Cannes Lions: Jeffrey Katzenberg Talks WndrCo Plans, "New TV" Model

Jeffrey Katzenberg - Getty - H 2017
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The mogul envisions short episodes of shows of six to 10 minutes in length with a strong advertising component and offering creators a stake in the series.

Jeffrey Katzenberg has a lot of money, ideas and plans, but few immediate announcements about his new digital media and technology investment vehicle WndrCo, which he discussed Thursday at Cannes Lions.

The mogul touted what he called the “new TV” business, modeled on the bite-sized consumption of content in chapters akin to Dan Brown and James Patterson novels. He called the authors “genius” in the way they changed the consumption model of the novel, and he aims to do the same with TV shows.

Katzenberg said he envisions short episodes of shows of six to 10 minutes in length with a strong advertising component. But that’s where the specifics ended, as he shared that he was still working with creators and advertisers to work out the distribution model for his mobile-first venture.

With $600 million raised for WndrCo and seven staffers, Katzenberg said the short-episode model would also work for unscripted shows, such as American Ninja Warrior (which he cited as a favorite), news programming and talk shows.

“I actually don’t think there’s any part of the traditional television ecosystem today that doesn’t exist in an adaptive version in 'new TV,'” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

The exec said he hasn’t seen any resistance from talent so far. “Zero — it’s just the opposite," said Katzenberg. "I have not talked to a single. solitary showrunner, talent, actor, actress, director, studio — I can’t find anyone who says it’s a bad idea." J.J. Abrams, Damien Chazelle, Ron Howard and Jerry Bruckheimer are just some of the many talents he’s met with so far.

The lack of resistance may be because he is promising significant compensation and a stake in the series. “The economic model that we have designed creates what ought to be very meaningful upside opportunities both for the supplier — meaning studios — and for the creative talent," said Katzenberg. "Whatever people are compensated today at the top of the chain for writing, directing, cinematography, art direction, any aspect where people are compensated, we expect that to be the same.”

He said creatives will not be asked to take pay cuts from today’s rates. And addressing the chance to get a stake in the IP of whatever shows they create, Katzenberg explained: “There’s an opportunity in success for them to have ownership in a way they have not had in a very long time." He cited the shows of the 1960s and 1970s as having worked in a similar way.

Katzenberg also said production values on any of their shows will be on par with today’s premium shows, which he cited as costing $200,000 per minute for SVOD shows like Netflix’s House of Cards to $300,000 per minute for HBO’s Game of Thrones. The per-minute spending for YouTube-type shows tops out at $5,000, he said during his onstage discussion with MediaLink's Michael Kassan.

Katzenberg envisions WndrCo developing some kind of advertising-based VOD model, but it could have an SVOD component similar to Spotify. He’ll also be open to working with brands on product placement as an additional revenue stream, he said.

It will be a mobile-first model because “we have these devices with us the entire day and an incredible amount of in-between time” to consume small shows, the exec added.

WndrCo will be part producer and part tech incubator, but Katzenberg couldn’t be pinned down on how that is going to happen. “We are going to be the founder, and we’ll be the entrepreneurs that are going to pull all those [technology, content and distribution] pieces together,” he said.

The mogul has been in heavy discussions with existing digital platforms for the last two months. Asked if WndrCo would launch its own platform, Katzenberg demurred.

There’s an acquisition in talks — what piece of the puzzle that might fit into, again he didn’t say — but if it happens, it would be announced within the next two months. As for any product launch timeline, he added: “I don’t know yet. I’m onto the fourth piece, the how are we going to bring this to the consumer, what’s the distribution? I’m right in in the middle of that now, and there are a dozen potential paths.”

Advertisers will be in the mix — after all, Lions is still a marketing confab — though Katzenberg ruled out in-video commercials. “We have to make this work for the advertisers, just not at the expense of the consumer,” he said. “Everything is on the table.”