Apple Is Spending a Staggering $15 Million per Episode on Shows for TV+ — More Than Many Feature Films Cost

Apple TV+ Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard on See Credit: Apple
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Apple has been putting some serious financial muscle behind the original content that it’s been producing for its upcoming Apple TV+ streaming service, spending unprecedented amounts of money that rival the budgets of many independent feature films.

For example, according to a new report by The Wall Street Journal, Apple is spending roughly $15 million per episode for its new sci-fi/fantasy epic See which will star Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard. However, unlike previous network TV shows, which often had costs driven by the salaries of the talent behind them, the expenditures on this one are at least as much about trying to produce a cinematic world-building epic to rival Game of Thrones.

Set centuries in the future after a virus has wiped out much of Earth’s population, See will tell the story of what happens to humanity in a world where everyone has suddenly become blind, and while little else is known about the series as of yet, Apple did show some footage at its event earlier this year revealing dozens of actors and sweeping vistas in the fields and forests of Canada’s British Columbia. Big-name actors, massive casts, exotic filming locations, and a wealth of special effects all contribute to pushing production costs beyond what anybody could have imagined even a few years ago.

The Rising Dominance of Streaming Services

According to the Journal, however, Apple isn’t alone among streaming providers, which are all pouring a lot more money into their original content than previously — although with its deep pockets, it looks like Apple is most definitely leading the pack; the Journal reports that most are now spending between $8 million and $15 million per episode, which places Apple’s budget for See on the top end of the scale.

This also means that accumulated costs for a single season of a series can easily exceed $150 million — about the same amount of money that it takes to produce a new “Spider-Man” movie. By comparison, Netflix only spent $4.5 million per episode when it began producing House of Cards back in 2013, while network television shows rarely broke $4 million per episode — and the few that did, like Friends and ER, were driven to higher budgets almost entirely by the salaries of their cast members, which peaked at $1 million each in later seasons, rather than broader production costs.

The Race for Top Content

With the amount of — and quality of — original content being produced by the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, and of course Apple TV+, a content arms race has begun between all of the major players to produce bigger and better shows, attracting big-name actors which will lend credibility to the services and attract wider audiences. Traditional television networks are now being eclipsed by streaming services in a way that former premium networks like HBO could only dream of, and it shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon as they all compete with each other to create the most compelling shows to pull in more subscribers.

For example, as the Journal reports, Disney is building intergalactic-desert landscapes for its newest Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, pushing its costs up to a similar $15 million per episode as Apple, while Amazon shelled out $250 million just to get the rights for a Lord of the Rings series. Meanwhile, Apple has not only signed on names like Momoa for See, but also Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and even Oprah Winfrey, which has given the company a massive level of credibility for its entry into a space that’s long been dominated by far more established players.

Apple is also taking a unique approach among streaming services in that it will be offering only its own original content when it launches this fall, without the benefit of an existing content library that could also help to draw in more subscribers. So the pressure is on to produce original shows that are really going to stand out from the pack as they will need to be enough of a draw to pull in subscribers all by themselves.

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