Earlier this month, when Sam Esmail, the showrunner behind the critically-acclaimed television shows Mr. Robot and Homecoming, signed an overall deal with Universal Content Productions that will pay him $100 million over four years, the news was dutifully reported by the trades. But it was in no way the kind of headline news that sent shock waves through the entertainment industry.  

Since when did a nine-figure deal for a writer with two shows become ho-hum?

In the last 18 months there have been so many jaw-dropping deals with the people who dream up TV shows–and the numbers for those deals so staggeringly high–that reports of another TV writer getting piles of cash thrown at him or her by a network, studio, or streaming company has become almost numbingly de rigueur. 

The starting gun that set off this phenomenon can be traced back to Netflix’s announcement in the summer of 2017 that it was poaching Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes from her longtime home at ABC in a deal worth $150 million. Rhimes has hinted that the four-year pact, which has her developing eight exclusive series for the streamer, is actually worth much more than that figure.

Either way, it far exceeds the $10 million a year that ABC was paying her to create that purported $2 billion revenue stream, and it sent eyebrows shooting upwards all over Hollywood.

Netflix didn’t stop there. It next signed up Glee and American Horror Story showrunner Ryan Murphy in a five-year deal worth $300 million, which was quickly dubbed “the richest producing deal in television history.” Then the company nabbed Black-ish creator Kenya Barris for $100 million over three years. 

With the specter of all the talent setting up shop at Netflix, last June Warner Bros. TV entered the arms race, signing prolific writer-producer Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash, Riverdale) to a $400 million deal that lasts until 2024. 

A new era for TV showrunners had officially arrived, one that is sending TV studios and streaming companies scrambling to line up their own proprietary stables of talent. What’s causing this mad dash for TV creatives is twofold. One, with deep-pocketed streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon–and now Apple–eager to build up their own original content libraries as studios and networks pull back on their licensing deals, the amount of money being thrown around has reached an all-time high. In 2018, Netflix had 700 original TV series on the platform. Two, as Hollywood consolidates through mergers like the one between Disney and 21st Century Fox, and the one expected to happen between Viacom and CBS, there are fewer and fewer significant buyers of TV content. 

As one agent puts it: “We’re very shortly going to live in a world with seven buyers. And those buyers are all so-called walled gardens that want to control the talent in-house. Because if they don’t, then someone else will.” 

The value of showrunners, as opposed to, say, actors or directors, is that they’re the ones who dream up IP–or, intellectual property, the Hollywood buzzword for franchises like Star Wars and The Avengers that can be blown out across various distribution platforms (movies, TV shows, digital series) and be licensed ad infinitum for consumer products and theme parks. Owning IP has become ever more crucial as Hollywood studios fend off competition from streaming companies by doubling down on their own digital video platforms. Disney, WarnerMedia, and NBCU are all launching streaming apps later this year, and they will need content to feed them.    

“It’s the Wild Wild West out there,” says one manager. “And the scarcity objects are the showrunner types that can create worlds. That’s what everyone wants: worlds.” 

Hence the value of someone like Rhimes, who created two very lucrative worlds for ABC with Grey’s Anatomy (now in its 15th year) and Scandal, and oversees How to Get Away With Murder, which was created by one of her proteges. Chris Silbermann, ICM Partners managing director (and Rhimes’s agent), says that the desire to lock down A-list showrunners in and of itself is nothing new, but that “the amount of money being put behind it, the global scale of the companies competing now, and the pace of acceleration is unprecedented.” This applies primarily, of course, to Netflix, whose mission isn’t just to compete in Hollywood, but to swallow it whole.

“It would be like the NBA adding two expansion teams in major markets the same year LeBron James became an unrestricted free agent. So imagine in addition to that, there’s no salary cap. What would his value skyrocket to? The sky would be the limit. That’s what’s going on. Talent is truly at a premium. There’s just a scarcity of people who can manage multiple productions at the same time and keep the quality up.”  

THE SHONDA EFFECT

No one contests that Rhimes moving to Netflix created the new TV deal-making landscape. “The Shonda deal raised the stakes,” says another agent. “It made a company like Warner Bros., whose TV unit drives their revenue, feel that they couldn’t give up an engine like [Greg Berlanti, who has 14 scripted series on the air]. They’ve got to stay in the game.”

According to Silbermann, money aside, the Rhimes signing proved that places like Netflix could be a creative home for talent, not just a place to sell a show or two. He goes so far as to call Rhimes’s company Shondaland a division of Netflix, much in the way that Marvel and Pixar are under the Disney banner. It’s a place where she has more creative freedom than at a network and can develop things like Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, a documentary about the Debbie Allen Dance Academy’s reimagining of the classic ballet.  

Indeed, the domino effect that Netflix has caused is still playing out all over town. Mindy Kaling just signed a new overall deal with Warner Bros. TV, estimated to be worth $51 million over six years; and Fresh Off the Boat creator Nahnatchka Khan moved to Universal Television in a similarly-sized package. Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox TV is still smarting over the loss of Murphy. “If you’re 20th, you’re like, Whoah, we just lost Ryan,” one agent says. “We’re never going to get him for five years because Netflix has him. That’s a scary place for them to be in.”

Other people who are being closely watched are Westworld creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, whose deal with Warner Bros is up next year; Family Guy‘s Seth MacFarlane, whose deal with 20th Century Fox TV expires in June; Modern Family creator Steve Levitan, also at Fox (which he has criticized over its connection with Fox News) until later this year; 24 and Homeland creator Howard Gordon, who is also at Fox; and Riverdale creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, whose deal is currently with Warner Bros.

Then there’s the most watched deal of all: J.J. Abrams, the prolific producer (Lost, Alias, Westworld) and feature film director-producer (Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Wars Episodes VII and IX) who is reportedly seeking a “mega deal” for his Bad Robot production company, which is currently based at Paramount for film and Warner Bros. for television. With those deals set to expire this year, Disney, Apple, Warner Bros., and NBCU are all said to be courting Abrams. 

By taking ownership, so to speak, of showrunners, the studios also gain leverage when it comes to making deals with the streamers. So if, say, Netflix now wants to produce a show by Berlanti (whose You and Riverdale stream on Netflix), the company will have to pay Warner Bros. a fee and split the distribution rights to the show. 

This leverage has become all the more critical for TV studios in an age when Netflix, thanks to its seemingly infinite financial resources, is relying less and less on studios and producing content in-house. “The streamers don’t quote-unquote need studios,” says the manager. “So for the studios to stay in business, the only thing they have going for them is the showrunner or the IP. They have nothing else. That’s where the squeeze is.”

THE NEW BUYERS COMPETING FOR TALENT

Adding to the frenzied nature of this TV environment are new players like Amazon and Apple, whose TV strategies are still not completely clear, but which both have billion-dollar war chests at their disposal. Although Amazon has been in the TV game for several years now, last year it underwent a management shakeup and brought in former NBCU Entertainment President Jennifer Salke to oversee Amazon Studios. Under her leadership, the company has signed high-profile names including Nicole Kidman, Blake Lively, and Jordan Peele, and is developing a show with Westworld showrunners Nolan and Joy.

The company has not yet made any deals with big showrunners, but Salke lamented not having the chance to compete for Ryan Murphy when she spoke with the press last June. “I would have loved to have been here as the Ryan Murphy thing was starting, which was a long time ago,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “Maybe that would have ended up differently.” One agent says that Salke is being very aggressive and that “she has the complete support of Jeff Bezos. And you can never bet against Jeff Bezos.”

Some wonder if Salke might leverage her relationship with Dan Fogelman, the creator of This is Us–which she oversaw at NBC–and bring him over to Amazon when his deal with 20th Century Fox is up this year.

Apple, meanwhile, remains a wild card. Since hiring Sony Pictures Television heads Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht to oversee its nascent television service back in the summer of 2017, it’s made a few bold moves–it signed an overall deal with Parenthood and Friday Night Lights creator Jason Katims, and is spending $10 million an episode on a drama series starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston–but observers still can’t completely divine just how much of a Netflix it wants to become, or even what the actual platform will look like. Will it be tied in with Apple Music and its forthcoming “Netflix for news”? Observers will be keenly watching the Apple event rumored to be in late March to see what is revealed.

Hulu is also a question mark in terms of what happens to it once Disney becomes a majority owner after the Disney-Fox deal goes through later this year. So far the company hasn’t invested in showrunners, instead relying on third-party studios to produce shows like The Handmaid’s Tale (that show is jointly owned by MGM and Hulu). But that could change once Disney takes charge. Already the company has said that it plans on plowing a lot of resources into Hulu and turning it into its adult-oriented streaming service to complement the family-friendly fare that will stream on Disney+.  

THE TRUTH BEHIND THE MEGADEALS

What, exactly, are streaming companies and studios getting with these massive, overall deals? If the idea is to pay showrunners to create multiple worlds of IP, how realistic is it to believe that someone like Rhimes will personally be overseeing her eight Netflix shows? Not to mention that she also has three series at ABC that are still running. (Scandal ended after seven seasons last spring.) Granted, Rhimes, along with peers like Law & Order-empire-builder Dick Wolf, are known for being brilliant managers who, even if they’re not working on a show on a day-to-day basis, can swoop in and give invaluable notes and be present enough to maintain quality control.  

Still, as the TV executive says, “Netflix is in the volume business. When you’re making a deal with Shonda Rhimes, basically what you’re doing is making a deal with the Shonda Rhimes who’s going to supervise up-and-coming writers that she thinks are good.” Many of those proteges go on to be successful TV creators in their own right, such as HTGAWM’s Nowalk, which is ultimately an added bonus for Netflix as it tries to grow its stable of talent.

One thing deal-makers are quick to point out, however, is that the gargantuan figures of the Netflix and other deals aren’t quite as gargantuan as they might seem. All of Netflix’s contracts, for instance, take into account that there is no back-end value or residuals for the creator. At a traditional TV network, someone like Rhimes makes most of her money from international sales and residuals, i.e. the money that comes when a show is sold into syndication and airs again and again for years. Because Netflix doesn’t sell its shows into syndication, it pays creatives upfront for that lost revenue.

Now studios are following suit. Sources say that Berlanti’s $400 million deal was similarly structured, and that Warner Bros. effectively paid him upfront for his back-end, making the deal seem larger in the headlines.

For showrunners, there’s also the question of how they will adapt from pitching their shows to multiple networks to being locked down exclusively at a place like Netflix. Murphy, for one, is known for being a skilled showman who relishes “lathering up a room of buyers and being in the middle of a huge sale,” as one agent put it.

How will he feel two years from now, the agent wonders, “when no one’s paying attention? During the five years he’s at Netflix, he’s not going to have the fanfare he’s come to expect around him.” 

Then there’s the hullabaloo that networks lavish around shows in the form of advertising and promotions. Netflix has historically put most of its marketing behind promoting content on its own platform. Last year it doubled its marketing spend to $2 billion, with more emphasis on traditional advertising, but the perception remains that only a few shows and movies are on the receiving end of that heavy promotion: high-profile productions like Stranger Things and Grace and Frankie.

“When Shonda Rhimes created a big hit for ABC, it was a big effing deal,” the TV exec says. “There were promotions and billboards for years. Grey’s has been on for [15] years. ABC is constantly promoting it. When you go on Netflix, you’re lucky if you get one week of promotion. Then they’re on to the next show.” 

Will Rhimes’s ego be able to take anything less, let alone the prospect of a show that isn’t aggressively thrust into the cultural conversation the way that Scandal and HTGAWM were, all but guaranteeing that they dominated watercolor chatter for seasons at a time?

The biggest question of all, of course, is whether these lavish deals will pay off. Will Rhimes, Murphy, and Barris actually prove to be worth their big paychecks? But in the end, for Netflix at least, it may not matter. Because it doesn’t play the ratings game–the company famously refuses to release any meaningful viewership data–no one will ever know how successful any of their shows are, beyond whatever buzz they generate in the culture. Theoretically, that buzz encourages people to hang on to their monthly Netflix subscriptions, if only just to see what these TV gurus come up with next. 

“In broadcast TV or cable, the bubble burst when a show came out and the ratings stank,” says the TV executive. “In this world, it doesn’t matter. Netflix can put up a billboard and say that the show is so-and-so’s best work ever–an instant classic.”

How Netflix created a $1 billion arms race for TV writers [Fast Company]

Earlier this year the International Association of Innovation Professionals (IAOIP) partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to host Innova-Con. The two-day conference took place in Washington D.C. to highlight the “disruptive and emerging landscape of innovation.” I had an opportunity to catch up with Innova-Con attendee Steve Palmer, founder and owner at Ever Evolving. …

There a lot of factors to consider when you’re changing places of work — your new job, the salary, the benefits, the office culture. New research has found that there’s another — possibly surprising — factor to be considered by employers when they’re looking to secure and retain top talent: Their carbon footprint.

Swytch, a blockchain-based clean energy platform, recently conducted a survey of 1,000 employees at large (5,000-plus employees) companies based in the United States, and found that sustainable practices was an important factor to be considered when those individuals were considering where to work; of the respondents, 30 percent said that it would be a dealbreaker if a company they were considering had no sustainable initiatives in place on a corporate level.

More than 10 percent said that they would be willing to accept a salary decrease of $5,000 to $10,000 in order to work for a company that made sustainability a top priority. The findings also report that 30 percent said they accepted one job over another because one company practiced sustainability on a corporate level, with more than 10 percent saying they’ve made this decision when faced with it on more than one occasion.

The numbers don’t just have an impact when it comes to getting top talent, but it also proves just how important being “green” is when it comes to retaining the people on your team. According to the findings, around 70 percent of those surveyed revealed that a strong sustainability agenda would affect the decision to stay long term or leave a company.

And the people seem to practice what they preach; Swytch reports that 30 percent claimed to have “chosen not to stay with a company due to its lack of a sustainability agenda,” with more than 11 percent reporting to have made the jump for this reason more than once.

Last year, several major corporations embraced large scale green initiatives; some of the most popular themes included the elimination of single-use plastic — with countless operations, such as Disney resorts and all Starbucks locations — opting to ban straws and a shift to clean, renewable energy (some supporters include UPS, Facebook, and Walmart.

New Study Confirms People Value Corporate Sustainability When Deciding Where to Work [Green Matters]

The holiday season can mean different things to different folks. For some, it’s about spending time with family opening presents around a Christmas tree. For others, it’s about escaping family and spending a week on a ski slope.

Whatever the case may be for you, it’s impossible to deny the absolute “cash cow” the holiday season poses for retailers. The average consumer is expected to spend $1,007.24 this holiday season: up 4.1 percent from last year.

This includes $637.67 on gifts, $215.04 on food and décor, and $154.53 on non-gift purchases. If you’re a savvy entrepreneur — or someone who has a creative skill — the wheels in your head ought to be turning.

There has to be a way for you to get a piece of this pie, right?

Seven Holiday Hustles You Can Try

The holidays offer a perfect opportunity to pursue a seasonal side hustle. Work at the office typically slows down, you get some time off, and there’s a captive market ready and willing to spend money on items and services that will make them feel festive and their loved ones happy.  

For the most part, holiday side hustles can be bootstrapped and operated with just a small investment out of personal savings. If you need a more substantial amount, a short-term installment loan might get you up and running.

When you’re brainstorming options, think about your specific skills and traits. There may be opportunities for both physical products as well as services. Here are some ideas:

 

  • Baked Goods

If you have a knack for baking and enjoy your time in the kitchen, the holiday season is the ideal chance to sell baked goods. From individuals to companies looking to present gifts to employees, if you have a sizable network of people to pitch to, you could make some money this way.

 

  • Holiday Decorating

Holiday decorations seem to get bigger and more extravagant every year. Though most people like the idea of holiday decorations, few have the energy or creativity to spend an entire weekend putting up lights, blow-ups, wreaths, and ribbons.

If you have a few ladders, supplies, and extra time after work or on weekends, you could help people meet this need and make a few bucks.

 

  • Event Planning

’Tis the season for office parties, family gatherings, neighborhood drop-ins, and dinner parties. If you have the skills required to plan and execute events, there’s a market for event planning in November and December.

 

  • Personal Assistant/Nanny

For busy parents who both work full-time jobs and have to navigate the challenges of parenting, buying gifts, and preparing for parties, a personal assistant can be a life-saver. If you have the skills to manage such duties as shopping, cooking, and nannying, you may be able to earn some extra money for several weeks.

 

  • Gift Wrapping

Given how much money the average person spends on gifts, there’s inevitably a demand for gift wrapping. Since many people are not particularly adept at wrapping gifts, this presents an opportunity for a talented person (such as yourself) to come in and do the job for them.

A home-based or mobile gift-wrapping business might easily bring in a few hundred dollars over the holidays. That’s enough to pay for your own gifts for your family and friends.

 

  • Handmade Goods

Do you have a creative side? Do you possess the skills to make physical products?

People are often searching for creative, custom gifts for friends and family. Whether you have the ability to do some cool lettering, make wooden coasters, or sew pillows, you can find a market for quality goods.

 

  • Affiliate Sales

Anyone can join affiliate marketing programs and try to make a quick buck. It may take some time and effort to drive traffic to your links, but the holiday season is a perfect time to start. Sales at websites like Amazon go through the roof, which could be the place for your idea.

Ho, Ho, Hustle

The holiday season is ripe for hustlers. If you have a skill, talent, or product idea you think would fit into the festive needs of the season, why not try to start a little side gig?

Maybe it could pay for your own holiday expenses? If it’s successful enough, perhaps you could boost your income! You won’t know until you try.

“I think it’s fun to find something that people have used, and we can use further,” said Cato Limas, a ReTuna customer. “If you look at the things they’re selling here, they’re almost new. So actually, why bother buying new stuff?” During their first visit to the secondhand mall, Limas and his girlfriend spent about $7 and came away with a bag full of toys and keepsakes for their newborn baby.

Nearly every item on sale is from public donations, which are dropped off at the mall’s drive-thru depot. The mall’s 11 stores include a vintage furniture outlet, a bookstore and a bicycle shop. Stores that sign a contract with ReTuna must also commit to zero-waste.

More than 50 people work at the complex, and it has played a role in generating employment for immigrants in the area. Many of the stores take part in a Swedish national program that subsidizes salaries of new residents for up to two years. ReTuna also offers adult education courses that focus on design-based recycling.

Sweden has been a longtime leader when it comes to sustainability. More than 99 percent of the country’s ordinary household waste is recycled, and separating trash for recycling has been a common practice for Swedes since the 1980s. The country has also passed legislation to reach its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.

Introducing ReTuna, the world’s first secondhand shopping mall [Inhabitat]