CENTRESTAGE: Television show budgets

Saturday October 7 2017

The cast of Big Bang Theory.

The cast of Big Bang Theory. "Big Bang", has been the biggest comedy ratings draw on broadcast television for years. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The television industry is at an age where it is grappling with a massive increase in the number of shows being produced.

Television shows have sky rocketed in popularity and, almost every day, there is a new show to catch up with or save and binge watch later.

With growing technology and the digital migration, on demand streaming services are making it easier, now more than ever before, to follow all favourite shows. Most audiences are going for quality series only.

Content creators are tirelessly and continuously dreaming up ways to get people glued to their programmes, but that also means that with the stiff competition to outdo each other, production costs are constantly rising, making television budgets soar.

Costs are rapidly increasing for everything, from post-production facilities, renting equipment, location scouting to the cast and crew.

This involves hordes of people from camera operators, gaffers, floor managers, costume designers, makeup artistes, researchers, directors, story editors, casting directors, set designers, script writers and many more.

According to television industry insiders who sought anonymity in exchange for revealing financial figures to Buzz, the average half-hour television dramas can be pegged at anything between Sh300,000 and Sh450,000 per episode.

For hour-long shows, the range of the production budget can run between Sh500,000 and Sh700,000 an episode.

So if you are always wondering why good quality shows are few on local broadcasting networks, that could be the reason. Further, the insiders say that broadcasters prefer airing soap operas since, compared with buying local series, they are way cheaper. Plus, the soap operas are almost always guaranteed sponsorship while it’s a gamble for local shows.

One episode of a soap opera is significantly lower than a local show and can cost between Sh50,000 and Sh75,000.

Usually, broadcasters use an agency driven model whereby they provide the needed budget to a production house which in turn disburses the money to everyone involved in the making of the show. In the grand scheme of things, Sh700,000 may seem like a lot of money but what trickles down to the cast is considered peanuts.

The insiders also reveal that some shows (hour long) can work with meagre budgets, anywhere between Sh70,000 and Sh100,000. For example, the Nairobi Diaries costs Sh150,000 an episode.

On the other hand, high-end productions like Coke Studio come with a price tag of between Sh2.8 million and Sh3 million, while Churchill Show runs up Sh1.5 million per episode.

Quality does not come cheap, especially for shows created by streaming heavyweights like Netflix and HBO. Game of Thrones, the series with an almost cult-like following, is among the most expensive television shows of all time to make.

It is the most talked about show, but bloody wars and dragons do not come cheap. According to MSN Money, the sixth season of Game of Thrones, or GoT was its most expensive, with a whopping budget of one billion shillings ($10 million) per episode. With 10 episodes, that was a mind boggling 10 billion shillings for the entire season.

The seventh season, with only seven episodes, retained the same budget, meaning it went a bit high. For its final season, according to a report in Variety, it is slated to cost Sh1.5 billion ($15 million).

“The $15 million-plus price tag for Game of Thrones is due in part to a shooting schedule that more resembles that of a feature film than an episodic series. But Thrones is an anomaly. When it debuted, its price tag was in line with what HBO typically spends on dramas, around $6 million or so.

But as the program grew into a four-continent behemoth with multiple production units shooting at once, it also began to generate dozens of healthy revenue streams for HBO…” it said.

Netflix, however, has set the bar perhaps too high, with its string of original series. The supernatural Stranger Things came with a price tag of about Sh600 million ($6million) per episode. The streaming service offers impressive shows, including House of Cards (with A-listers Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey) which reportedly started at $4.5 million and Orange is the New Black at a little under $400 million an episode. However the show that dwarfs all is The Crown that cost a whopping 14 billion to make in its first season.

In an interview with Variety, Netflix chief content official Ted Sarandos revealed that the media giant plans on spending seven billion on content in 2018.

“The vast majority is still licensed content,” Sarandos said. “We’re still a couple of years from seeing it go 50-50.”

Bigger productions are not the only thing racking up huge expenses, talent also costs a pretty penny.

Stand-up comedian Dave chapel is making serious money on his new comedy special with Netflix. According to the Business Insider, the “comedian is making a total of $60 million for delivering three comedy specials to the streaming company…”

It’s also no joke how much money another comedian, Chris Rock, will be making from Netflix. He has secured a $40 million deal for two comedy specials.

The cast of Game of Thrones led by Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Kit Harington (Jon Snow), and Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) all make Sh51,000,000 an episode ($500,000).

Comedy stars from the Big Bang Theory Kaley Cuoco, (Penny) Johnny Galecki, (Leonard) Simon Helberg, (Howard) Kunal Nayyar (Raj) and Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper) all go home with Sh92 million shillings ($900,000) for a single episode.