Katzenberg take note – Short form content has no place on mobile

The thing about motion picture industry gurus is they don’t know jack about tech. This week one of the big names behind DreamWorks, Jeffrey Katzenberg was talking to investors at the Allen & Co annual event, trying to drum up $2 billion for “short form” mobile content.

Going back more than 15 years people have been obsessed with short form content being appropriate for phones, when each year more and more people watch longer and longer content on phones.

The older generation of content consumers, with failing eyesight and an aversion to smartphones, seem to think that you can only watch short form content on the phone. The truth is very different. Apps provide the antidote to boredom, none better than Facebook, or Snapchat or WhatsApp – the thing you reach for in the coffee queue, when you don’t want to start up conversations with complete strangers. But there is also a lean back experience with video, when watching other content on the TV, and looking for personal gratification on your own small screen, and commenting on it back to social media. There is of course YouTube, but kids watch that on the recommendation of their friends, it is free and about sharing humor.

The story broke this week in Variety as content stories often do, and Katzenberg has massive credibility, having sold DreamWorks to Comcast’s NBCUniversal for $3.8 billion.

He was there to ask Apple, YouTube, Verizon and others for $2 billion to create a new type of entertainment, one that no-one to date has proven there is a significant market for. The closest has been Vuguru, backed by ex-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, which ended up making longer and longer content, until it was into 90 minute films. It did make 2 minute stories, but history does not record how much money was in the medium, although distribution was found in multiple countries in the 2007 time frame. We have to ask would that work today? And did it make money back then?

Katzenberg wants to target 18 to 34 year olds offering the production values of top studios in 10 minute episodes, which includes the concept of a five-minute talk show or a two-minute newscast, using top, high-profile talent.

Katzenberg has tentatively dubbed this idea New TV and he has tried to convince the current Disney CEO, Bob Iger to make some of this content. Essentially this is the desire to beat YouTube at the YouTube game, but with much higher costs, and no guarantee of revenue.

All the investors have taken the view that they will keep an eye on Katzenberg, but as of today there is not $2 billion in place. He does however have a holding company with about $600 million investment and loose agreements to make some content.

In 1999 DreamWorks joined up with Imagine Entertainment and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to launch, a website that aimed to bring short-form content to the internet.

Katzenberg puts it this way – We spend many hours watching great TV and separately we consume a huge amount of short-form content – So why can’t
those two worlds come together? Faultline Online Reporter doesn’t know the answer, but suggests the question is a bit like those offered up in Sport – Why can’t the Tour De France be broken up into 2 minute snippets, or a Mets game or a Cowboys game, be shown while you are waiting for the bus? It’s because the Tour is a month long drudge, and the nervousness of being on the edge of your seat is what makes sport so entertaining. Highlights reels are shown to people who know the results and care even less. Made-for-mobile content today has to target $5,000 minute in creation costs to make money, so if you spend $125,000, how do you monetize it?

It is also important to remember that if you are planning to produce short form entertainment you produce short form adverts, or how do you monetize? How much is a series of 13, 10 minute programs worth as a subscription? Not much. And given the attention span of Generation Z, if they looked away to read a Facebook update, they would have missed the entire program.