most viewers will wait out a single rebuffer before they will stop watching, but after a second rebuffer 66.3% of people will stop watching.

Limelight chart

Another challenge for Quibi might be getting people to either pay $4.99 a month for a subscription with ads or $7.99 per month for an ad-free subscription.

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Limelight’s data shows that the popularity of streaming VOD services has risen 17% in the last year, to 70.4% of online viewers now subscribing to one or more SVOD service. The highest rate is in the U.S., where viewers subscribe to an average of 1.7 services. But price continues to be the primary reason consumers around the globe cancel SVOD services. Clearly, consumers have self-imposed limits on how many streaming services they’re willing to subscribe to and how much they’re willing to pay per month.

Limelight is not a provider of CDN services for Quibi. In fact, Quibi announced at CES that it’s using Google’s CDN capabilities.

Tariq Shaukat, president of industry product and solutions at Google Cloud, said at CES, that Quibi is one of first media companies to take advantage of Google Cloud’s optimized CDN capabilities.

“We’ve done this for over a decade with services that power YouTube,” said Shaukat. “Our infrastructure has unique capabilities like low latency content delivery that have been truly optimized for video. We have cloud regions each with massive computing capabilities with more than 20 locations globally and content servers in a huge number of PoPs around the globe.”

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