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Jane is a retail and small business writer with a special interest in emerging companies and entrepreneurs. She covered the financial services industry before moving into general business journalism and has written for The Age and The Australian Financial Review.

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The 50 biggest earners in show business

Published 12 December 2012 15:22, Updated 13 December 2012 10:53

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The 50 biggest earners in show business

Kiwi-born Australian Russell Crowe has had his best year career-wise, earning an estimated $17.171 million from acting in several films. Photo: Larry Busacca

Earnings in the entertainment industry tanked in the 2011-12 financial year as some of the biggest names in show business felt the impact of tough economic times. A combination of poor ticket sales and the ailing US economy meant that total earnings for BRW’s 2012 Top 50 Entertainers fell 30 per cent to $287 million.

This means that over the past two years the combined annual earnings of the country’s top entertainers have more than halved, suggesting economic factors, such as the weak US dollar and financial pressures on film production houses, are reducing the pay packets and amount of work available to our A-listers.

But for a select few entertainers who are recognised among Hollywood’s elite, economic conditions have had little, if any impact. Kiwi-born Australian Russell Crowe has had his best year career-wise, earning an estimated $17.171 million from acting in several films. His earnings rank him in the top spot this year, closely followed by children’s entertainers, the Wiggles.

Crowe was forced to learn the hard way, however, that professional success does not ensure personal happiness. It was reported that his heavy workload and frequent travel contributed to the breakdown of his marriage to fellow entertainer Danielle Spencer.

The Wiggles, ranked second on the list, with earnings of $17.167 million, also experienced a relationship breakdown of sorts. The group, which has been on the BRW Top 50 Entertainers list since its inception 17 years ago, earlier this year dumped hired yellow Wiggle Sam Moran, spurring its first wave of bad press.

The Wiggles was formed by former education students Anthony Field, Murray Cook and Greg Page 21 years ago when they started writing children’s songs in a bid to help them get jobs as teachers. The group has consistently been one of the biggest earners in the business.

That said, this year’s $17.167 million is a far cry from the $45 million they earned in 2009 – but it’s still a respectable figure for a group of ageing musicians, three of whom announced their retirement this year. While the only remaining performing Wiggle is Anthony Field, the original members still own shares in the business.

The replacement Wiggles include the group’s first female performer, 20-year-old former back-up dancer Emma Watkins.

The Wiggles underwent a restructure of sorts this year, downsizing staff numbers and re-focusing on the profitable aspects of the enterprise.

That involved reducing their involvement in Wiggly Play Centres and retail and focusing on their music, television and DVD ventures. It’s a big operation, with up to 70 staff when the group is touring and about 30 during off-peak times.

The original group spent most of 2011-12 touring, taking the opportunity to farewell fans in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Britain, Singapore and regional and metropolitan Australia.

By the end of 2012, when the tour concludes, they will have played in eight countries and 141 cities for a total of 243 shows in 213 days to 640,000 fans.

A noticeable omission from this year’s list is the top ranking entertainer of 2011, Global Creatures. The hugely successful live production company earned an estimated $62 million in 2010-11 with its international live arena show, Walking with Dinosaurs.

Its earnings were reduced in 2011-12 when it worked on the Dreamworks production, How to Train Your Dragon, which was bankrolled by the production company. A Global Creatures spokesperson says it will return to international stadiums next year, and undoubtedly the Top 50 Entertainers list, when it releases two new shows, King Kong and War Horse.

Actors comprised half of the top 10 entertainers on this year’s list, with Crowe ($17.171 million),Simon Baker ($14.275 million), Chris Hemsworth ($12.112 million), Nicole Kidman ($9.981 million), Hugh Jackman ($9.845) ranking highly. Most came from humble beginnings, including Australian television series such as Neighbours and Home and Away (see story, “Summer Bay to LA”).

Brothers Chris and Liam Hemsworth, ranked fifth and 32nd on the list respectively, learned their craft in Summer Bay and Ramsay Street. Chris Hemsworth has become Hollywood’s leading action man, with roles in box office hits, The Avengers and Snow White and the Huntsman, while younger brother Liam is a big star with roles in the hugely popular Hunger Games and The Expendables 2.

Live music and productions also drew huge audiences through the year.

Michael Porra, part-owner of extreme sports show Nitro Circus Live, earned an estimated $9 million in 2011-12. The production is touring Europe and Porra says that in 12 to 18 months his company will be one of the biggest touring acts in the world. It now has a TV series running in 30 countries and its Facebook page attracts more than 5000 fans a day.

“We have a much larger 24-stop schedule booked for next year,” he told BRW. “We’ve signed [a] contract for an annual tour of South America for the next five years with a minimum 20 stops per year.”

While the local live music scene has been dealt several blows by local and state governments, demand for international acts has never been stronger.

Ticketing statistics from US live music promoter tracker Pollstar show that a handful of Australian promoters comprise almost 10 per cent of international ticketing sales.

Michael Chugg’s Chugg Entertainment (sitting at number 10 with estimated earnings of $8.974 million) was the highest ranking local promoter on the Pollster rating, selling more than 394,000 tickets for the six months to June. Fellow promoter Michael Coppel followed closely, selling almost 360,000 tickets for the period. Paul Dainty, known for his ability to promote everything from international rock and roll artists to musical theatre, was the top ranking promoter in this year’s Top 50 Entertainers list, with estimated earnings of $13.837 million for the period (ranked fourth).

Coppel (ranked 11th) made one of the biggest business plays on the list this year when he sold a 51 per cent stake of his business to global promoter LiveNation in April. The deal, he says, was a decade in the making and was “too good to say no to”.

It was a difficult decision nevertheless, he says, as promoters by nature are very independent, entrepreneurial types. LiveNation does give its partners a lot of freedom, however.

“It’s great to have international recognition,” he says. “It was pretty clear to me that I had a limited use-by date … The international players are coming and opening offices everywhere.”

During 2011-12, he promoted tours by international pop singers Rihanna, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift while remaining true to his rock and roll roots with a tour by Joe Cocker, along with one by Sade.

This year, through LiveNation, he will promote Pink’s 42 arena show spectacular, which has already pulled in $65 million in ticket sales.

“I really enjoy going to the shows and seeing the audience reaction,” he says. “I just love all genres of music.”

Larger-than-life promoter Michael Gudinski of Frontier Touring earned an estimated $10.489 million (ranking 6th) followed by Porra, whose estimated earnings of $9.0 million ranked him at 9th, then Chugg and Coppel (the latter with an estimated $8.592 million).

Promoters Michael John Frost ($4.902 million), Mark James and Jason Ayoubi ($4.661 million), Andrew Lesnie ($4.0 million), Ken West ($3.11 million), Garry Van Egmond ($2.117 million) and John Wall/Ming Gan ($1.867 million) also made the list, proving one thing: Australians still loved to be entertained, regardless of what the economy is doing.

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