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.