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Meg Whitman and Jeff Katzenberg Team Up on This Media Start-Up

By Billy Duberstein - Feb 2, 2018 at 8:34PM

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Whitman, the outgoing Hewlett-Packard CEO, has numerous options, so why go to an unproven start-up in a crowded field?

In November, Meg Whitman announced she would be stepping down as CEO of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE -2.69%). Upon the announcement, Whitman said she might consider another CEO job, but that, "it would have to be the right role. ... I've been working nonstop for 35 years, so I'll definitely take some downtime to recharge." 

So it may be surprising that just two months later, Whitman has already signed on for her next gig -- and the differences between her new job and her recent position at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) couldn't be more stark.

Two young men ad a young woman watch a video on one their smartphones.

Meg Whitman is taking the helm of a mobile video start-up. Image source: Getty Images.

What is NewTV?

Whitman signed on to be CEO of media start-up NewTV, a venture company underneath WndrCo LLC, which is a holding company formed by ex-DreamWorks Animation CEO and former Disney (DIS -0.71%) executive Jeffrey Katzenberg. Katzenberg raised $600 million for WndrCo LLC from investors last year and aims to make a step-change in mobile content production with the new company.

The goal of NewTV is to create high-quality, short-form content for mobile devices. The content will consist of complete stories, as well as serialized shows broken up into short episodes. The aim of the company is to bring a higher level of production quality to short-form mobile content, which has traditionally been done on small, shoestring budgets with unknown actors.

Where Whitman fits in

Heading up a media company aimed at 18-to-34-year-olds may seem like a strange choice for Whitman. After all, she spent the last six years at HPE, a declining enterprise business adapting to the changes of cloud computing and commoditized hardware. Whitman spent much of her time there financial engineering, including significant cost-cutting, and splitting HPE's printing and enterprise computing businesses into two separate entities. Managing a mature business-to-business company seems like the polar opposite of operating a business-to-consumer start-up.

Of course, before HPE, Whitman was CEO of eBay (EBAY -3.90%) from 1998 to 2008, where she grew the start-up from 30 employees and $4 million in revenue to 15,000 employees and $8 billion in revenue by the time she left. So perhaps Whitman was hankering to return to a small company where she can make a similar difference. "It's a return to my start-up roots," Whitman said of the job at NewTV. 

In addition, before these high-profile CEO positions, Whitman had worked at Disney in the 1980s, as vice president of strategic planning, and she became close to Katzenberg, who was the creative force behind Disney's 1990s resurgence. In addition, Whitman served on the board of DreamWorks, which Katzenberg founded after his time at Disney. DreamWorks was sold to Comcast (CMCSA -1.76%) in 2016.

So, while NewTV is much different than Whitman's most recent gig, her closeness with Katzenberg, her background in media, and the chance to once again run a start-up likely attracted her to the NewTV job.

Can NewTV work?

At first glance, NewTV may seem like an odd idea for a start-up, given the current saturated media environment. All across the industry, traditional media companies are scrambling to deal with the rise of both cord-cutting and the entry of huge tech companies into the media space. In an already crowded environment when most media companies are looking to either buy other companies or get bought out themselves, why would someone want to build yet another independent media company from scratch?

Obviously, Katzenberg's heft in the industry and ability to create content is one differentiating factor, as is the concept of putting large budgets behind short-form content. While the idea may be unique, the content will, of course, have to generate enough revenue to justify higher production budgets, either through advertising or subscriptions, and that model is unproven. On the other hand, given the amount of time we're all spending on our smartphones, NewTV could potentially mark a new chapter in the history of media, so stay tuned.

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