What Does it Cost to Make a Webisode?

33 Comments

As striking writers and Hollywood studios bicker over how much money is or isn’t being generated by online shows, let’s turn our attention to a different question: How much does it cost to create an original web show?

When asked, a number of production house and studio execs kept mum on the subject of their webisode budgets. But this is a burgeoning industry, and as long as price tags are kept secret, we become not only silos, but silos in the dark, where no one knows what kind of budget is too little, too much, or just right — never mind what they’re getting for their money.

Despite the dearth of information, there are a few numbers out there that can help us establish benchmarks.

First, let’s clarify: this isn’t about the cost of producing a daily vlog, or even most podcasts. Hiring a cute girl or a trio of geeky guys and setting them up behind a table with some fancy graphics is cheap. We’re talking about original, scripted, episodic content.

At the low end of the spectrum, we find Yuri Baranovsky, writer and director of the web sitcom Break a Leg. He estimates that each episode costs him “around $500, out of pocket” to create. And like many web content creators, that number is low because he cashes in a lot of favors to make his show.

The figure cited by John Norris, co-founder of White Rock Lake Productions, falls somewhere in the middle. Norris told us he spent “under half a million dollars” to produce 100, one- to five-minute episodes of his horror series Buried Alive. “Essentially,” Norris said, “we made a two-and-a-half hour movie for under half a million.”

Using that analogy, this works out to $3,333 per minute, roughly in line with the number disclosed by Michael Eisner a couple weeks ago — he said it cost him $3,000 to make 90 seconds of Prom Queen.

At the high end of the spectrum is the award-winning Sanctuary. The fx-heavy sci-fi spectacular cost roughly $4.3 million to produce. With the series running a total of 135 minutes, that works out to nearly $32,000 per minute.

Of course, that’s the really high end. A good starting point to create a web series, according to a number of producers we asked, is about $1,000 dollar per finished minute.

To compare, check out this stat courtesy of Variety about the price to produce an OldTeeVee show:

Production costs for a high-end scripted drama series now range from $2.7 million to $3.3 million per seg; single-camera half-hour comedies range from $1.6 million to more than $2 million, depending on cast size and the level of star salaries, according to industry sources.

Using the low-end numbers, that breaks down to over $61,000 per minute for a 44 minute scripted drama, and close to $73,000 per minute for a 22 minute comedy.

Suddenly the price tag on Sanctuary isn’t looking that bad.

The real point here is to try and establish a starting point to get a rough idea of what you need to produce a webisode, and how much bang for your buck you’re getting.

33 Comments

Kimberly Unger

Just to throw our hat into the ring :D
My company is working on a 7 episode series that will, all told, run us about 2k per episode, but again, we are burning favors and friendships left and right to make it happen. The difference in we are using wholly CGI content (we wanted to do live action originally, but that turned into a big snarly mess too quickly to get off the ground).

Rob Krueger

I’m interested in putting together a webisode series (2-3 minutes each) with a good 30-sec intro. My company is Cable Guyz (www.cableguyz.com)located in Lincoln, Ne. We continue to grow and have a great group of people and people seem to remember us by our name and radio spots.
I’m looking at ways to set ourselves apart form competitors and provide some unique exposure. I’m not sure where to start?
My vision is an American Choppers crossed with a Flip this House in a day-to-day contractor’s world such as ourselves. Although I open myself up to our competitors it would be interesting for people to see our potential profits on different projects should everything go according to plan.
Let me know if someone’s interest in supporting this project or if you could point me in the right direction I would appreciate it.
Thanks
Rob

Scott

Produce and give a home to your own 1 hour live show in our state of the art production studio, complete with a three camera set up, professional lighting and sound equipment, as well as an easy to work with production crew, and a website to display your show on, for only $995!
visit vlazestudios.com for more information

Pearl Alexander

I’m interested in pitching to you or to Chris for a Webisode that I know without a doubt you’d be interested in but I do need guidance. Also, I like documentaries while I have some very good shorts in my curriculae’. Please get back to me very soon.

Thanks much,
RA

Rich

I’ve searched all over the internet trying to find out how one would make money with a webisode. I just don’t get it. So if you drop a grand on a couple of minutes, how are you making this back? Or is the payoff from the exposure and resulting deals some studio will throw your way because they see your production value and fanbase?

Sammi

This is a great benchmark for anyone doing webisode content. BUT!, what about producing 4-5 minute web ads for businesses? Does the $1,000/min or $5k still apply?

In short, we already shot the footage (Panasonic HD), we’ll hire an editor, and last we’ll buy music (qouted at $300 per song). Is $5k a fair price for a 4-5 minute web ad?

Tv Fan

$500 or $5000 in production costs per episode is cheap, but has anyone inputted the costs involved with marketing and web design. When all this is added in, you may be stretching your budget farther than you originally thought.

Good collection of webisodes at this site I found
http://www.vidriver.com

nick rogers

im in the process of creating a new series of webisodes and this was exactly what i need to here

Jim Boulden

Having served OldTV for over a quarter of a century, we have had to be creative in serving NewTV. Providing the finest animatronic puppets (animals, birds, reptiles, insects, fish, etc) has always been a low margin business. The NewTV shows are budgeted to reduce the normally high margins of entertainment services. These high margin costs are mostly “above the line”. What needs to be said here, is that most of the “below the line” services are already pressured for low margins. This does not allow us to cut costs in half, like many of the higher margin services of entertainment. This is the main reason that most NewTV is rather unremarkable in production value. Lots of cheap-o computer graphics and stolen video of “actors” in non descript locations; but very little “production value”.

That said, Animal Makers is still able to serve NewTV productions. Seeing this trend develop, a large inventory of cool puppets and rigs have been amassed ready to serve the new generation.

Just leave us SOMETHING in your budget!

-Jim

Rajjat

We’re India’s leading content company with a strong online distribution platform http://www.rajshri.com. We have just completed production of a 90-episode series, with each episode being 3 minutes, at sub $500 per episode. We could have done it much cheaper but we opted to shoot this series like a TV series so that we don’t ignore the TV screen, in our quest to create compelling short form content exclusively for web and mobile distribution.

Andrew Y. Park

Hi, Yuri. Thanks for the numbers. Our production was similar. Shoestring budget, asking for favors, etc. Its tough! BTW, I met with Paul yesterday for lunch. Sounds like you guys are doing well with your series. We’re hoping to launch early next year. We’re in post production hell right now.

Andy

Simon

Hey guys!
Chris, thanks for bringing up the topic!
I think the discussion would become more valuable if you compare the costs of a webesiode with it’s profits. As mentioned here (http://www.alleyinsider.com/2007/09/myspace-tv-math.html) Qauterlife needs 1,7 million visitors to recoup it’s 80.000$ per episode.
We had an interesting discussion on this subject here in Germany (http://www.gugelproductions.de/blog/2007/rahmenbedingungen-einer-web-video-produktion.html). The market in Germany is much smaller, but the author of the mentioned article calculated that if you reach 500k visitors, an episode should cost around 4k Euro (6k $).
If you have sponsoring, the whole thing becomes a different issue though.
Cheers, Simon
(visit: http://www.movingweb.org)

Yuri

Ayp7 —

The money we spent (the 500 out of pocket) is purely on supplies, food, props, etc. We borrow pretty much everything else.

If we’re talking about making this a production that’s monetized and is our full time job (where we could shoot it daily), it would be something like 50,000 at the VERY least. That’d be really tight and most actors would still have to keep their jobs. For us to live comfortably and work on the show, it’d be easily anywhere from 100-300k an episode, you know, depending on various factors.

It’s all very tricky, this independent movie-making business.

Tim Street

How much does a car cost?

It all depends on what you want it to look like, who you want to impress with it and how far you want it to go.

ayp7

Chris, fantastic article. Are these numbers all-in costs including deferred salary? I just finished a 37-episode production. I had access to equipment and everybody worked for no/deferred pay. So actual out-of-pocket production costs ended up being about $200 per episode. However, after accounting for deferred costs, it’ll probably come out to close $2,500 per episode. Just curious to see if your numbers including these deferred costs or not.

Chris Albrecht

Clay – It was tough enough getting these figures, but I’ll see what impression numbers people will cough up.

Mark – Thanks, glad it’s helpful. The more we get this stuff out in the open, the better off we’ll ALL be.

Charles – Thanks for that info, animation is a whole other beast, and it’s nice to get your perspective.

Charles

We’re producing a minute-length animated Flash webisode for AUD$6,500.00, which translates to about US$5,755.00. It’s going web and mobile.

Mark Schoneveld

This is FANTASTIC, Chris, thank you so much! I’ve been coming at this problem from so many angles and I feel like there is so little public information about the subject. People on the videoblogging Yahoo! group tend to circle back to this subject every so often, with little resolution.

I’m just about to wrap up a contract to produce the Illadates video podcast for my client. I had no idea when I was starting out what to charge for this type of content and work. Unfortunately, I undercut myself and ended up on the low end, at about $500/episode.

Now, I’m working at XLNTads.com. We’re seeking webisode series pitches (see “The Amazing Pitch“) and we’re kind of stabbing in the dark for what we expect to get reasonable content in return. We’re estimating a budget of about $5000 per episode could get great, compelling content.

I’ve heard from media buyers who have routinely paid $80,000+ per episode for original content produced by season television production companies. Wow. I would love to see a more comprehensive information about this.

As NewTeeVee loves to write about, video on the web is rapidly professionalizing. For all us indie producers out there, we need to know… how much do we charge? What is our content worth?

Thanks again for the write up.

clay nichols

Thanks for the analysis, Chris. I think it might also be interesting to look at dollars per impression. Pro web video is cheaper to produce, but is it as efficient at reaching people? My guess is that if you look at each dollar spent per viewer reached, web tv is more efficient.

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