Daniela Elser: It’s crunch time for Meghan and Harry’s $606,000-per-day Netflix and Spotify deals
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry landed some of the most lucrative gigs in Hollywood – but what’s happened to their $176 million deals?
Turns out, even if the Archbishop of Canterbury performs your wedding ceremony, you still have to say the same vows as everyone else. On May 19, 2018 when Prince Harry and Californian actress, yoga devotee and blogger Meghan Markle wed in front of an incongruous melange of Eton alumnae, B-list cable TV stars and the dubiously acquired Clooneys they, like millions of other couples, promised to be together “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health”.
More than three years on from that glorious spring day there is no question: It was definitely “for richer”.
Over the past 10 months, the rogue royals have managed to not only dominate the headlines on both sides of the pond thanks to their perpetually loose lips but also thanks to the mega business deals they have notched up, all of which have come with cheques so full of zeros even Warren Buffett would be impressed.
However, later this month (June 29 to be precise) we will hit the 300-day mark since news of their first deal, with streaming giant Netflix, was announced in no loftier place than The New York Times. At the time it was reported that they would be producing “documentaries, docu-series, feature films, scripted shows and children’s programming” which “informs but also gives hope”, all which sounded tediously high-minded and worthy, aka the antithesis of bingeable. Still, it was a coup for both Netflix and the royal couple.
Since then, in April this year, the couple’s Archewell Productions announced its first project, a multi-episode documentary series about the Invictus Games, the sporting competition Harry had founded for wounded veterans, imaginatively titled Heart of Invictus.
And that’s it.
Eye-watering figures but not much to show for it
So far, for a figure that has been estimated to around the $141m (US$100m) mark, all Netflix has gotten is a series about an organisation and event created by the Duke.
Or to put it another way, as of the 300-day mark, Harry and Meghan’s Netflix deal will have been worth $471,000 per day.
Dutiful duke and duchessing certainly never paid this well.
The numbers get even more eye-watering if you factor in their Spotify contract to create podcasts for the audio platform, which is reported to be worth about $33m. After the couple’s podcasting ambitions were revealed on December 16, the value of their contracts jumped to a combined $653,000 per day.
Six months on, they have released only one podcast episode, a 33-minute holiday special featuring guests including James Corden, Sir Elton John, Tyler Perry and Naomi Osaka.
That their debut offering saw them rustle up a passel of famous mates so audiences could listen to celebrities wax lyrical about how they handled the pandemic hardly proved to be imaginative, or particularly interesting stuff.
Still, Spotify certainly got the PR bang for the buck thanks to the fact that Harry and Meghan’s toddler son Archie uttered his first words in public saying “Happy New Year” during the episode, which set off a hullabaloo over whether the duo was commercialising their toddler son.
In March this year, the world learnt that Harry had managed to achieve what centuries of his cousin-marrying forebears had assiduously avoided and gotten a job, namely as the chief impact officer of Silicon Valley company BetterUp which promises to “drive personal and professional growth”.
While his salary was not revealed, given the company is valued at $2.4 billion it would be fair to assume that he’s not doing this job because he has space in his day between his kundalini meditation session and trying to get Montecito neighbour Orlando Bloom to go for a pint (I’m guessing).
But, it’s crunch time.
Harry and Meghan have proven themselves impressively successful at securing these colossal deals and the hugely lucrative pay packets that come with them, but when will the world actually get a look at the TV shows, documentaries and podcasts they committed to produce? Just when will their billion-dollar company paymasters start to see some sort of return on their investment?
Contracts snagged for the royal name
Yes, TV shows, movies and documentaries can take years to get to screens but let’s be real: Harry and Meghan weren’t hand-picked by Netflix because they are the most talented, thoughtful and creative voices in the room; it’s because they are two of the most famous people in the world right now.
Sure, the pair probably do have a clutch of worthy ideas and are hungry to throw themselves into their self-appointed mandate to change the world, one stream at a time, but they snagged these contracts because of who his family is.
Corporate titans aren’t queuing up to work with them because a former TV star and a retired army captain are the most exciting up-and-coming producers they could find; it’s because companies want to be able to send out reams of press releases touting that they have a real life Duke and Duchess on the books.
So what have Netflix et al really bought themselves? Thus far all their big cheques have gotten them is a loose public brand association with a couple who have an uncanny ability to make themselves into cultural and political lightning rods.
While Harry and Meghan have been responsible for some of the most high-profile TV of the year (if not decade) it was US network CBS and the Apple streaming service who reaped the global audiences and tsunami of publicity that came with their Oprah revelations and Harry’s mental health series, The Me You Can’t See.
Oh to have been a fly on the wall at Netflix’s Los Gatos headquarters when that was all announced.
The reception for Meghan’s debut creative outing, her children’s book The Bench, which was released earlier this month, does not bode well. Reviews for the 169-word offering ranged from the middling to positively caustic, including it being dubbed a “semiliterate vanity project” (The Telegraph), “you half wonder if the writing job was delegated to a piece of furniture” and “It reads as if it has been penned as a self-help manual for needy parents” (The Times) and simply “it’s awful” (The Irish Times).
Clock is ticking for Harry and Meghan
While creating TV and podcasts takes time, and the pandemic has for obvious reasons slowed production down, the clock is ticking for Harry and Meghan to prove they are worth such astronomical sums of money.
It was 10 months after it was announced that Netflix had signed up TV wunderkind Shonda Rhimes that details of the first project were announced. In the cast of fellow Netflix stablemates Barack and Michelle Obama, it was 11 months after their signing was announced that they revealed their debut slate of seven projects for the company.
Harry and Meghan are now at nearly the same point. (July 2 will mark 10 months since the New York Times’ Netflix reveal.)
When the Sussexes do start unveiling their slate of TV and podcasting projects they will get one shot; that is, one chance to impress audiences and make their mark either in terms of steaming figures or critical plaudits.
When the novelty and the lustre of working with members of the royal family wears off, if they don’t have streaming counts or a clutch of awards to show for themselves, then will their contracts be renewed? Essentially, they will have a brief window to prove they are worth the hundreds of millions that corporate behemoths have bet on them.
No pressure now or anything.
The fact is, even billion-dollar companies can’t afford to keep ploughing truckloads of cash into two very, very famous contractors if they do not prove to be a sound investment.
Way back in 2018, Harry and Meghan promised each other they would be together, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health”. Over the past 18 months, they have seen better and worse (their new US lives and the wedge between them and his family); sickness and health (Meghan’s mental health woes and her devastating miscarriage) and definitely richer.
But poorer? Well, that’s entirely up to them and their production team.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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