Hollywood Profits Analysis [6:39 pm]
The best-kept secret in Hollywood, especially from Wall Street, is that the movie studios’ biggest profit center is not theatrical movies, or even DVD sales; it is TV licensing. If the details of the profits remain clouded to outsiders, it is no accident. The studios purposely blur together their three principal revenue sources–the box office, video sales, and television licensing–into a single portmanteau category called “studio entertainment” in their quarterly and annual reports. Keeping audiences in the dark may be a time-honored Hollywood tradition, but this breakdown can be demystified by consulting the studios’ internal numbers, which they furnish to the Motion Picture Association on a confidential basis.
[...] With the advent of the DVD, home video has become a vast retail business, with studios selling both new and past titles, as well as television programming such as The Sopranos, Friends, or Chappelle’s Show, at wholesale prices that can go as low as $5 a DVD. Studios, which have meticulously analyzed these costs, estimate that manufacturing, shipping, and returns costs average 12.4 percent; marketing, advertising, and returns costs average 18.5 percent; and residuals paid to guilds and unions for their members and pension plans come to 2.65 percent. So, about two-thirds of video revenues are gross profits (which participants, such as stars, producers, and directors, may share in once the movie breaks even). In 2004, the studios’ estimated video gross profit was $13.95 billion.
But the studios’ real El Dorado is television. What makes television licensing, both at home and abroad, especially profitable for the studios is that virtually all the expenses required to market a television program, including tapes and advertising, are borne by the licensee. The studios only have to pay the residuals to the guilds and unions, which varies between movies and TV and average roughly 10 percent. The studios get to keep the other 90 percent. In 2004, this amounted to slightly more than $15.9 billion, making it the studios’ single-richest source of profits.