While the exact practice of determining the worth of a tech company is a form of economic voodoo that has historically proven to be fairly unreliable, estimates suggest that Netflix is worth somewhere around $70 billion. Now, while that might not be an exact figure, it’s a number that should let you know that the world’s most popular streaming service has money to burn. While we have no doubt that a fair bit of that money goes to things like overhead, payroll, and such other fun corporate expenses, Netflix can certainly afford to spend a good deal of that money on producing original content and acquiring popular shows.
So that’s exactly what they do. Netflix drops quite a bit of money every year on new shows to add to their service. While you may lament the loss of a certain program or Netflix’s decision to not renew a certain beloved program, in order to really appreciate how expensive it is for the service to maintain a respectable roster of films and shows, you need to look at exactly how much the most expensive Netflix shows cost. In doing so, you may find that your $9.99 a month is actually a greater value than you thought.
These are the 15 TV Shows That Cost Netflix A TON Of Money.
16 The Walking Dead - $1.35 Million an Episode
The details on this one are a bit vague. For instance, we know that Netflix secured the exclusive streaming rights to The Walking Dead in 2011. At the time, neither side openly disclosed the figures behind this deal, but a few industry outlets did some digging and came up with the seemingly generous figure of $1.35 million an episode. This estimate operates under the assumption that the deal was only for episodes available at the time (which was about the first two seasons) and that later arrangements weren't made to include subsequent episodes.
Even still, that deal would have been worth a little over $25 million. That puts it just ahead of several Netflix shows that just hit the $25 million mark, including Narcos, which was “held ransom” by Escobar’s brother for $1 billion. That’s one exorbitant fee Netflix didn’t pay.
15 Scrubs - $26 Million A Year
Scrubs is one those shows that a variety of television viewers absolutely love. Fans of smart writing dig the show’s clever jabs and nonsensical detours from reality. Medical drama viewers enjoy Scrubs’ surprisingly heartfelt moments of genuine emotion. Pretty much everyone seems to dig the show’s memorable cast of characters.
So, it’s not too surprising that Netflix would pay a high fee for the rights to stream NBC’s hit comedy, but the reported $26 million they pony up every year for the rights to host the entire series is an eye-popping number. Is it worth it? Well, every time a subscriber says “Oh, they have Scrubs” or someone compares the price of the full Scrubs series set to the cost of a Netflix subscription, Netflix probably finds a way to justify the high cost.
14 Netflix’s Marvel Series - $40 Million A Season
This entry is a bit tricky to put an exact price tag on. Technically, you might want to add a few dollars to the total of each of these shows, given that Netflix only gained the right to produce them after they paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million for the rights to Disney, Marvel, and Lucasfilm properties. That being the case, you could make an argument that these are actually the most expensive shows in the Netflix lineup.
However, as it’s not really feasible to break down that $300 million into Marvel-sized chunks, we’re going with the reported $40 million production budget each Marvel Netflix show reportedly costs. There might be a little variation in the exact figures, and The Defenders will likely end up being the most expensive of them all, but these are still some pricey shows, no matter how you slice it.
13 Chris Rock - $40 Million for Two Stand-Up Specials
Netflix’s move into stand-up comedy seemed like a natural extension for the streaming service. After all, HBO has always done a tremendous business with their stand-up specials, and Netflix hasn’t exactly been ashamed to admit that they follow several of the precedents set by that network. In pursuing some of the biggest names in comedy, however, Netflix did have to pay some premium prices.
For instance, the service reportedly agreed to a $40 million dollar deal with Chris Rock for the veteran comedian to produce two Netflix exclusive specials. Now, it’s not entirely clear how this compares to what a network like HBO would offer for similar content, but all signs point towards the possibility that Netflix overpaid in order to ensure that Rock - and several other high-profile comedians - were eager to produce exclusive content for the platform.
12 The Blacklist - $44 Million A Year
The Blacklist kind of come out of nowhere in 2013. Oh sure, NBC promoted the show quite often, and the prospect of James Spader on a weekly series was intriguing enough, but nobody could have quite predicted just how popular this show about a former criminal turned criminal investigator would be. In its first season, The Blacklist averaged 14.95 million viewers. That was good enough for a sixth overall spot on the overall television ratings list, and good enough to catch the attention of Netflix.
Netflix stunned many subscribers when they announced that they had secured the exclusive streaming rights to The Blacklist by offering the show’s producers $2 million an episode. That adds up to the princely sum of $44 million for an entire year of streaming rights. Apparently, Netflix’s mysterious acquisition algorithm alerted the service that this show would be a huge streaming hit.
11 Lost - $45 Million A Year
As easy as it is to overuse terms like phenomenon, there really is no better way to subscribe what kind of hit Lost was when it first aired on ABC. Given that there really wasn’t a proven market for high-concept sci-fi shows that demanded an unusual amount of attention from its viewers, many struggled to understand how it was that Lost went on to become one of the most overwhelmingly popular shows on television. Of course, fans know that it has something to do with the series' many mysteries, great writing, and incredible characters.
Perhaps Netflix thought that fans would jump at the opportunity to comb through Lost’s laundry list of question marks at their leisure, because the service jumped at the opportunity to pay $45 million a year for the rights to host the show on their platform. We’re guessing that this one was also influenced by Lost’s incredible DVD sales figures.
10 Hemlock Grove - $45 Million for the First Season
Hemlock Grove is an...interesting show. Okay, that’s a slightly condescending way of saying it’s not that good, but even though the show is melodramatic, poorly written, and features the kind of acting one doesn’t typically get to enjoy outside of high school play rehearsals, there is something undeniably compelling about the idea of a supernatural mystery series that blends Twin Peaks with The X-Files. Of course, that intrigue only carries the show so far.
Those who don’t enjoy Hemlock Grove may be shocked to learn that Netflix spent an astounding $45 million on the show’s first season. That’s a huge investment that you might think Netflix regrets, given that the show received roughly the same amount of critical acclaim as the Hulk Hogan sex tapes. However, Netflix reported that Hemlock Grove (somehow) received better viewer numbers than House of Cards.
9 Orange is the New Black - $50 Million A Season
When Netflix’s big-budget original series plan was still young, subscribers wondered just what how daring the service would be in terms of pursuing new ideas. The popular theory at the time was that Netflix would probably focus on crowd-pleasers to start in order to justify the high cost of production. Then, Orange is the New Black - a character-driven dark comedy about women in prison - came along and alerted everyone that Netflix was going to take a few chances.
Having said all that, the show’s $50 million production budget does stand out. Without having access to Netflix’s accounting reports, we’re guessing that most of that money goes towards the cast’s salary, as the show itself doesn’t really strike us as one that demands a lot of money for sets and costumes. Then again, you never know.
8 House of Cards - $60 Million Per Season
House of Cards wasn’t the first Netflix original series, but you’re forgiven if you tend to think of the show as such. After all, this was the series that Netflix promoted in order to justify the incredible amount of money they were pouring into original content. Of course, just about everyone immediately found a way to justify Netflix’s nine-figure entry into high-profile original series when they watched Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright joyfully bring us an inside look at the absurd world of U.S. politics.
$100 million was the figure that everyone was talking about when House of Cards was announced, but that number actually covers two of the show’s seasons. House of Cards’s per season cost is actually closer to the $60 million mark nowadays. Still, that’s a sizable budget.
7 Dave Chappelle - $60 Million For Two Standup Specials
Chappelle's Show remains a milestone in the history of comedy television. Nobody knew quite what to expect from Dave Chappelle's sketch show when it debuted in 2003, but by the time the show’s pilot episode ended with a sketch involving a blind black white supremacist, the series became appointment television. Then...well, you probably know about Chappelle’s abrupt departure from the show and the public spotlight. As part of his fairly recent return to comedy, Chappelle agreed to allow Netflix to film two of his stand-up specials.
For the honor of broadcasting said specials, Netflix paid Dave the handsome sum of $60 million. Whether or not Chappelle is more high-profile than someone like Chris Rock is a matter of debate, but what we can tell you is that Chappelle’s higher price tag can likely be attributed to the possibility that his long absence made him more of an exotic commodity in comedy circles.
6 Marco Polo - $90 Million A Season
While it’s tiresome to compare every modern drama featuring swords to HBO’s Game of Thrones, there’s no denying the fact that interest in shows featuring swords, the people who wield them, and the people who are shockingly killed by said parties and their weapons has increased dramatically since HBO’s adaptation became one of the most popular television shows of all-time. Marco Polo isn’t quite as mystical as Game of Thrones, but the timing and nature of its release led many to state that Netflix was indeed hoping the show would become their own version of Westeros.
If that was indeed the case, Netflix certainly paid enough to help ensure that Marco Polo resembled Game of Thrones on a production level. Reports suggest that each season of Marco Polo cost Netflix about $90 million. Unfortunately, it’s also been said that the service lost about $200 million dollars by producing two seasons of the show.
5 Sense8 - $108 Million A Season
Remember a few weeks ago when Netflix announced that they were canceling Sense8 and the show’s fanbase rioted? While we didn’t catch exact quotes, we believe the sentiment among the show’s fanbase went something like “How can Netflix cancel such a bold and innovative program? Are they trying to kill progressive television?”
While it was a shame that the incredibly fun but undeniably flawed Sense8 never got the chance to find a larger audience, a quick look at the show’s budget leaves no doubt as to why the service added the show to its shortlist of canceled programs. Each season of Sense8 reportedly cost Netflix somewhere in the neighborhood of $108 million to produce. While the visually engaging show regularly exhibited the virtues of such a high budget, the show’s ratings supposedly didn’t come close to justifying that kind of money.
4 Friends - $118 Million For the Series
We should probably mention now that Netflix doesn’t just sit around with pen to checkbook waiting to pay incredibly high fees for every classic TV series someone wants to broadcast on the service. For instance, Netflix apparently decided to turn down an offer to acquire the entire back catalog of Seinfeld because the price was just too high. It seems important to mention that information before we discuss the $118 million that Netflix paid to acquire the entire Friends catalog.
Now, some of you may remember that the principal cast of Friends reportedly made about $1 million per episode during the show’s final season. The series has long been an expensive and insanely popular program that a variety of viewers have formed an attachment to over the years. We’d say it’s hard to put a price on such a thing, but we all now know that isn’t true.
3 The Get Down - $120 Million For the (two part) First Season
Yowza. So this one is going to require some explanation. First off, The Get Down was always meant to be an expensive show. Baz Luhrmann’s musical series about the rise of hip-hop and disco in the Bronx during the ‘70s was spiritually similar to a particularly high priced theatrical production. However, a variety of production issues that emerged during the shooting of the show’s first season kept adding millions of dollars to the series’ budget.
As such, we’re not quite sure just how much money Netflix initially intended to spend on the show. What we do know is that The Get Down ended up costing Netflix $120 million. Was it worth it? Well, the show debuted to mixed reviews, and Netflix ended up canceling the series shortly after the second half of The Get Down’s first season debuted, so we’re going to guess that Netflix wishes they could take a few million back.
2 The Crown - $130 Million (Exact Terms Unknown)
Once again, a little clarification is in order. Yes, The Crown’s reported $130 million budget makes it the most expensive Netflix show ever produced. It’s been promoted as such, and the show’s incredible budget is part of the reason why so many people binged it at the first opportunity. However, the details of that figure remain up for debate. Was it $130 million for a single season? Does that include licensing rights to the story?
While those are all very important questions in determining if this really is the most expensive show ever made, based on the information we have to work with, it does seem to be the case. Besides, we do know that things like the recreation of Elizabeth’s wedding dress cost $35,000, and that the producers apparently splurged for a near lifesize replica of Buckingham Palace. The good news is that The Crown is an excellent series that does look like a $130 million show.
1 Honorable Mentions - Jerry Seinfeld ($100 Million Deal)/Adam Sandler ($15 Million A Movie)
These two are bundled together for reasons of debatable technicalities that could drastically impact the exact figures. First up are the reports that Netflix paid Jerry Seinfeld somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million for the streaming rights to Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and some stand-up specials. However, the exact figure is a bit up for debate, and we’re also uncertain just how that deal breaks down in terms of how much each show received. Still, it’s a very expensive deal.
There’s also the slight matter of Adam Sandler’s four film deal with Netflix. Netflix reportedly agreed to pay Sandler about $15 million per movie. It’s not clear, though, just how much each movie cost to make vs. how much Sandler pockets. It’s also well worth noting that Sandler, while announcing the deal he'd signed with Netflix, that he did it because the service’s name rhymes with wet chicks. If you think that’s irrelevant to the overall figure, you obviously haven’t considered the possibility that you too might have been a multi-millionaire if a Netflix exec had heard you make obvious jokes on the fourth-grade playground.
What sort of big-budget series do you think Netflix should look to splurge on next? Let us know in the comments.