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Quibi’s Billion-Dollar Failure Is an American Failure

The startup squandered a pile of cash that would wipe out student lunch debt in America — with lots of change left over

Hey, watch anything cool on Quibi lately?

Of course you fucking haven’t. You didn’t ask for a mobile entertainment streaming app with 10-minute “quick bite” episodes, so you didn’t bother to try it. Of those who did, 90 percent declined to subscribe after their free trial ran out. Quibi original content is restricted to the platform, so you wouldn’t have seen or engaged with it on social media. Some brands, creatives and Hollywood names got paid big bucks to make series they licensed to the startup, and there’s no telling how much of it will be essentially junked. 

Now, six months after launch, Quibi is exploring the option of a sale, even if just for its tech. What cash they have on hand is left over from spending $1 billion on programming alone. Whether you consider that money “wasted” depends on how much richer you think, say, Justin Bieber’s manager needs to be, but there’s no doubt it could have been better spent. Why, here’s a report from Bridgespan Group, a consultant to nonprofit and philanthropy groups, outlining six different “Billion Dollar Bets” to create nationwide economic opportunity — the proposed investments, which include projects aimed at enhancing early childhood development, reducing incarceration and fixing dysfunctional social service programs, would likely show a high multiple return in Americans’ lifetime earnings, which you certainly can’t say about Quibi’s model.

U.S. credit card debt stands at $1 trillion, car loan debt at $1.2 trillion and student debt tops $1.5 trillion, so the Quibi tab wouldn’t cover anything of that order. However, $1 billion could have significantly bolstered this country’s woeful pandemic response… if the Pentagon hadn’t spent that earmarked sum on drones and body armor instead. It could’ve funded another five years of Google’s grants for nonprofit innovators working to improve education worldwide and challenge racial injustice, among other endeavors. Or a round of loans to minority-owned small businesses across five major metropolitan areas. And should you be in the market for a professional sports team, the Miami Marlins are valued at $980 million. (Do not buy them.)

Or, how about this: With three-quarters of U.S. school districts reporting student meal debt, it’s obvious that families and kids need more assistance. According to the School Nutrition Association, 570 districts tallied a total accumulated debt of $10.9 million. If there are 13,598 school districts in the nation, with 75 percent carrying lunch debt at this average rate of $19,122 per district, that could add up to a nationwide debt of $195 million. Meaning that $1 billion of the funds squandered by Disney, Goldman Sachs, Time Warner, Sony, Viacom and other Quibi investors could wipe out American student meal debt five times over, with $25 million to spare.

Don’t worry, though, literal 9-year-olds are crowdfunding to help their food-insecure classmates.

Anyway, just some “food” for thought. Maybe the next mogul with dreams of spending more than the GDP of Samoa in mere months will concoct a clever scheme of putting that money toward something anyone actually needs.

Thanks, Quibi, for helping us envision a better tomorrow.