Streaming has become the major source of entertainment for the masses. This shift has occurred due to many reasons like a diverse content library, cost-effectiveness, and ease and convenient viewing sessions as these platforms allow users to watch their favorite content anytime, anywhere from any smart device like a computer or smartphone. Plus after the pandemic people have realized that cable TV is an additional expense on their budget and they can easily get the same services with streaming platforms, but at a much better cost and with a great user experience. This has shifted people’s perspective and now there has been a proper trend by the name of cord-cutting in which users are ditching their cable TV subscriptions in favor of cheaper streaming alternatives.
Thus, to stay relevant in the market, many cable companies are desperately trying out new means to remain afloat in this dying cable industry. Many cable providers have switched to alternate services, like giving the internet on their existing cable infrastructure. While companies like Cox Communications, which is the third-largest cable company in the US, is giving their own streaming app as part of their every cable package, this is a model being followed by almost every cable company in a bid to remain relevant in an OTT market. Customers can contact Cox customer service in order to get more information regarding their streaming Contour app. But one thing is for sure when it comes to streaming, there is only one name that pops up and that is Netflix.
Netflix is the crown jewel in terms of streaming platforms as it was the one that introduced the public to the wonders of streaming. Netflix had humble beginnings back in 2011 when it started with a handful of licensed content. But soon this subscription idea struck a goldmine for Netflix and people started flocking in. So much so that today there are an estimated 214 million Netflix users all over the globe, making it the biggest streaming platform in the world. This feat wouldn’t have been possible without the contribution of the amazing Netflix originals. Netflix has produced some original gems in the past couple of years like The Witcher, Squid Game, and yes the cult classic, Stranger Things. The show that had humble beginnings has become so big that season 4 of Stranger Things is said to be the most expensive Netflix original series, and we’ll retrospect the reasons how and why that happened.
Most Expensive Season
The estimated budget for Stranger Things seasons 4 is said to be 30 million dollars per episode. For comparison, Breaking Bad season five was 3.5 million, and Game of Thrones season eight was 15 million an episode. Loki, a VFX heavy show coming straight out of Marvel Studio, was $25 million episodes for season one. At a price tag of 30 million dollars per episode, Stranger Things is going to become one of the most expensive shows ever and definitely the most expensive Netflix original series. If we break this show’s timeline in minutes, Stranger Things’ longest episode was the final episode of season 3, which had a length of 77 minutes.
Early reports suggest that Stranger Things season four will be 9 episodes split into two parts. If we assume the episodes will be longer and take the longest episode so far in the series under consideration the duration of which is 77 minutes. Running a bit of calculation takes us to the result of $389,000 a minute. Just to show the gap, and comparing a few classic seasons and their per-minute cost, the finale of Breaking Bad took 3.5 million to make and comprised 55 minutes of run time, this makes it $63,000 a minute. This was a game-changer in its time as it was one of the most beloved seasons and deserved the necessary farewell, thus the cost was somewhat justified. However, today these numbers are so extravagant, that the per-minute cost of making a show is easily comparable to the cost of making a full-fledged feature film.
The Effect of the Pandemic
Looking in retrospect, the first reason behind this huge cost is the COVID pandemic. The pandemic severely affected the production of almost all ongoing movies and TV shows and an example of how expensive some of the movies that were made during the pandemic have become is Top Gun 2, which has been in development hell and is looking to be released in 2022 after a two-year-long hiatus, this long delay that happened due to the pandemic has now made the reported budget of the film to 152 million. That sounds normal for a big Hollywood blockbuster, but these figures become important when we see that the film was estimated to cost 125 million.
This additional 25 million was only incurred due to pandemic-related production issues, these problems included reshoots, delays, shorter film days, and increased protection and set up of bio bubbles for the crew, which resulted in the film going heavily over budget. Similar to these movies, Stranger Things season four’s production was also paused in the middle due to the pandemic restrictions, and a heavy amount of reshoots were done, and because of having a younger cast, the CGI had also been toned up to make them look similar and diminish the physical and facial structure changes that inevitably came due to the delays. This expense was so huge considering half of what was done before had to be redone.
Highly Paid Cast
The second biggest reason contributing to such high expenses is the salaries of the cast members on the show. Millie Bobby Brown, the show’s star is now the highest-paid teen actress in the world because of Enola Holmes 2, another project of Netflix for which Millie reportedly charged 6 million dollars. While according to sources she is making $350,000 per episode for the show, this salary is the same as industry veterans and the main cast of the show Winona Ryder and David Harbour. Apart from the three mains, the salaries for the other teen/younger actors are also quite high comparatively, their paychecks range from 100,000 to 250,000 dollars an episode each. This is a significantly big jump from season one, where the salaries were reported at being under $25,000 an episode for everyone in the cast. If we sum up just the salaries of the cast, this expense alone comes up at 2 to 2.5 million dollars per episode, which is about a third of the entire first season’s cost.
We all loved season three, but the thing that bugged longtime fans like me was constant product placement for Coca-Cola and other brands in the show. But obviously, such high-cost projects need support from corporate brand endorsements. Although annoying, these deals ultimately financed a lot of the series, where it’s actually undisclosed how much they paid, yet a simple comparison could be James Bond’s Skyfall. Heineken spent 45 million dollars for their product placed in the Bond movie Skyfall, where Daniel Craig came out saying he didn’t believe the movie would have been made without that deal. Skyfall made 1.1 billion dollars in theaters, which would mean over 50 million people saw it globally. Stranger Things season 3 was seen by 64 million households in just the first month after release. Also, Stranger Things season 3 consisted of 8 episodes and all of them featured Coca-Cola, showing way more screen time over Heineken in Skyfall.
This makes the case that Coca Cola along with many other brands is paying huge amounts of money to projects like these that have massive followings. This is probably the biggest reason why season four costs so much. Since Stranger Things has reached a pinnacle of success and popularity, Netflix doesn’t need to fund it as much and they can rely on larger brands to pay for everything.
We’re entering a new world today. Back in the day, TV was seen as a lower-end entertainment medium with lower budgets and cheap effects, and movies were the big deal. However, today it feels we’re heading in an opposite direction, where movies are getting lower budget and are being produced independently, while series are attracting bigger actors, special effects, budgets, and even more eyeballs.