How Ellen DeGeneres Made History And $87 Million This Year

DeGeneres will film her stand-up special in Seattle this August. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images.)

Last year, when Ellen DeGeneres signed a deal with Netflix for an exclusive stand-up special, 15 was the big number floating around.

“It has been 15 years since I did a stand-up special. 15 years,” DeGeneres said in a statement.

The bigger number, though, was 20—$20 million. That’s how much the streaming service shelled out for the special, making DeGeneres the first and only female comedian to command such a sum for a single stand-up set. The eight-figure check made 2018 her highest-earning year yet; she pocketed $87.5 million, earning her spot as the 15th-highest-paid celebrity. She’s worth $275 million—nearly enough to nab a spot on Forbes’ America’s Richest Self-Made Women list.

Netflix’s comedy specials, which chief creative officer Ted Sarandos calls “a subscriber-acquisition driver,” have featured heavy hitters like Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, each of whom achieved the $20 million-per-special price tag in the more lucrative, 21st-century version of an HBO comedy special.

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“If they were drivers for subscriptions on cable, they would be the same for the streaming world,” Paul Verna, principal video analyst at eMarketer, told Forbes last year.

With a content budget of $8 billion this year, $20 million is just a quarter of a percentage point for Netflix, or a drop in the bucket in exchange for DeGeneres’ millions of fans. Her daytime gabfest, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, regularly garners more than 3 million viewers; she boasts 76.1 million followers on Twitter and 55.2 million on Instagram.

DeGeneres, who has been among the highest-paid celebrities for a decade, still earns more than half of her cash from her daily talk show, thanks to a shrewd business deal that has her getting about 60% of profits from advertising, carrying fees and product placement. The rest of her paycheck comes from executive producer fees for series like Little Big Shots and Splitting Up Together, a handful of licensing deals for everything from pet supplies to furniture, and her digital platform Ellentube, which streams short-form original content.

But long before her portfolio was so varied, DeGeneres started onstage at a comedy club in New Orleans and earned Emmy nominations for HBO stand-up specials. Netflix may be new, but DeGeneres, who will be performing eight shows in August and filming the two sets in Seattle, is a veteran.

For those that can’t make the show? DeGeneres says: “Now you get to Netflix and chill with me.”

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