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The Most Expensive Streaming Shows on TV

The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) wore the classic bounty hunter uniform as he flew his ship, while Baby Yoda caused mischief.
Source: Disney Plus

Feb. 6 2020, Updated 6:22 p.m. ET

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One of the positives of so many people quitting cable is the abundance of streaming services — from Netflix to Amazon to the streaming version of networks such as HBO. Competing with television networks like ABC, NBC and CBS becomes a bit easier on two fronts, the quality of the programs that are being produced is only proving that we are living in the platinum age of TV, and the budgets are practically endless.

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The stars these services are tapping to join these shows start the budgets off on a high note when talents such as Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston are getting $1.1 million an episode for Apple TV+’s The Morning Show. Even David Letterman returned from retirement to do Netflix’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction for $2 million per episode!

MORE: The darkest true crime docs on Netflix!

Things have gotten so crazy, financially speaking, with streaming television, that the news that Amazon paid the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien a quarter of a billion dollars for the rights to The Lord of the Rings to be done as a five-season fantasy nerd’s dream was met with a, “Yeah, and?” by Hollywood. Here’s a list of the most expensive streaming shows that are coming to your screens or are already there. The list is broken down in ascending order of price per episode.

“House of Cards”

//streaming shows house of cards
Source: Netflix

Streaming Service: Netflix

Cost: House of Cards grew from $4.5 million per episode to $6 million per episode over 73 episodes.

Why so expensive? The show started at $50 million per season for the first two 13-episode seasons (starring Kevin Spacey), 2013 and 2014. By the final (6th) season (starring Robin Wright), the budget had ballooned to $6 million per episode. This increase was largely due to cast salary increases when it became a hit as well as basic production cost of shooting in our nation’s capital. Also, building a replica of the White House is not cheap.

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“Stranger Things”

//streaming shows stranger things
Source: Netflix

Streaming service: Netflix

Cost: $8 million per episode, 25 total (so far) over three seasons

Why so expensive? Setting the right tone gets pricey, especially between the meticulous ‘80s sets, the costumes, the special effects and what could be an enormous chunk of the Netflix blockbuster hit, music licensing. Nothing adds layers of authenticity and captures the feel of an era like a song representative of that period. For example, Arcade Fire charged $250,000 for the use of a minute of their song in a Hunger Games trailer. Can you imagine what it cost for Mötley Crüe’s Home Sweet Home, The Stray Cats’ Rock This Town and Madonna’s Material Girl (all in one season)? The show even had to shell out royalty cash for 40 tracks over the 8-episode season.

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“Marco Polo”

//streaming shows marco polo
Source: Netflix

Streaming service: Netflix

Cost: $9 million per episode, 10 episodes per season, equals $90 million per season

Why so expensive? Don’t tell people you’re the next Game of Thrones because no one will believe it. Regardless, that’s what people said about Marco Polo. It arrived more like a dropped sword than a piercing blow to pop culture’s consciousness. It isn’t cheap portraying the 1200s.

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“Sense8”

The cast of Sense8 gathered for a touching moment in a mausoleum.
Source: Netflix

Streaming service: Netflix

Cost: $9 million per episode, 24 episodes total, equals $216 million

Why so expensive? When the Wachowskis (The Matrix) dove into the science fiction/fantastical world of Sense8, it sure looked amazing but not many people tuned in to watch it, and it barely limped through two seasons. The high production costs came from the vast international filming and the carte blanche that the streaming giant gave the legendary filmmaking siblings.

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“The Crown”

//streaming shows the crown
Source: Netflix

Streaming service: Netflix

Cost: $13 million per episode, 10 episodes a season, i.e. $130 million per season

Why so expensive? The first few seasons of The Crown spanned the globe for authenticity. Prince George in Africa? That was not shot on a Pinewood Studios London stage. When Queen Elizabeth made her first trips overseas, creators spent the extra bucks to ensure cameras captured star Claire Foy in locations that fit the storyline. What she wore wasn’t five and dimed either. The gorgeous wedding dress she wore in the pilot cost $35,000 alone! We also cannot forget that it was not cheap to get those classic British late ‘30s battleships ready to shoot. After all, Prince Phillip’s (Matt Smith) Navy experience was a rich one. 

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“The Mandalorian”

//streaming shows the mandalorian
Source: Disney Plus

Streaming service: Disney+

Cost: $15 million an episode plus 8-episodes and … cha ching! $120 million for season one

Why so expensive: Traveling to a galaxy far, far away will raise the total. The Mandalorian uses loads of special effects artists to create CG characters and CG worlds. Then there are the costumes required to keep the show looking more big screen Star Wars than small screen sci-fi. Those touches easily jacked up the show’s budget. The Mouse House was seemingly not concerned about costs — at least for now. After all, they are in the battle to carve out a spot in the increasingly competitive streaming world. Getting Star Wars fans onboard early was a fantastic way to start.

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“Game of Thrones”

//streaming shows game of thrones
Source: HBO

Streaming service: HBO Go

Cost: $15 million an episode, $90 million for final six episode string

Why so expensive? Have you seen it? Between CG dragons, remote locale shooting, a cast whose salaries have grown exponentially with the show’s success and costumes costing thousands upon thousands, that budget is actually quite reasonable! The Game of Thrones author, George R.R. Martin, justifiably made $15 million per season for the rights to the story.

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“The Morning Show”

//streaming shows the morning show
Source: Apple TV-Plus

Streaming service: Apple TV+

Cost: $15 million per episode, 10 episodes a season equals $300 million for two seasons

Why so expensive? For starters, there is the cast. Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon each earned $1.1 million per episode. That’s $11 million per season … times two! Steve Carell scored $600,000 per episode or $6 million per year. One of the elements that most impressed — beyond the divine drama — was that glorious Morning Show set. There’s the “desk” set, where Aniston and Witherspoon sit to anchor the daily broadcast. On the flip side, the pitch perfect production room(s) are exquisite, as was shooting on the streets of New York City, the jaw-dropping sets that served as Aniston and Carell’s swanky Manhattan apartments and that California wildfires episode. Authenticity costs money, and streaming services are showing that that is not a concern … yet.

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“See”

//streaming shows see
Source: Apple TV-Plus

Streaming service: Apple TV+

Cost: $15 million an episode, $240 million for two seasons

Why so expensive: Costumes, production design and shooting remotely add to the keen sense that what you see is the world of See. Also, after Aquaman Jason Momoa does not come cheap. To put this in perspective and to draw a firm connection between Game of Thrones, Momoa and See, it took the HBO Emmy-winning hit eight seasons to get up to the $15 million an episode price tag. With Apple firmly behind the production, See began its journey at $15 million.

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“The Get Down”

//streaming shows the get down
Source: Netflix

Streaming service: Netflix

Cost: $16 million per episode, 11 episodes a season equals $190 million per season!

Why so expensive? Baz Luhrmann is a master crafter of storytelling magic that is visual eye candy. Just look at his Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby. The Get Down was a music-driven show and had such potential. Initially, the show was budgeted to come in at $7.5 million per episode, and then the budget’s volume increased to $10.9 million. Hindsight is 20/20 and so is looking at the books after the fact, which Deadline did and discovered that the production, in fact, ran up a tab closer to $16 million per episode. Why did the volume get cranked up on the budget? Fees for Luhrmann, creative collaborator Catherine Martin (also his wife), along with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (Stephen Adly Guirgis), rappers Nas and Grandmaster Flash, plus the services of a hip-hop historian (Nelson George) all sent prices skyrocketing. Once again, music licensing rights were costly. With streaming shows’ competition ever increasing, the pressure to serve as a television time machine could not be stronger. That costs cash.

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Disney’s Marvel Shows

Sebastian Stan wore his The Winter Soldier costume while The Falcon, Anthony Mackie, donned his superhero duds in a scene from Avengers: Endgame.
Source: Marvel Studios

Streaming service: Disney+

Cost: Up to $25 million per episode, and shows could have six to eight episodes each.

Why so expensive? It’s early — the first program is not set to premiere until fall of 2020, but The Hollywood Reporter is saying that each one of their upcoming series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision and Hawkeye, will each cost $150 to $200 million per season.

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“Lord of the Rings”

The “ring” from The Lord of the Rings glows golden.
Source: New Line

Streaming service: Amazon

Cost: $1 billion for five seasons

Why so expensive? We are still a few years away from even seeing a first clip from Amazon’s Middle Earth quest. There’s lots to live up to with the Oscar-winning trilogy from Peter Jackson and generation upon generation of those who love the J.R.R. Tolkien novels. Before a single set was built or actor hired, the rights to the source material alone accounted for a quarter of that cost. That’s right, Lord of the Rings found Amazon shelling out $250 million so they could spend another $750 million before all will be said and done!

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