Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are making up for lost time when it comes to establishing their financial independence from the royal family.
Hot on the heels of their whopping Netflix deal (reported to be worth $100m) this week they announced they had signed a multi-year deal with streaming giant Spotify, said by some outlets to be worth as much as $35m.
Emotionally their departure from the royal family was all about their independence; Meghan and Harry wanted to be able to say what they wanted and support who they chose without having to seek permission from Buckingham Palace first.
It was notable that they said their new podcasts, branded as Archewell Audio, “will feature stories of hope and compassion from inspirational guests” and spoke of the power of podcasting to “uplift” people. This very much fits with what we know of the couple’s clear goals to be a force for good in the world.
But spiritual independence, if we may call it that, was always going to need to be built upon a scaffold of wealth (practical considerations include the Sussexes’ security costs alone, which are likely to be well in excess of $1 million per year based on a five-person protection team).
Harry and Meghan understood this from the get-go, as the website on which they originally published the very first iteration of their plans for “stepping back” from frontline royal duties made clear. It mentioned, repeatedly, their intention to earn their own money and be “financially independent.”
Well, there is no denying that they have secured access to an enviable financial firehose via their deals with the two streaming giants. And those deals place them, for the next few years of their life at least, very firmly in the lane marked “entertainment.”
Jim Janowitz, a veteran entertainment lawyer and a senior partner at Pryor Cashman in New York, told The Daily Beast: “To be crass about it, they have a considerable need for revenue. They do already have substantial wealth, but I suspect they have a lifestyle that is beyond the average to support. So, if they want to get into this field, they don’t want to go about it in a small way. They don’t want to be developing shows and pitching them.
“And there is no reason that they should have to. Their celebrity enables them to enter at a very high level, with considerable opportunities for compensation.”
Janowitz, a legendary figure in the world of entertainment law whose victories include a landmark 1976 copyright infringement action against George Harrison over “My Sweet Lord,” made the point that for individuals like Meghan and Harry, who have huge fame but a limited track record, there has never been a better time in the history to sign a mega-bucks production deal.
Big name actors, of course, used to regularly sign deals with studios that locked them into making a certain number of movies with that studio for a certain number of years, but, these so-called “overhead deals” with studios fell into disfavor because all too often, Joe Public didn’t go and see the frequently unwatchable vanity movies made as a result of them.
But if a streamer signs Meghan and Harry, it doesn’t matter too much—in the medium term—whether or not anyone ever watches or listens to their shows because, as Janowitz commented: “Netflix and Spotify are not necessarily trying to attract audiences to a specific project, but to the subscription service as a whole.”
So are the streamers simply interested in signing them up as figureheads?
Not exactly, Janowitz said: “Maybe they will do something brilliant and extremely productive, but, unlike the studio deals of the past, if they produce nothing, (Netflix) won’t be completely disappointed because the name recognition and the pizazz drives subscriptions regardless of what they produce.”
The deal with Spotify is likely to be similarly focused on delivering subscribers rather than delivering a hit, money-making podcast, Janowitz said.
“Podcasts generally don’t make a lot of money. Ad-supported services are not good money generators. Meghan and Harry are not there to drive ads, but to drive subscriptions.”
Asked whether the $100m figure reported as their fee from Netflix and the $35m quoted for the Spotify deal by some outlets is a reasonable estimate, Janowitz said: “It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility.”
Emphasizing that he had no knowledge of the specifics of the deals, he added: “In the case of Netflix, the compensation is very much front-loaded… The likelihood is that they did receive very substantial amounts of money for the hook-ups with Netflix and Spotify. Certainly, tens of millions of dollars would not be a surprise.”
Of course, while ultimately not producing a big hit might mean the couple struggle to make another deal, Lisa Davis, a partner at law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz who also reps writers, concurred with Janowitz’s assessment saying: “I think the value of their brand is not simply whether they generate blockbusters. There is a prestige/halo effect to being in business with them.”
But success, and/or critical acclaim, would be nice, Davis said, “If their podcasts spark ancillary exploitation, such as a television series, as has just happened for Winds of Change and Nice White Parents, that will be an indication that they have an instinct for tackling subjects that tap the zeitgeist.”
Adrian Perry, another highly regarded entertainment lawyer and partner at law firm Covington, asked what he saw as the medium/long-term future for brand Meghan and Harry said: “I can’t speak to the question of Meghan and Harry specifically. But for content producers that are newer to the entertainment world, and relatively unproven in the space, having that one hit show or movie will go a long way in establishing credibility and buy some breathing room for the inevitable misses that come for any content producer.”
Indeed, when it comes to Meghan and Harry scoring another deal, when these ones expire in a few years time, things may be more layered.
“At some point it will depend on the quality of what they generate. I’m sure they have hired advisers. Meghan is represented by Gersh and I’m sure they will have populated a team that is professional and will do some good things. If they do not, then the first money will be the last money,” Janowitz said.