What Can Brands Learn From The Rise Of The 'Yellowstone' Empire?

Last Friday, Paramount confirmed the rumors: “Yellowstone,” TV’s top-rated series, is set to end after five seasons. Despite an ever-growing audience exceeding 15 million linear viewers, producers apparently couldn’t come to terms with star Kevin Costner over his filming schedule. However, while “Yellowstone” might soon be history, the sun isn’t close to setting on its empire.

When MTV Entertainment Group honcho Chris McCarthy assumed responsibility for Paramount Network and “Yellowstone” in late 2019, he faced a dilemma: “Yellowstone” was a linear ratings success, but the company was losing money on the show, and couldn’t recoup those losses by streaming it on Paramount+, since Peacock had long ago purchased those rights. There was even talk of cancelling the show.



Instead, McCarthy used “Yellowstone” to launch a universe of series written by Taylor Sheridan, creator of “Yellowstone." Most premiered  on Paramount Network, benefiting from TV’s strongest lead-in before moving to Paramount+. These series include prequels “1883” and “1923,” and two present-day series, “Mayor of Kingstown” and “Tulsa King.” (Disclosure: Paramount Global is a client of the author.)

Today, according to the Wall Street Journal, Paramount spends over $500 million a year on Sheridan’s series, with $200 million going to “1923” alone. Last Friday, the WSJ published an expose detailing the lavish spending on Sheridan’s series. The article dishes juicy details on thousand-dollar saddles and $215,000 cowboy camps, but in an era when one tentpole movie (such as “Mission: Impossible”) can cost close to $300 million, spending somewhat more for an entire universe of scripted dramas with A-list stars and cinematic production values seems reasonable.

Is Paramount getting a good return on its half-billion dollars? When “1923” and “Tulsa King” premiered in Q4, Paramount+ added 9.9 million subscribers, more than tripling growth from the prior quarter. And according to Samba TV, “Tulsa King” was one of the most-watched original series streaming on smart TVs. Further, “Tulsa King” posted by far the biggest growth in viewership from 50 to 103 days out (+312%), indicating strong word of mouth.

And “Yellowstone” isn’t really going away; Paramount is developing a sequel, rumored to star Matthew McConaughey and current cast members. And since Peacock’s streaming deal applies only to the mothership, Paramount+ will be able to stream its successor.

What can brands learn from the rise of the “Yellowstone” empire?

*Shell out for superstars. Paramount is willing to spend half a billion dollars on the “Yellowstone” universe since it drives growth of its all-important streaming service. Sheridan has created five hit shows and counting, and Paramount is willing to invest in his vision, including those thousand-dollar saddles and eight-figure leads. Sometimes it’s smarter to invest half a billion dollars in a superstar than $10 million in a never-will-be.

*Don’t forget the red states. Part of what makes the “Yellowstone” universe such a success is that it speaks to the entire country, including the red states and the Heartland. While some HBO series are the talk of “the Coasts,” “Yellowstone” made an immediate impact in the Heartland and C/D counties, expanding out from there. If you leave out half the country, you halve your total addressable market.

*Strike while the iron’s hot. Paramount and Sheridan expanded the “Yellowstone” universe quickly and comprehensively. Have a hit show? Create a prequel (“1883”) and use the mothership to get it sampling. Kill off the cast at the end of that prequel? Create another one set in 1923. Have issues with your star? Cancel his show and launch a successor. Paramount proves that when you have a hot property, you can’t expand its universe fast enough.

“Yellowstone” lead John Dutton might not be long for this world, but his legacy will live on.
Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications