The Apple rumor mill this week took a short break from all things iPhone related to deliver a startling revelation about Apple potentially wanting to develop and produce its own lineup of original programming.
According to one source who spoke to Variety, Apple is exploring the idea of creating “development and production divisions” capable of churning out long-form content “in a bid to compete with Netflix.”
With that bombshell of a rumor now dangling overhead, I thought it’d be helpful to take a look at how much it would cost Apple to get into the TV production business. As a yardstick, I took a look at the costs involved in producing some of the more popular long-form TV shows that have aired over the past few years. Suffice it to say, TV production is not cheap. At the same time, Apple is essentially printing money at this point so perhaps that won’t be much of an issue.
Let’s dive in and look at the numbers.
How about we start with an expensive fantasy drama like, oh I don’t know, Game of Thrones. On average, it reportedly costs about $6 million to produce a single episode of GOT. For some of the more CGI-heavy episodes, this figure can easily rise to $8 million. As a point of interest, Cersei’s famous walk of shame scene from the show’s most recent season, all by itself, cost upwards of $200,000 to shoot over the course of four days.
Over the course of a 10 episode season, a Game of Thrones style production from Apple would set the company back about $60 million at a minimum.
Apple of course wouldn’t need to shoot every one of its shows in far off places like Croatia or Ireland. Perhaps Apple would be just as happy shooting a show in, I’m just pulling a city out of a hat here, Albuquerque, New Mexico. In case you missed the reference, we’re talking some Breaking Bad style action here.
While we don’t need to run down the endless number of accolades Breaking Bad garnered during its 6 season run, it’s indisputable that the show set an entirely new bar for the type of quality people expect to see in a TV drama. As for how much the show cost to produce, each episode reportedly cost $3 million. While obviously much cheaper than GOT, it’s still on the high side as far as cable programming goes. Over the course of a 13-episode season, we’re looking at an investment of $39 million.
With some quality offerings from HBO and AMC out of the way, let’s turn our attention to a few of Netflix’s more addicting and popular gems, House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. The math here is easy as both shows reportedly cost approximately $50 million to produce each season. That’s an easy $100 million right there.
Okay, we’re four shows in now and our current tally stands at $199 million. But seeing as how this is all conjecture, we might as well assume Apple is going to go big and launch 10 new shows. After all, go big or go home right? And besides, there’s never a guarantee that a new show will be a runaway hit, so one would assume, if Apple opts to go down the production route, it might want to produce a few shows concurrently.
So let’s veer into the world of comedy (sorry folks, OITNB doesn’t cut it). Though never a runaway success on Fox, Arrested Development has enjoyed something of a resurgence on Netflix, both in reruns and in the form of a completely new season which reportedly cost $45 million to produce.
How about a period piece a’la AMC’s Mad Men? Well, Mad Men, believe it or not, is actually cheaper than you might imagine. With an average cost per episode of $3 million, we’re looking at a budget of $39 million/year with a 13-episode run per season.
Of course, not every new show is a breakaway hit, as evidenced by Netflix’s universally panned Marco Polo, a whopping $90 million production. So to keep things interesting, let’s assume Apple has a similar flop at some point at a similar price.
So we’re at seven shows now, and have three more to pick from. Let’s keep the genres varied and go with HBO’s The Wire, CBS’ consistently annoying and equally unfunny The Big Bang Theory, and lastly, FX’s Sons of Anarchy.
Some quick math yields us $18 million per season for The Wire ($1.5 million/episode for a 12-episode season), $115 million per season for The Big Bang Theory (a highball estimate of $5 million per episode across 23 show a season), and $32.5 million for Sons of Anarchy ($2.5 million across a 13 episode season).
If we add all of these figures up, it would cost Apple as much as $538.5 million to come up with a selection of 10 diverse TV programs in one fell swoop.
That’s a lot of money, but that’s really just chump change for Apple. To put the $538 million figure into context, Apple during its 2014 holiday quarter alone recorded a net profit of $18 billion. As of Apple’s most recent earnings report, Apple now has over $203 billion in the bank. If Apple wanted, it could produce 50 new shows and not even break a sweat.
Clearly, money shouldn’t be much of a limiting factor if Apple opts to get into production. Still, things could get complicated real quick if Apple opts to compete with long-time partners. As John Gruber points out, “If Apple starts competing against Netflix and HBO in content production, do they risk spoiling those partnerships?”
It’s a fair question. After all, an Apple TV without a Netflix or HBO Go channel would be dead on arrival.