How many subscribers does Quibi have, anyway?

The logo of streaming service Quibi. (Logo: Quibi/Graphic: The Desk)
The logo of streaming service Quibi. (Logo: Quibi/Graphic: The Desk)

Quibi’s aspirational foray into offering consumers short-form video content on their mobile phones was equal parts audacious and wishful thinking.

The company signed key industry talent including chief executive Meg Whitman; big-name content partners (CBS News, NBC News, Polygon, TSN) along with nearly a dozen nationally-recognized advertisers — moves that netted millions of dollars in promised advertising revenue and investor capital even before the service launched.

Through all the hype, Quibi set an internal target of convincing 7 million people to pay anywhere from $4 to $7 a month for short videos that are easily consumable on a smartphone or tablet.

Three months after launch, numbers from a data analytics firm paint a grim picture of Quibi’s ability to retain subscribers.

According to Sensor Tower, only around 72,000 customers stuck around after Quibi’s generous 90-day free trial offered back in April, with just 8 percent of customers converting from a free trial into a paid subscription (some of those customers, apparently, meant to cancel their trials and were charged when they forgot).

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A Sensor Tower executive said the number of paid subscribers to the service is likely to grow in part because Quibi’s 90-day free trial will expire for people at different times throughout the month.

“We’re seeing some indication that the conversion rate may be improving slightly with time,” Randy Nelson, Sensor Tower’s executive in charge of mobile insights, told the business news outlet Protocol. “If the upper bound of 8 percent we’ve calculated for those who adopted the app in its first 72 hours were to remain consistent, it would produce about 360,000 paid users from the current drop of 4.5 million installs.”

A spokesperson for Quibi told Protocol the numbers reported by Sensor Tower were off, pointing to the number of total downloads across app stores for the streaming service.

“To date, over 5.6 million people have downloaded the Quibi app…we are seeing excellent conversions to paid subscribers,” the unnamed spokesperson reportedly said.

Quibi has become an easy target of armchair critics who like to dunk on the service for failing to live up to its hype: Despite signing on big-name content producers, Quibi’s videos have been described as B-quality scraps left over from projects that couldn’t land elsewhere (read: Netflix, Amazon or network television). The service has also been criticized for forcing viewers to watch shows on tiny screens while completely ignoring more-conventional delivery methods (to that point, Quibi now supports Chromecast and executives say they’re toying with the idea of supporting other streaming TV hardware).

But Protocol said the low conversion rate isn’t unusual, noting Disney’s blockbuster Disney Plus service converted 11 percent of free trial users to paid subscribers within the same three month period. The news outlet noted that Disney Plus had a loftier head start, signing on millions of subscribers at launch and offering a robust content library of high-demand Disney movies and shows.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported via information from an anonymous source that Quibi realized it had missed some internal subscriber marks and likely won’t be able to meet growth targets. Though the company had a goal of signing on 7.5 million subscribers within one year, Quibi was on track to bring 2 million paid subscribers into the service by next April, the source said.

A Quibi spokesperson told the Journal the source’s numbers were incorrect, but the company didn’t elaborate beyond that.