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Back in 2009 just as season five was getting ready to start, I researched and wrote an article that gave a detailed analysis on why Supernatural was a profitable little franchise for their parent studio Warner Brothers.  Studios do not release revenues on individual shows (then or now), nor do they release costs either, so a lot of that article pulled together what was known at the time and did some basic number crunching.  
 
The studios still haven't changed their tune when it comes to revenues and expenses, but a bit more is known now that Supernatural has hit the second run syndication market.  Supernatural today still doesn't make The CW much money, but it really rakes it in for Warner Brothers.  Considering Warner Brothers owns half of the network, it becomes the classic “robbing Peter to pay Paul” scenario.  The losses on the network are more than made up with the revenues from other sources.   
 
Changes since 2009
 
So what's changed since September 2009?  Tons.  Let's just say that the past two years have been very kind to Supernatural.  Get your math caps on, a bunch of numbers are coming your way.  
 
What's different since 2009:
 
Supernatural hit 100 episodes.  The grand plateau.  The magic number that boosted Supernatural's per episode premiums from $300,000 an episode (roughly) to $700,000 an episode (a little less roughly).  The current number available for second run syndication is now 126 episodes, with another 23 guaranteed at the end of this current season. 
 
Supernatural was picked up for second run syndication in a number of outlets internationally and TNT in the United States.  It currently runs two episodes a day Monday through Friday on that network.  
 
Since the show is in its seventh season, Supernatural is getting more expensive to produce.  Jared and Jensen are both making more money per episode now and will every year the show continues.  Below the line costs for the crew continue to increase because of union agreements.  The show still runs on a very tight budget though and because of some cuts hasn't seen that much of a cost increase.  For example, there are a few less producers on staff these days and Misha Collins was released from the show.  Classic rock is all but nonexistent anymore.  The current budget is estimated at slightly under $50 million per season, but that is with an extra episode.  Per episode cost runs at approximately $2 million to $2.2 million an episode.  While Supernatural does get tax breaks for filming in Vancouver, just like in 2009 the strong Canadian dollar against the US dollar has all but wiped out any savings with exchange rates.
 
Supernatural is making more in ad rates for The CW this year, but slightly less than 2009.  A lot has to do with the move to Friday, in which ad rates are cheaper.  According to the annual Ad Age survey, Supernatural is only making The CW $32,477 per 30 second spot.  That number was $29,100 in 2010 and $32,988  on Thursdays in 2009.   
 
Got all that?  Great, now let's talk revenues.  
 
Supernatural's Revenues in the United States  
 
The CW no doubt is a struggling network.  It's got some serious problems getting exposure and it caters to an audience, the 18-34 demographic, that doesn't exactly watch their TV shows live routinely.  Their woes though are nothing new though compared to 2009.  What has changed is they got a new boss, and he's trying to think outside the traditional network model box.  
 
The most relevant deals made lately have been with online providers Netflix and Hulu.  Both deals will not only bring revenue to the parent companies of CBS and Warner Brothers, but for once The CW itself can get a piece of that share.  This will help offset some (or perhaps most) of their annual $50 million in losses and will give them some money to develop new shows so they can start airing programs year round.  
 
The Netflix deal brings in HUGE dollars for veteran CW shows.  Both Variety and The Wall Street Journal gave some concrete numbers on this groundbreaking deal, which potentially will earn up to $1 BILLION for The CW and it's parent companies over ten years.  How come that much?  Because Warner Brothers and CBS sold online streaming of their CW catalogs to Netflix exactly like a traditional second run syndication deal.  According to Variety, “Long-running series under the deal will fetch a license fee in the $700,000 range, while the less-proven shows will start out with a fee estimated in the low six figures.”  
 
Three shows fall in that $700,000 range, One Tree Hill, Supernatural, and Gossip Girl.  That number is PER EPISODE.  One Tree Hill (seasons 1-8) has 174 episodes, Supernatural (seasons 1-6) has 126 episodes, and Gossip Girl (seasons 1 - 4) has 87 episodes.  Considering this deal extends four years after a show has stopped airing on The CW, this means Netflix will be picking up future seasons when they are available.  So being added onto that total next year is One Tree Hill's final 13 episodes, Supernatural's 23 episodes, and Gossip Girl ‘s 24 episodes.  
 
Who has their calculator out yet?  Total upfront money for streaming Supernatural seasons 1-6 comes to $88.2 million.  Season seven when completed adds another $16.1 million.  That's $104.3 million.  The information revealed doesn't specify if a veteran show's per episode cost will go up with each new season added (the answer is yes for newer shows), but every new season will definitely add something to the pile.  
 
Remember Supernatural's budget a year?  This deal has more than paid for two seasons already, and will pay for more in the future.  This is just one deal.  
 
Things get tricky beyond this.  You see, a lot of CW shows aren't viable for multiple second run syndication.  In the US anyway.  Internationally, they all get around.  Why?  The Variety article gives this explanation.  "CW fare is newly attractive to this new generation of buyers in the SVOD window because its style of serialized drama, with a narrow demographic target that has made its programming a challenging sell to TV stations and cable networks, is much more conducive to the on-demand environment, where episodes are more easily digestible in binge viewing patterns than weekday stripping."  Want that in English?  Younger viewers watch CW episodes all at once.  
 
Supernatural may not be a sell for local stations, but it at least is enjoying a run on TNT right now.  So did TNT pay $700,000 per episode?  Every deal is different and not publicly disclosed, but that is going market price for this show right now.  Warner Brothers traditionally hasn't been known to give too much away, but TNT is an "in house" network for parent company Time Warner.  Seasons 1 - 6 are airing right now twice a day, so it's probably safe to assume that's another $88 million in revenue for Supernatural in second run syndication.   
 
Then there's the deal with Hulu in which the five most current episodes of each CW show will stream on that site.  When each episode airs, it will be available on Hulu after eight days for their free service, or one day for those subscribing to Hulu Plus.  This deal is good for five years and only applies to current CW shows.  Any money that Hulu pays for these episodes (which wasn't disclosed) will likely be all revenue for The CW, since they control distribution rights for the current seasons in the US.  If anything, airing on Hulu will give The CW more exposure, but there is definitely some question as to whether it will encourage more live viewing.  
 
The best thing about the Hulu and Netflix deals is that The CW shows aren't limited to just those online services.  They can be sold anywhere.  So as more online outlets come along, expect more deals.  Online video on demand (VOD) is the wave of the future.  So the experts think anyway.    
 
The other main revenue stream in the US for Supernatural is DVD sales.  This has proven to be a nice little money maker for the show.  They have been really big since season four.  Back when I wrote my article in Variety for Supernatural's 100th episode, I was given a confirmed number that nearly 2 million DVD sets had been sold for the first four seasons.  I don't know if that was just US or worldwide, but I'm assuming based on those numbers that's probably only US.  Average revenue from a DVD set is $30 (DVD and Blu-Ray).  That's $60 million. Season five has sold at least 500,000 sets since then, and season six so far has sold around 200,000, plus seasons 1 - 4 has sold more as well.  Assuming the tally is 750,000 (my numbers only being based on US sales), that's another $22.5 million.  
 
It should be noted that Supernatural is always among the top selling TV on DVD sets each year, outgrossing most of the big network shows and even top ones on cable.  Warner Brothers puts in a lot of promotion for the DVDs, so that that cost bites into a bit of that revenue, but it still earns plenty.  
 
I hear you all, "What about iTunes?"  The studio gets most of the revenue, around $1.70  per episode downloaded (around $2.60 or so for HD).  However, downloads run in the 70,000 - 100,000 range per episode.  That's about $200,000 average per episode, around $4 to $5 million per season.  That isn't considered a lot by Warner Brothers' standards.

(Coming up on page 2, the real money comes from the international markets.  See how many countries Supernatural is in).  

Comments  

rmoats8621
# rmoats8621 2011-11-30 00:34
Great job, Alice as always! I knew SPN was a many maker for WB and now with the other deals that have been made the CW can have a piece of the pie, too.
HelloThere
# HelloThere 2011-11-30 01:13
Thank you, Alice! That was very informative. I had heard about the Netflix deal but had no idea how important it was. The information about the show lending itself more to download-binge viewing than weekly, and the foreign markets is also very interesting. Thanks for all your work putting this together.
Susie
# Susie 2011-11-30 01:54
Thanks so much for all of your research, Alice. I knew Supernatural had many more viewers than the ratings show, but I had no idea of how much revenue the show really makes, especially worldwide. Your article is a huge eye opener, and it makes me feel even more proud of this wonderful show we all love.
nicky
# nicky 2011-11-30 04:29
Alice, another great article! Let's hope that this means more seasons. One tiny error though.... Sky Living is shown in the whole of the UK not just England.
Alice
# Alice 2011-11-30 16:07
Ah, that is important. It was only reported to me in England, although I should have at least put down "Great Britain". I'll make that correction. This list is going to find it's way on another page for all to see at any given time when the site redesign is finished (along with an updated ratings chart).
Kim
# Kim 2011-11-30 06:08
Your article is very interesting, Alice, and supports what I have said for many seasons when some have doubted whether they will get renewal. A lot of folk worry over ratings alone, but you have clearly demonstrated that the ratings are but a drop in the bucket when it comes to calculating the worth of Supernatural to The CW and Warner.
sofia
# sofia 2011-11-30 09:02
Alice,

This was so interesting! Thanks for breaking down the numbers for us. I can't imagine how long it took you to research all of that!
Tonia
# Tonia 2011-11-30 10:03
Great article, Alice. Good to know all this info about our Show. You might want to add that Supernatural is also shown in French Canada cable station Zele.
Alice
# Alice 2011-11-30 16:09
Thanks! Actually, I did have that down there. It must have gotten cut off or something. I'll fix that. Canada is the country that ended up having the most stations.
Sylvie
# Sylvie 2011-11-30 14:11
Thank you so much Alice. That was quite informative. I knew SPN was making good money for WB & the CW somewhere down the line. I appreciate all the hard work that you put into these articles.
Billie Doux
# Billie Doux 2011-11-30 15:15
Alice, I am so impressed. This must have been a lot of work to put together. And you single-handedly made me feel much better about Supernatural getting another season. Thank you so much.
Bevie
# Bevie 2011-11-30 15:42
Thanks Alice--This is so good to know. Now I don't have to worry so much about some negative reviews and that my show might get cancelled.

That must have been some chore gathering all that information, but it is fascinating. :roll:
Pragmatic Dreamer
# Pragmatic Dreamer 2011-11-30 15:50
Hi Bevie,

Sorry for the interruption. And I realize this probably isn't the place, but I know you were worried before (the Is Sam Okay article) that folks were getting a little negative.

I wrote something funny (okay.. I thought it was funny) and thought of you. It's the article "You Are What You Eat". I riff on what the boys should be eating, if they want to feel better.

I'm only drawing it to your attention, because I know you're having a rough time, and thought it might make you smile.

We now return to regularly scheduled commenting.

Pragmatic Dreamer
Alice
# Alice 2011-11-30 16:09
I think it's funny! She's right you know. :-)
Sylvie
# Sylvie 2011-12-01 14:50
Yep, read it. I thought it was hilarious. So you see Bevie, don't worry about our boys, they are going to be with us for a little while yet! I don't know if you've ever bought the Supernatural Companion books, but they are pretty awesome. I just got my first one today. My friends and family think I'm a little obsessed. To that I say, Hell yeah! I know you were going through a rough patch, treat yourself if you haven't already. We shall encourage each other.
Pragmatic Dreamer
# Pragmatic Dreamer 2011-11-30 16:17
Awesome article Alice. I really appreciate your research and number crunching efforts.

This peek into the political and financial world of TV is fascinating. I'm just blown away by the scale of things. $2-million per episode! And SPN is likely cheaper than many other shows out there. Wow! That's enough money to keep my office running for a couple of years!

I'm also intrigued by all the things that go into deciding whether or not an older show (5+ years) should stay on the air, or not. It would seem ratings make up just a small portion of that.

It kind of makes me think of that WKRP in Cincinatti where Mama Carlson explains that she does NOT want the radio station to ever turn a profit. She uses its money-losing ways to balance off her other, more lucrative investments.

I sometimes wonder if Supernatural fulfills a similar function for Warner Bros. Not that it loses money, more that it makes some in re-sales to other networks, and in DVD sales. Those revenues balance out the cheaper ad prices on the CW

I figure at this point the limiting factor becomes how long JP & JA want to be locked into a TV show, filmed in Vancouver. It means they can't do movies, and as they get older, that's got to be a concern. Hollywood worships youth, as in under-30. I think it gets harder to make the bigshots aware of your potential as you approach 35 or 40. If they don't branch out soon, they could get stuck in the horror/sci-fi genre on both the small & big screens. Current fans might be okay with that, but they're both so talented and capable of big, nuanced roles - leading men roles and it would be a shame if they didn't get the opportunity.

And of course there is the family factor. Working in Vancouver and living in LA and trying to juggle parenting and acting is probably something both men, Jared most obviously, are trying to figure out. The desire to be closer to family in the US could be a tipping point for future contract negotiations too.

Lots to think about. Thanks so much for this!

Pragmatic Dreamer
Tim the Enchanter
# Tim the Enchanter 2011-11-30 16:48
SPN really is the show that just keeps on giving! 54 countries, that’s really impressive, and when you consider there’s just a main cast of two, it’s even more impressive. Seems we backed a winner with this one!

Thanks for this, Alice, a savage amount of work must have gone into it. Much appreciated.
CandyMaize
# CandyMaize 2011-11-30 17:16
Thanks for researching & number crunching. Was an interesting and informative read.
Random Commenter
# Random Commenter 2011-11-30 22:26
Well researched, Alice! I'm glad I've recently become a regular reader. I appreciate your hard work and your Voice of Reason! Your regular commenters are pretty darn cool, too.
elle
# elle 2011-12-01 17:41
Great article, Alice. I love the look at the behind the scenes breakdown of the show - really interesting to peek at the international market influence as well.

Have to say though, my throat caught just a bit at that "dropped Misha Collins" line. Sigh.

Supernatural is a fabulous show, as we all know, and I'm glad it's as successful as it is. When I have favourite shows, I usually breathe a sigh of relief as they hit season five, because I know by the 100 episode mark they have some decent stay power (generally, not always). Who knew back when Dean went to Hell we'd be staring down the back half of season seven and onward to eight?
Yirabah
# Yirabah 2011-12-02 07:07
Great work on the numbers Alice.

Thanks for all the hard work you did. Glad to finally have it in writting that our watching abroad helps too.
Melanie
# Melanie 2011-12-04 15:21
Great article, Alice! I love stuff like this.
I don't know if you saw this very interesting article on Deadline about the international market - it talks about procedurals being very popular and profitable.
http://www.deadline.com/2011/06/why-tv-procedurals-also-rule-the-world/
It doesn't mention SPN, but I wonder if the mix of MOTW episodes contributes to SPN's international popularity? I know my Dad - God rest his soul - big Jag & NCIS fan - watched one episode with me in S2 when he was 86 - CSPWDT I believe it was. And at the end he said, "So the brothers are the same each week and they solve different cases?" Yep, Dad, that's exactly right. (Of course without me there, he and my mother, diehard CSI fan, continued to watch CSI on Thursdays at 9, but he would have happily watched SPN with me on that 'brothers solve cases' basis.)

I think SPN being on Fridays is a good thing. Live ratings expectations are lower and it can quietly churn out episodes for as long as everybody wants to keep doing it. Because certainly, Mark Pedowitz has bigger issues than Friday to deal with, and will for a while I think.
Gaby
# Gaby 2012-01-17 13:33
Thank you and wonderful work with the number crunching! It's so frustrating to be in a different country and not know how much international ratings help.

I also wanted to let you know that in Venezuela, Supernatural is also shown in both cable and free Tv. In cable, season 7 begins in February through Warner Channel and in free TV Televen is currently airing season 5.