Jeffrey Katzenberg On WndrCo’s New TV Model: “I’ve Found A Brand New Everest” – Cannes Lions


In Cannes to talk up his latest venture, WndrCo, Jeffrey Katzenberg says he’s found “a brand new Everest.” The company is getting into what he’s so far terming “New TV” destined for mobile devices in the form of shows with full story arcs, but limited to 6-10 minutes per episode. The target demo is the coveted 18-34 range and the plan involves incentives along the way for every stakeholder, including creatives. It will be built with a significant advertising component.

WndrCo was first revealed in an SEC filing in January, but without much detail. Katzenberg told me today the company is looking at a “wide aperture” of business which is not all content focused and has been pursuing an undisclosed acquisition.

But he’s here at Cannes Lions to talk up the company’s New TV model. In a Q&A session today and in a separate conversation following, he turned often to traditional television of the 60s, 70s and 80s to illustrate the plan which is partially based on creative ownership and advertising. He cited Garry Marshall series like Happy Days and Mork & Mindy, saying, “They got it right. I’m trying to pick from the past and adapt it to today.” Another touchstone for the exec is the Dan Brown/James Patterson model of short book chapters that create urgency.

One of the bigger names who’s excited by the idea, said Katzenberg, is Happy Days vet Ron Howard who’s also here in town. “I said to Ron yesterday, imagine today you went back and had a four-camera comedy with a story arc 120-minutes long to tell a beginning, middle and end, but you could write it and shoot it with a live audience and it could be consumed in seven-minute exchanges.”

Katzenberg said, “The reason why I’m convinced the timing is right and it’s going to happen is that today you have these devices with you all the time.”

Having already raised $600M, Katzenberg is on to finding the right distribution partners and getting the content to consumers — although he doesn’t yet know when the first series would roll out. Also key has been meeting with brands here to talk about how they come on board and where advertising fits into the puzzle. The former DreamWorks Animation CEO is looking at an ad-supported model, but hasn’t ruled out bringing in an SVOD component à la Spotify. Part of the equation is showing advertisers what’s in it for them, and how they will be integrated so that it doesn’t diminish the audience experience. For the 18-34 demo, “When they first see the series, this has to be that a-ha moment.”

Further, “There’s a new technology, a new form of consumption, so there needs to be an ad model in this that makes this financially rewarding,” Katzenberg said, adding that “the studios and the content providers are excited; showrunners couldn’t be more excited because it’s a new challenge for them.”

The mogul also dug into some numbers, saying there are hundreds of new pieces of content being uploaded every minute with the average cost $100 per minute. “What YouTube realized years ago is if they were to seed that platform and create a model, you could go from UGC to Pro-GC and people would be able to make money and it would flourish.” Pro-GC is “$500-$5,000” per to produce.

Conversely, in prime time today, “any scripted broadcast or cable show is produced at $100K-$125K a minute” with series like Game Of Thrones, he said, in the $300K range. “If that’s the enterprise of traditional TV… the difference is more than craft services, good bagels and Winnebagos.” He added he wants to replicate how “great fortunes” were made in the past. “Garry Marshall made so much money in the 70s; that opportunity doesn’t exist now. With New TV, it can.”

How? The economic model at WndrCo “creates what ought to be very meaningful upside opportunities for the studio and the creative talent,” said Katzenberg. “There is an opportunity for them in success to have ownership that they haven’t had in a very long time. If you want people to do something new, you have to make it rewarding for them creatively and financially.” Talking with potential distribution platforms who have shown “so much enthusiasm,” it seems “everybody agrees that to deliver something like this to this audience is a bulls-eye.”

Does any of this mean traditional TV goes away? Not so fast. “I think we will be able to look back” and see that “New TV was additive to television. It’s not a zero-sum game. This is not a substitute for sitting down and watching an outstanding piece of entertainment like Westworld or Peaky Blinders.”

Although there is still a lot of work to be done, Katzenberg told me, “I’ve never been happier. I literally feel like I’m 25-years-old. I feel like I found a brand new Everest. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. The higher the mountain, the more challenging, the more interesting it is to me and I think in this and the WndrCo team I have found the group of people to go mountaineering with.”

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