The grumblings of letting Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie go to cartoon heaven have grown louder recently, as it appears that “The Simpsons” is no longer profitable for News Corp., and 20th Century Fox Television unless the actors take a dramatic pay cut.
According to the L.A. Times, the studio wants to cut the costs of the voice actors from $440,000 per episode to $240,000 per episode, a cut of around 45%. In addition, the cat gets paid for any use of their voices in commercials, and Simpsons merchandise.
By now, fans of “The Simpsons” now that Dan Castellaneta who voices Homer, Julie Kavner who voices Marge, Nancy Cartwright who voices Bart, Yeardley Smith who voices Lisa, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer have been around for what seems like forever. Since starting off in 1989 as a short on “The Tracy Ullman Show,” The Simpsons have become as American as apple pie and baseball.
You know what else is an American pastime? Making money. Due to declining ratings, stale episodes, and general malaise about a television show in its 20-third season, the profitability of the show has dropped where News Corp. now loses more money than it makes for each episode.
Since the Simpson family first appeared, the show has been able to rake in more than $1 billion in profits for Rupert Murdoch (aka Mr. Burns) and the rest of News Corp. shareholders. Between reruns, DVDs (season 5 is by far the best Simpsons season ever, no question of it), and merchandise, the Simpsons has been the most profitable show ever.
However, like all good things, everything must come to an end, and that could mean humongous profits for both News Corp., as well as the cast of the show. Between writers, the voice actors, and production, each episode costs more than $5 million to make. A 22 episode season costs $110 million, a significant chunk of change. If News Corp. were able to sell the syndication rights, it could potentially rake in more than $750 million, according to David Bank, a managing director at RBC Capital Markets.
Bank wrote in a research report, “Ironically, the cancellation of the show would allow News Corp. to finally sell off-network syndication rights into cable channels (and potentially to online distributors).”
Over the past five yeas, the audience for “The Simpsons” has fallen by 20%. In this writers’ opinion, the show, probably should have ended with the successful movie. That is for fans to debate, not shareholders. Now it looks like shareholders may be having the final say, and not fans.
A decision deadline has been set for today. In a statement, 20th Century Fox said, “We are hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the voice cast that allows ‘The Simpson’ to go on entertaining audiences with original episodes for many years to come.” If nothing comes to fruition by today, perhaps Bart will have slung his last slingshot, and Homer will have eaten his last doughnut.
That may make Simpsons fans, say “d’oh!,” but shareholders might say, “Woohoo!”
It may actually be a “S-M-R-T”, I mean “S-M-A-R-T” decision for the company.
Traders who believe that Simpsons episodes will end when the contract runs up might want to consider the following trades:
- That additional $750 million boost to the company could be used for buybacks, a dividend increase or developing further shows. This could be positive for News. Corp shares.
Traders who believe that Simpsons episodes will continue on may consider alternate positions:
- Go short News. Corp, long boredom. The Simpsons has not been funny in years, and there are only so many times we can see Homer strangle Bart, or Bart and Milhouse get into trouble.
— Jonathan Chen