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Now, the question is: Can they build an audience?
NewTV, the "working title" of an off-shoot of Katzenberg's WndrCo media and technology holding company, has prodigious backing from major Hollywood players to deliver high-end, episodic content from top directors, producers and creators to mobile devices.
The roster of investors, many of whom double as content partners, include Disney (DIS), 21 Century Fox (FOXA), NBCUniversal (CMCSA), Viacom (VIA), Alibaba (BABA), Goldman Sachs (GS), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), and others.
"We want to bring the best of Silicon Valley and Hollywood together to create a different entertainment platform," Whitman tells Barron's. The former chief of HPE and eBay (EBAY) - brought on to NewTV to scale up operations and manage a consumer-tech play - says NewTV is not a studio, but will commission studios to make content.
Katzenberg tells Barron's. that their West Hollywood, Calif.-based company aspires to bring professional quality to online content with the same impact that HBO changed TV viewing habits. Like HBO, NewTV will glean its revenue through subscriptions.
The programming, usually in 10-minute segments, runs the gamut from scripted series to documentaries and competition shows, says Katzenberg, comparing NewTV's narrative approach to "bite-sized" convenience for mobile users. And yes, he says, the company is likely to work with some of his former work colleagues at DreamWorks, Disney, and Paramount Pictures.
The question is whether NewTV, which should be renamed by year's end, will be able draw the same size audience that made HBO a household staple, especially for the coveted 25- to 30-year-old demographic. Richard Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG briefed by the company, thinks it very well could.
"There is a huge tailwind for mobile usage, particularly in the consumption of higher-quality content," Greenfield says. "No one has tried to create the next Harry Potter or Iron Man for mobile."
There is little question NewTV will have to spend lavishly to produce high-quality content, which can cost $100,000 to $125,000 a minute. JPMorgan'sDoug Anmuth estimates Amazon (AMZN) will spend $5 billion on video content this year, specifically big-budget original shows and sports rights. Streaming giant Netflix (NFLX) is expected to spend $12 billion to $13 billion on content this year, up from $8 billion, based on recent data from a Goldman Sachs assessment.
Katzenberg and Whitman, who have known each other for more than 30 years dating to their tenures at Disney, say their company is in a different space than streaming services. But they do share something in common with those services.
"Our audience will judge us on the quality of our content," Katzenberg says.
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