Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Payday for Snooki & The Sitch – What Do MTV’s Reality Stars Earn?

Here’s a teaser for our upcoming analysis of MTV’s ‘Sweet Spots’.

  • Who’s Snooki?
  • Who’s watching?
  • What does payday look like for the Jersey Shore ensemble?
  • What are industry insiders saying about Jersey Shore?

So Who Is Snooki?

If you live happily outside the popular culture, get refreshed by reading:

  • Cathy Horyn’s snooty ‘Snooki’s Time’ in The New York Times
  • And Mary Elizabeth Williams’ ‘Defense of Snooki’ in Salon

Who’s Watching Jersey Shore?

  • Season 1 averaged 2.2 million viewers
  • The Season 2 premiere:
    • Drew 5.3 million viewers 
    • Including a 5.1 rating in MTV’s youthful target demo of People 12-34
    • Ranked #1 cable telecast among P12-34
    • Was up 292% over its series debut in P12-34. And up 280% in viewers
  • Jersey Shore recorded MTV’s best season premiere rating since the Season 2 launch of The Osbournes (2002)

What Does Payday Look Like?

  • Compensation often ‘starts with smokes & Cokes’
  • Reality ensemble characters earn from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars for a pilot and Season 1 episodes
  • MTV Networks benchmarks at the high end amongst cable channels for Talent fees and production budgets for Reality shows
  • Renewal packages for Season 2+ depend on:
    • the level of success in Season 1
    • network practices
    • the strategic importance of the series
    • the editorial cost of losing cast members
    • the leverage of successful agents, and so on
  • Talent packages are negotiated directly by the networks with cast members and their agents
  • The channels budget Talent costs separately from their series production budgets
  • Breakout Reality stars may graduate to star in new programs – like Bethenny from Bravo’s Real Housewives.  Many pursue careers and earn additional income in other areas of entertainment, as well as from appearances and endorsements

The Sitch

Mike Sorrentino (aka “Mikey”, “The Situation” and “The Sitch”) is Snooki’s fellow Jersey Shore breakout star.

The Sitch’s compensation package was leaked last week. Snooki’s deal is said to be comparable

Here’s what we learned:

($ ‘000 / episode)
Season 1$5+/-
Season 2$10+/-
Season 2Ratings-based bonus: $60-180
Season 3$10+/-
Season 4$27.5-$40

Source: TMZ

What The Insiders Say About Jersey Shore

While we asked around about Talent fees, several industry insiders shared their thoughts about Jersey Shore:

Network Program Developers: ‘Sex, Alcohol & Jersey’

  • Great formula: sexy stuff  (‘lady lumps and six packs’) + suntan lotion + a house full of people drinking alcohol
  • Even better formula:  … in New Jersey
  • Risky formula: a house full of ignorant drunks
  • Extremely risky formula: Snooki’s Disorderly conduct may add to the sizzle. ‘But one public incident of racist or homophobic rage, or a horrible violent exchange, and Jersey Shore could sink like the Mel Gibson franchise’

Producer: ‘Immaculate Reception’

  • Develop and pitch shows dominated by blue collar characters and limited readers. These are the people who watch cable TV
  • Important trend in 2010: ‘Networks are looking for an “immaculate reception”.  They don’t allow enough lead time to properly promote a series. They dump programming on the air in a panic, hoping something will stick.’ 

Programmer: ‘Does Lead-in Matter?’

  • Stop cramming everything on Sundays at 10PM.  ‘Last Sunday there were five nets I had to record on my DVR.  (AMC: Mad Men, TBS: My Boys, E!: Khloe & Kourtney in Miami, A&E: The Glades, plus History: Top Shot)’
  • Schedule flow and lead-in still matter – though it isn’t the factor it once was. With 200+ channels and the DVR, viewers are more open to following programs from channel to channel.
  • When in doubt, pick the best slot for your program.  Let the competition worry about itself
  • Choose Jersey for any reality concept and add a few ratings points while it’s still the location du jour. By next year, everyone will be following LeBron to Miami

Next Weeek
MTV Network’s Budget ‘Sweet Spots’, beginning with MTV, and more.

Coming Soon
Our comparative analysis of production costs and compensation packages for Reality vs Scripted entertainments.

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Note on Sources
The data is taken from recent interviews with executives, producers, distributors and experts, as well as from recent conference presentations and published sources including press releases. Actual budgets, rights and deliverables vary from project to project.


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