Jeffrey Katzenberg is making a $600 million bet on the future of television. The former chairman of Walt Disney Studios and co-founder of DreamWorks started a new company, WndrCo, and raised a big chunk of change at the start of the year.
To what end? Katzenberg is on the hunt for partners that will help him build what he describes as “new TV.” That is, the writers, directors, producers, and platforms that will help him create shows with short episodes—six to 10 minutes—intended to be watched primarily during “in-between times” on mobile devices.
What will set his content apart, he said—be it scripted sitcoms, reality shows, or whatever else his team dreams up—is that the creators will retain more rights to their shows, and he won’t skimp on budgets. His company will pay creators—the likes of Vince Gilligan, JJ Abrams, and Ron Howard, among other A-list directors Katzenberg says he has pitched—the same they would get from traditional networks. Total production costs can run from $100,000 per minute for sitcoms to as high as $300,000 per minute for premium shows like Game of Thrones, Katzenberg said. These sums are orders of magnitude more than what is being spent to produce mobile content today.
“We call that ‘north of Sunset’ money,” said Michael Kassan, the MediaLink CEO and industry matchmaker acting as Katzenberg’s sherpa in Cannes. (In Los Angeles, some of the most exclusive, star-studded neighborhoods in the city are found north of Sunset Boulevard.)
“If you want people to do something new, you have to make it really rewarding for them, creatively and financially,” Katzenberg says. “Ron Howard is a great filmmaker and also a great storyteller in 60- and 30-minute shows, so why isn’t he going to be a great storyteller in 10-minute pieces?”
“From Happy Days to Happy Minutes!” Kassan interjected (referring to Howard’s child acting career on the sitcom).