Streaming platforms are spending more on television programming than at any time in history. Still, like Hollywood actors And writers The strikes made it clear that the money wasn’t going to most of the ordinary people who made these TV shows. so where is it is is money going? Let’s make some educated guesses.
Netflix in 2022 spent $16.7 billion for content. Warner Bros. At Discovery, that figure was $18 billion.
How does that compare to what TV networks were spending 25 years ago? A 1997 report on the FCC website entitled “TV Programming Costs” gives us a snapshot. The cost is broken down by the licensing fees paid weekly, or by which TV networks paid the studios that made them to license their programs (for example, NBC licensed “Friends” from Warner Bros.).
For the ’97-’98 TV season, NBC was spending the most, with licensing fees of $29 million per week. Assuming these shows had 22-episode seasons, the total spend on scripted programming was approximately $645 million.
These are raw numbers—not exactly a one-to-one comparison to what broadcasters are currently spending (which also includes movie listings and, in some cases, sports rights)—but they do give a ballpark figure that puts context. The landscape changed dramatically. Even taking into account inflation, programming budgets have swelled.
If that money isn’t reaching casual players, writers, and team members, where does it go?
Executive salary is the answer. C-suite compensation is in the millions, and that’s before bonuses and stock options kick in that make these executives really rich. This CEO payment machine It is a target worthy of criticism.
But the conversation should not end there. Where else is the money spent?
More demonstrations are being made. A share More. In 2009, the number of serials whose scripts were written was 210. In 2022, the number of TV series scripts was written was 599. triple the number of shows made without spending much more money.
But there is no way that 600 shows will bring in enough audiences to cover the cost. Can broadcasters justify what they spend when only a few shows are big hits?
Most streaming originals have short seasons of 6-10 episodes. Fewer episodes should mean lower overall budget, right?
Yes. But also no.
The more shows a company does, the more shows it needs to market – and that costs money, so probably some shows get almost no marketing at all. (Rip the hilarious “South Side”.)
Networks and publishers often send loot to journalists and influencers. This is part of the marketing budget and the costs need to be substantial. Lately chirp From Eric Goldman, editor-in-chief of digital site Fandom, photos of a large, heavy box he took from Peacock on behalf of the “Twisted Metal” series “filled with ice cream and loot (and I’m currently charging a viewing screen).”
This type The number of shows being held has changed. Streaming has moved away from the types of programs common on network TV, with fixed sets that can be repurposed as needed.
These days, viewers aren’t interested in original streaming unless a show has a unique cinematic feel, prestigious locations, and costly CGI, or whether it’s an accurate reflection of audience tastes.
TV shows like “The Witcher” and “Stranger Things” fall into this category. But so do many low-end fantasy shows that don’t attract nearly the same audience.
By comparison, the old-school weekly episodic series on network TV have to follow a strict schedule, which can keep the budget in check. There is no reshoot because there is there is no time. If they don’t stick to the schedule, they won’t have episodes to air.
Additional shots are costly. Last year, after shooting nearly 80% of “The Idol” ($75 million according to a rumor), HBO shelved everything and started from scratch with a fresh budget. HBO paid twice for this show.
Marvel’s “Secret Invasion” It had a budget of $212 million, and at least some of that was consumed in four months of reshooting.
It’s just a very expensive way of making television. Should any unproven freshman show cost more than $10 million per episode?
Or consider the case of Taylor Sheridan, creator of “Yellowstone.” The Wall Street Journal in May reported “The actor-to-writer-turned-rancher dictates with little objection where and how his shows are filmed,” up to $50,000 a week for Texas ranches and $25 per head for herds of cattle. “In particular, the executives and team involved in the show question both the total amount of spending and where the money is going.”
Some famous talents are making big deals. While most writers and actors didn’t hit the jackpot, a select few did. On acting Sides that include Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon (for “The Morning Show”), Elisabeth Moss (for “The Shining Girls”), and Chris Pratt (for “Terminal List”) all earn $1 million or more per episode . These aren’t deals that come after a season or two of proven success, but from the very first moment no one has predicted whether the show will be successful with viewers.
On the writer-producer side, this includes show creators such as: Ryan Murphy And Shonda Rhimes. Phoebe Waller-Bridge made a $60 million development to agree It didn’t result in any TV or movies on Amazon (Amazon renewed the deal in January). There was a similar lack of yield at JJ Abrams and his total of $250 million. to agree Warner Bros. with Discovery. Game of Thrones producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss have signed a $200 million deal. to agree With Netflix in 2019 and they are expected to be first show Premiering in 2024.
This is just a sampling. The first 10-15% of talent may be making such deals. The argument put forward by the striking writers and actors is that the studios told them: Sorry, there is no money to improve the old contract.
Are publishers overpaying those who work on the uncreative side? Especially engineers and technicians? Are companies more or less subsidizing these salaries by underpaying actors, writers, and crew?
Previously, Netflix recruited senior talent—perhaps people earning as much as $400,000 a year—from companies like Google, Microsoft or Facebook. This meant that all other new streamers had to match or upgrade it to “compete”. In terms of operating cost, this is another big piece to consider.
The current path has led to an unsustainable and stunning workforce. The bigger question is: Can studios and publishers rethink how their billions of dollars are allocated to negotiate fair contracts with writers and actors guilds?
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.