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ANSWERED on Sat 19 Apr 2008 - 4:46 am UTC by nancy

Question: What was the cost to make a 30 minute TV show in 1995? In 2000?

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 16 Apr 2008 01:12 UTCWed 16 Apr 2008 - 1:12 am UTC 

I am looking for statistics to validate assertions that the cost of producing video programming is on the decline.  Are there any industry data sources or articles that discuss cost pressures?

Cost of equipment
Post production editing accessibility
Open sourcing and web access to music, graphics
Online distribution
Online promotion and guerilla marketing

We're thinking that talent, editorial/directorial, and onscreen don't decline much, but that all of the other components in the chain can and will come down.  We're not talking about user generate LOL cats, but real programming, destined for online, cable or broadcast television.




 18 Apr 2008 23:12 UTCFri 18 Apr 2008 - 11:12 pm UTC 

Hi Christine,

After about an hour of research, it seems to me production costs rose slightly from the mid-1990s to 2000.

Powerhouse sitcoms from the mid-90s to early '00s, like Malcolm in the Middle, Home Improvement, Seinfield, Friends, and Frasier, each cost $3-$5 million per episode. Meanwhile, for most sitcoms, from the mid-'90s to 2000, costs rose from about $600,000-$800,000 to about $800,000 to $900,000 per episode.

Some factors include switching from multi-camera to single camera in order to lower costs.

While some production companies have slashed production costs, the average cost of a half-hour program grew from "$994,000 to $1,227,000 per episode, or 23.4 percent, between 2000 and 2003 alone."

So, I'm not finding much data to support the theory that production costs have gone done. There are a few examples, such as TBS's "House of Payne," which costs $500,000 per episode.

I'm also not sure I can find data for all the subtopics you posted:

Cost of equipment
Post production editing accessibility
Open sourcing and web access to music, graphics
Online distribution
Online promotion and guerilla marketing

Would what I've found, plus whatever else I can find (which may not be much) be sufficient?

Best regards,





 19 Apr 2008 00:19 UTCSat 19 Apr 2008 - 12:19 am UTC 

Boy, that is interesting.  Are you able to get any accounting numbers for production houses or from trade associations that would at least group the categories?  I think online video hit in 2005 and cheaper HD equipment hit in 2006, so maybe the change is more recent.




 19 Apr 2008 01:39 UTCSat 19 Apr 2008 - 1:39 am UTC 

I don't think privately held studios have to release that sort of data. Combing through reports from publicly held studios for half-hour show budgets could take hours. I will try looking at trade associations for some general data.

This may be of help:

At this forum, "TV Show Budget Help":

I found a post that mention Broadcasting & Cable
where you can search for budgets in the search box.

Another post at http://videoprod.tribe.net/thread/4a4e24e8-9cee-4451-b309-5032841216ea
"For example, you could shoot a 30 min. show for public access for less than $300, or shoot 35mm film infomercial for $175,000."

Another post: "The concept that I am working on is in studio with a massive scenic design set and we're shooting 3-4 30 minute episodes per day on HD with 5 cameras in a live switch situation. We also have an animated 30 sec opening sequence and 3-4 45 sec animated vignettes within the program. My total budget for 13 episodes with contingencies is just over $50k per episode."

I will look for some accounting figures, but it may be the best I can do is give you links to pertinent articles.





 19 Apr 2008 04:46 UTCSat 19 Apr 2008 - 4:46 am UTC 

The single best *free* resource for you appears to be InBaseline:

Choose the Film/TV category at top right and enter the name of a show.

For instance: The Sopranos, which brings up:
Click "Additional Details" to bring up "Estimated budget is $2,200,000 per episode for 1999-2000 season."

I can't find the budget for every show I tried (like the Food Network's "Good Eats"), but you may have better luck finding budgets if you register at InBaseline. (Registration is free.)


"In the early 1990s, the average cost for a half-hour pilot ranged from $500,000 to $700,000, and hour-long pilot programs cost as much as $2 million if a show had extensive effects. If a show is not contracted, "picked up," by a network, producers or studios are not reimbursed for costs. A mid-1990s trend, designed to cut costs, is the production of shorter presentation tapes, called "demos." Instead of making a
standard-length, 22-minute sitcom using new sets, original music,
and complete titles, producers create a partial episode, 15 minutes in length." http://www.memorabletv.com/articles/pilotshows.htm

1995: "'This [the Simpsons] is a very expensive show. It cost $1.5 million per episode, whereas other sitcoms cost anywhere from $600,000 to $800,000 per episode.' "

2000:" . . . franchises like ''Frasier'' and ''Friends'' cost over $3 million an episode . . . a half-hour sitcom like NBC's ''Will and Grace'' or CBS's ''King of Queens'' costs at least $600,000 an episode. "
2000: "[Malcolm in the Middle] is unusual in several ways. For one thing, it is more expensive than other sitcoms. It costs almost $1.2 million for each episode, in contrast to the traditional sitcom, which in its first year may cost $800,000 to $900,000 an episode. That's because ''Malcolm'' is not made on a stage, with three or four cameras, before a studio audience whose laughter is often heightened by a laugh track. . .
"Instead ''Malcolm' is made like a movie, with a single camera, on an indoor set as well as outdoors, without an audience or a laugh track. Another show using the same technique is HBO's ''Sex and the City.'' This single-camera method, rarely used on sitcoms, gives the show a far more realistic look."

Also see

"For instance, the average production cost of network half-hour sitcoms increased from $994,000 to $1,227,000 per episode, or 23.4 percent, between 2000 and 2003 alone.

Video TV Production Costs


Syndicated sitcoms, like "House of Payne" cost less, about $500,000 per episode. The show is taped in Georgia, a non-union state, which keeps costs down.


2001: "Will Reality Kill Drama?
" . . . it costs NBC $13 million for each episode of ER. but only $500,000 for The Weakest Link."
"Entertainment Tonight, (which has served as the programming model for other reality-based magazines since its inception in 1980), has one of the highest weekly production budgets at $500,000 to $600,000 per week, the production costs of other tabloid newsmagazines such as King World's Inside Edition typically range from $250,000 to $400,000 per week. Production costs for reality-based crime and rescue series are considerably lower at the $150,000 to $250,000 week range" -- Museum of Broadcast Communications


"Economics of Online Video 2: Unit Cost Structure, from Silicon Valley Insider:

This site provides a good overview. Be sure to check the link "A base "streaming video" model that lays out the basic cost structure"

"What Apple TV Costs to Make"

"Tech puts TV production in your home"

"Production Management : Television production":

Also See:

KCreative has "A TV Budget Summary Worksheet" that allows you to estimate the cost of making a TV ad or show:

"Costing Out A Production":

Fee-Based Reports

"Television Production Cost Survey: Report of 2006 Findings," focuses on commercials, but may include infomercials:
The report is $110. Contact AAAA to see if it meets your needs:

"Television Production Industry Research in the US by IBISWorld," published 2008, cost is $150.

Best regards,




 21 Apr 2008 15:02 UTCMon 21 Apr 2008 - 3:02 pm UTC 

Thank you for your effort- it was a difficult question, and the numbers will be helpful as a baseline, but really do shift the hypothesis- which is equally useful.




 21 Apr 2008 16:53 UTCMon 21 Apr 2008 - 4:53 pm UTC 

Even though I did kick some sand on your theory (sorry!), I'm very glad to know you found this information useful.

Best of luck with your project,


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