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’Cos We Play

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It’s a typical Johannesburg day in the suburbs. People are walking their dogs and men sell feather dusters on the sides of the road. A big story here is when the garbage truck comes late. But knock on the door of number 26 Heathfield, Fairlands, and out comes a married couple fully clad in pink and bone armour and ready to battle dinosaurs or gigantic monsters should they threaten this fair land. On a scorching Johannesburg summer’s day, this was the meeting of Jeanine-Dee and Clint Hartog, a graphic designer and salesman, just two of the many devotees of cosplay.

Cos What?

Cosplayers are the following who dress as their favorite characters from the ever-growing gaming, anime and comic book industry.

“If you think this is bad, try walking around the whole day at KinCon. Clint sweated so badly people were afraid to go near him by the end of the day,” says Jeanine-Dee.

Cosplay is an idea born in Japan, but took off in America at comic book conventions. The gaming characters rarely fail to turn heads.

“I think it’s becoming a character that you’re ideally a fan of. Mainly cosplayers go to conventions and it’s to connect with other fans that have the same love of games or an anime character. At the end of the day you are a cosplayer,” says the 27-year-old game fan Jeanine-Dee.

“It’s fun to be in the life of that character for that day,” says Clint.

The Hartogs are not your average married couple; their home is like entering a temple to the gods of gaming. Piles of DVDs ring the lounge. Boxes filled with colored materials reach the ceiling and a spare bed is littered with Pokémon plush toys. The crowning glory is the couple’s two TV sets, enshrined by PS3s and gaming gadgets.

“For me, it’s improved my confidence. I used to be very shy. It’s improved my creativity. It’s something that if you are interested in dressing up like Dr Who, then do it. You don’t know where it will end up,” says Jeanine-Dee.

Their custom outfits, made from 3mm to 10mm thick EVA foam, was painstakingly moulded into Helms, Plates, Gauntlets, Waists and Leggings as per the game. In Monster Hunter, ‘Kali’ and ‘Squall’, as they are known in the PSP game, are bounty hunters that take down the monsters to earn rewards.  The couple are such big fans of the game they even run their own guild, where they link with other fans on weekends for multiplayer game.

“You can make your outfit from scratch. Or you can buy your costume online or you can even get a seamstress to make your outfit for you. Creating this armor was like a puzzle. We dissected each armor piece and then worked from there. There are basic patterns like for a kimono or a jacket. But basically you have to go from there to make it suit your own character,” says Jeanine-Dee.

The armor took two solid months of breaking their backs on their lounge floor. It’s a common night for the pair to crawl into their bed with burnt fingers from their glue gun called Grimer, a goo-like Pokémon; covered in layers of paint; and their eyes square from playing games.

For the Hartogs, the blistered fingers and long nights sewing armor were all worth it. At the August KinCon convention, held in Edenvale, Johannesburg, Jeanine-Dee’s outfit won whilst Clint’s placed third in the gaming category.

“It’s nerve-wracking. Normally you have to do a two-minute skit. Basically you have to become the persona of your character; you have to show yourself as that character. When you enter you have to give a reference picture to the judges so that they can see where you are from and if you have the correct detail…Some rules only allow you to enter a cosplay outfit once. At another competition you would have to make a whole new one,” says Jeanine-Dee.

“A lot of guys struggle with their first time. We encourage people to just try it once, even if you just go as a casual cosplay. Just try it once and see if you like it. We look at our first cosplay pictures and we think to ourselves why did we wear that? It was so terrible. But we’ve grown our skills since then,” says Clint.

If nothing else, Jeanine-Dee and Clint are dedicated. They have been fans of cosplay for several years. The couple even went as far as taking a road trip to Port Elizabeth (PE), a 1,000 kilometer journey, for a convention. The drive down was an unusual affair as Jeanine spent most of the trip embroidering their outfits. When they emerged from the parking lot, their cosplays nearly blew away in the city’s notorious gusty wind, a hazard for any want-to-be cosplayer.

“We were the only ones from Jo’burg, so when people were asking us where we were from, we would start by saying ‘we’re from a game called…’and they would say ‘no no no, like where are you from in South Africa’ and we would say Jo’burg. They were really excited. We were the only guys who said we would go and we actually managed the distance,” says Clint.

“I suppose you could say we will go the distance for cosplay,” says Jeanine-Dee with a cheeky smile behind her Rathian Heart U armor.

In the meantime, the couple has lots of work to do. Plans for an outfit that will show in Cape Town in the first Saturday of May have already begun.

“Clint and I have done a lot of gaming characters this year. A lot of people say we are gaming cosplayers, so next year we are going to spice things up. It might mean a female Loki popping up,” says Jeanine-Dee.

Their neighbors will surely be on the lookout to catch a glimpse of the couple on their next adventure in the ever-safe suburb of Fairlands.

Growth of Gaming

rAge is a small drop in the ocean for the gaming industry that’s worth R2.4 billion in South Africa, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) South African entertainment and media outlook: 2014 – 2018. By 2018, it is expected to grow to R3.7 billion. Nerds worldwide are also making millions in eSports. Twenty million people tuned in through online streaming to watch The International  2014 finals of DotA 2, a strategy game where two five-man teams face off in a head to head to destroy the other’s base. The winners of the finals, Chinese team, “Newbee”, pocketed $5 million for first place, from a prize pool of roughly $10 million.

Expanding Audiences

 

By far the largest cosplay event of the year is hosted by Legion Ink at the Really Awesome Gaming Expo (rAge) held in Johannesburg. There were 98 cosplay competitors at rAge in 2014, but well over 200 more were dressed up for the event according to Ray Whitcher, a Lecturer in Multimedia Design by day and Legion Ink Cosplay organizer by night.

“Cosplay is ever-expansive and constantly growing, with the hubs being Jo’burg and Cape Town. If you look at SA’s biggest Cosplay Group, Cosplay SA, they have 1, 485 members, but we’re quite sure there are more than that. Its growth over the past 10 years has skyrocketed. We used to see all of 10 people at most events, and the same people at that, but now there are hundreds in each city. I’d go so far as to say that a lot of conventions pull audiences because of cosplay. There’s something about the uniqueness, the expression and the exoticism within the hobby that has a constant pull on audiences.”

“It’s also a way of celebrating a love of a character from pop culture, be it Star Lord from the recent Guardians of the Galaxy film, or Hatsune Miku from the Volcaloid music series instead of simply  consuming merchandise or YouTube videos. Then, of course, there’s the international proliferation of cosplay, with shows like Heroes of Cosplay bringing the hobby into mainstream entertainment.”

“Interestingly, not all of the demographic revolves around teens and those in their early 20’s – we’re seeing quite a large group of over 30 cosplayers joining in too, as well as pets, younger children and everyone in-between.”

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Can Diddy’s Ciroc Recipe Work On Alkaline Water?

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The first time Sean “Diddy” Combs took a sip of Aquahydrate alkaline water—given to him by pal Mark Wahlberg at a Las Vegas boxing match in the early 2010s—he found it to be an ideal antidote for evenings spent consuming adult beverages.

“I went out that night and had a Vegas night, and I woke up and had a Vegas morning,” Diddy told me in 2015. “I drank two of the [Aquahydrate] bottles and it was, like, the best tasting water that I’ve tasted. And it really, honestly helped me recover.”

Diddy became the face of the company alongside Wahlberg shortly thereafter, and the pair invested $20 million in Aquahydrate over the years while billionaire Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa added another $27 million.

READ MORE | Hip-Hop’s Next Billionaires: Richest Rappers 2019

They aren’t the only ones with lofty ambitions for the brand: last week the Alkaline Water Co., the publicly-traded purveyor of competitor Alkaline88, bought Aquahydrate in an all-stock deal that valued the latter at about $50 million.

For Diddy, who ranks No. 4 on our recently-released list of hip-hop’s top earners and boasts a net worth of $740 million, alkaline water holdings are just a drop in his financial bucket. His Diageo-backed Ciroc vodka—and its myriad flavors, from Red Berry to Summer Watermelon—is responsible for the lion’s share of his wealth. But it’s clear he thinks alkaline water, flavored variants included, could swell his portfolio. So do his new partners.

Diddy
CRAIG BARRITT AND ALEXANDER TAMARGO/GETTY IMAGES. DESIGN: NICK DESANTIS/FORBES

“You put both these brands under one public company, it makes a ton of sense,” says Aaron Keay, Alkaline’s chairman, of the Aquahydrate deal. “We see synergies on distribution, we see cost-savings on cost of goods. On production, on logistics, on staffing. … And we don’t see both brands actually then competing for the same target market.”

In the past, flavored water has enriched investors including some of Diddy’s hip-hop world comrades. A little over a decade ago, 50 Cent famously took Vitaminwater equity in lieu of stock as payment for his endorsement—and walked away with some $100 million when Coca-Cola bought its parent company for $4.1 billion in 2007.

A ten-figure valuation for an alkaline water company seems an outlandish target even for the notoriously bombastic Diddy. But Keay notes Alkaline clocked $33 million in revenues over the past fiscal year and had been expecting $48 million in 2020; now, with Aquahydrate on board, he projects closer to $60-$65 million. That compares favorably to Core Water, which was doing some $80 million as of last year before getting acquired.

“For two or three years, Core Water was just another clear water,” says Keay. “Then they added about a half dozen flavors. Sales doubled. They got bought for $500 million. I mean, for us, $500 million would be a big number off of where our market cap is right now.”

Diddy appears to be an ideal ally in achieving that goal. With Ciroc, once a middling vodka in Diageo’s roster, he was able to articulate importance of the brand’s defining trait: it was made from grapes, not grains (never mind that this might technically disqualify it from being considered a vodka). His contention, according to Stephen Rust, Diageo’s president of new business and reserve brands, is that grapes are simply sexier than potatoes.

“One of his favorite things [to say] is, ‘If you can have a vodka that comes from a history of winemaking, why would you do that versus the history of coming from potatoes?’” Rust explained in an interview for my book, 3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, And Hip-Hop’s Multibillion-Dollar Rise. “That’s Sean.”

With alkaline water, Diddy has demonstrated a similar knack for sizing up a product and extracting an elemental notion that passes muster with consumers (if not necessarily scientists). If “you’re full of acid,” Diddy once explained to me, you need to “get your body leveled out.”

Vodka and water, of course, are two very different products, and the same tactics won’t necessarily translate from one business to another. Flavored water itself seems to have been over-carbonated of late, as the recent struggles of brands like La Croix show; Alkaline’s shares have slumped this year as well.

Perhaps that’s why Alkaline is looking beyond its flagship bottled water business. Future plans call for a move towards cans in a nod to environmentally-conscious customers, as well as expansion into the nascent CBD-infused beverage space. Keay figures Diddy and Wahlberg, along with fellow celebrity investor Jillian Michaels, should provide a boost across the board.

“Once the FDA makes a ruling about how CBD is going to be distributed through those chains and channels, those guys are going to want trusted brands, brands that they know already have a consumer following,” says Keay. “And that was another big reason why it made sense to bring [Diddy, Wahlberg and Michaels] in, because it’s only going to help.”

Zack O’Malley Greenburg; Forbes

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The Highest-Paid Actors 2019: Dwayne Johnson, Bradley Cooper And Chris Hemsworth

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A bankable leading man is still one of Hollywood’s surest bets, even if your name isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio. While the lucrative twenty-twenty deal ($20 million upfront and 20% of gross profit) doled out to the likes of Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise may be more or less gone, Hollywood still has its big-money brands, those actors who can promise an audience so big that they command not only an eight-figure salary to show up on set but also a decent chunk of a film’s nebulous “pool”—or the money left over after some but not all of the bills are paid. 

Dwayne Johnson, also known as the Rock, tops the Forbes list of the world’s ten highest-paid actors, collecting $89.4 million between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019.

READ MORE | Marvel Money: How Six Avengers Made $340 Million Last Year

“It has to be audience first. What does the audience want, and what is the best scenario that we can create that will send them home happy?” Johnson told Forbes in 2018.

It seems he makes the audience happy. Johnson has landed a pay formula as close to the famed twenty-twenty deal of yore as any star can get these days. He’ll collect an upfront salary of up to $23.5 million—his highest quote yet—for the forthcoming Jumanji: The Next Level.

He also commands up to 15% of the pool from high-grossing franchise movies, including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which had a worldwide box office of $962.1 million. And he is paid $700,000 per episode for HBO’s Ballers and seven figures in royalties for his line of clothing, shoes and headphones with Under Armour.

READ MORE | ‘Black Panther’: All The Box Office Records It Broke (And Almost Broke) In Its $235M Debut

While Johnson’s deal is the biggest in the business right now, he’s not the only one with a lucrative deal. Robert Downey Jr. gets $20 million upfront and nearly 8% of the pool for his role as Iron Man, and that amounted to about $55 million for his work in Avengers: Endgame, which grossed $2.796 billion at the box office. 

That gross was so big that it secured spots on this year’s top-earner list for Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd, in addition to Downey; together, they earned $284 million, with most of that coming from the franchise. 

“Celebrities such as Downey and (Scarlett) Johansson currently have extreme leverage to demand enormous compensation packages from studios investing hundreds of millions of dollars in making tent-pole films, such as The Avengers series,” entertainment lawyer David Chidekel of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae told Forbes. 

READ MORE | Worldwide Box Office, The Best It’s Ever Been

Cooper is the rare actor who can thank a bet on himself for his 2019 ranking. The actor earned only about 10% of his $57 million payday for voicing Rocket Raccoon in Avengers. 

Seventy percent came from A Star Is Born, the smaller musical drama that he directed, produced, cowrote and starred in with Lady Gaga. The movie was a passion project for Cooper, and he forfeited any upfront salary to go into the film and Gaga’s salary. It paid off—the movie, which had a production budget of only $36 million, grossed $435 million worldwide, leaving Cooper with an estimated $40 million. 

The full list is below. Earnings estimates are based on data from Nielsen, ComScore, Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with industry insiders. All figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers (generally 10%, 15% and 5%, respectively) are not deducted.

The World’s Highest-Paid Actors Of 2019

10. Will Smith

Earnings: $35 million

9. Paul Rudd

Earnings: $41 million

8. Chris Evans

Earnings: $43.5 million

6. Adam Sandler (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

6. Bradley Cooper (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

5. Jackie Chan

Earnings: $58 million

4. Akshay Kumar

Earnings: $65 million

3. Robert Downey Jr.

Earnings: $66 million

2. Chris Hemsworth

Earnings: $76.4 million

1. Dwayne Johnson

-Madeline Berg; Forbes

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Comedian Jim Gaffigan Rakes In $30 Million By Ditching Netflix And Betting On Himself

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Gripping a lukewarm Heineken, Jim Gaffigan hunches his six-foot-one frame over a peeling table in the green room of the An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny, Ireland. Summer nights are never terribly hot in these parts, but this one is warm enough to need some air conditioning, which the theater almost never uses. It’s hardly a glamorous moment. But then again, glamour isn’t really his thing.

“There’s nothing sexy about Jim Gaffigan,” he says, sweat dotting his brow. “I’m not young. I don’t have a full head of hair. I’m out of shape. I don’t talk about having dinner with Kanye.”

Fortunately for him, he is funny. Just ask the more than 300,000 people in 15 countries who’ve paid an average of $56 to see his latest routine. For the 53-year-old father of five, it’s been a grueling schedule: more than 75 cities in the past year, including whistle-stops like Letterkenny, a northern community of 20,000 that was once lauded as the Republic’s “tidiest town.”

READ MORE | Trevor Noah Is Laughing All The Way To The Bank

They may not offer much sizzle, but places like this are the lifeblood of Gaffigan’s business. He has raked in $30 million this year, putting him at No. 3 on Forbes’ list of the highest-earning stand-up comedians. Half of that was earned by putting “butts in seats.”

The rest comes from spreading his punch lines far and wide. And in this business, if those jokes are funny enough—and your reach wide enough—you can fill a lot of seats with a lot of butts. With the right distribution deal, those jokes can deliver exponential returns. But that’s where it gets a bit tricky.

“In the entertainment industry, every house is made of ice and it’s melting,” Gaffigan says. “So you’d better be building a new house.”  

Gaffigan’s been building. In 2016, he agreed to partner with Netflix, the industry’s dominant force and home to original specials from all but one of the comedians on Forbes’ ranking. Last year he cut loose from the kingmaker and placed a bigger bet on himself, pairing up with Comedy Dynamics, an independent producer, to release his next special everywhere but Netflix. 

Gaffigan will star in the first original stand-up special on Amazon, which is going after the streaming giant with a push into comedy. Quality Time goes live today, and it can be shopped on the open streaming market when its exclusive run with Amazon Prime Video is up in two years. And that market is only expanding.

Gaffigan has learned a bit about home building in the entertainment industry. He cut his teeth on the club circuit in the early 1990s, when HBO was the primary destination for stand-up specials and Comedy Central was a fledgling cable network.

READ MORE | Executive Travel: Mpho Popps’ Ghana

In 2000, he landed what was then the holy grail of comedy success—a broadcast sitcom—which was the source of the fortunes the creators of Seinfeld and Roseanne minted once they had enough seasons on the air and could sell the series into syndication.

Gaffigan’s shot proved to be short-lived, but six years later he scored a second chance and headlined a Comedy Central special called Beyond the Pale. This time it paid dividends, landing him his first theater show a month later. The butts were now coming to the seats, and while his rise was live, in person, with microphone in hand, his breakout was digital.

At the time, YouTube was changing the rules of the game, providing comedians a global platform with unprecedented distribution. Then Twitter emerged, giving comedy bookers a real-time assessment of who was attracting audiences.

READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Comedians Of 2018

Then came the debut of streaming on Netflix, which latched onto comedy as a cheap and effective way to lure subscribers, while some, notably the now disgraced Louis C.K., used streaming to control their own distribution, making their shows available for fans to purchase directly.

“It was a technological wave that crashed over the stand-up world,” says Wayne Federman, a comedian and professor of the history of stand-up at the University of Southern California. “And we’re still all trying to figure out what’s going on.”

Gaffigan’s first original Netflix special aired in 2017, long after the company had reshaped the industry. It was a promising place to be: Aziz Ansari and Ali Wong were propelled into superstar status through their Netflix specials, while household names like Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld reportedly cashed in with $60 million (Chappelle) and $100 million (Seinfeld) paydays in exchange for long-term, multi-program deals. Gaffigan’s first special, Cinco, sold for a more modest seven-figure sum.

Jim Gaffigan stand up comedy specials for Netflix and Amazon Original
COURTESY

It was more than just a check; it was access to a potential audience of nearly 94 million. Although Netflix’s subscriber base has grown since then, so has its stand-up library. The platform now shops nearly four times the number of original stand-up specials than when Cinco debuted.

That makes it harder to stand out in the scroll. Plus, the streamer often holds onto specials in perpetuity, including Cinco. The up-front money is nice, but there is no ability to earn on the back end. 

Gaffigan used his next special, 2018’s Noble Ape, which was directed and cowritten by his wife, Jeannie Gaffigan, to test the waters. Comedy Dynamics bought the rights and made it available everywhere Netflix wasn’t. It had a theatrical release and could be purchased and rented on multiple services, including  iTunes, YouTube and Walmart’s VUDU.

Later, there were short streaming windows on Comedy Central and Amazon Prime. According to Comedy Dynamics CEO Brian Volk-Weiss, it was even syndicated to planes and cruise ships. The up-front payment to Gaffigan from Comedy Dynamics was lower than at Netflix, but the wide distribution allowed him to earn on the back end, bringing in a total of $10 million, according to Forbes estimates.

READ MORE | Burna Boy’s The African Giant Debuts On The Daily Show With Trevor Noah

And new services are on the way from Apple, WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal and Disney, any one of which could choose to pursue cheap-to-produce and popular stand-up specials. 

Because of this widening field, stand-up specials may have more life (and revenue) in them, and that could be good for comedians looking to gamble on their success with deals that offer back-end participation. “We have titles in our library that are making more in year 12 than they made in year one,” says Volk-Weiss, whose company also owns specials by Bob Saget, Iliza Shlesinger and Janeane Garofalo.

Still, leaving Netflix means walking away from a partner that has now established itself as a formidable entertainment company. Netflix has some 180 original hour-long stand-up specials and is singularly focused on exploiting content around the world. Gaffigan, though, is content to keep the bet on himself.

“In the entertainment industry, every house is made of ice and it’s melting. So you’d better be building a new house.”

In the stuffy backstage room in Letterkenny, Gaffigan reviews some of the new material he tried out on stage. A joke about Ireland’s nonsensical roads killed it. He stumbled with a bit about the English. The classics played well—“My dad never went to a parent-teacher conference; my dad didn’t know I went to school.”  

And he’s well aware that Amazon’s core mission is to sell stuff, even though it has won critical acclaim for shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Transparent. With plans to deliver three more specials over the next five years, he’s got time to see just how good a partner the retailer might be. Along the way, he may decide it’s time to find a new neighborhood.

“The reason I went to Amazon is to expand my audience,” he says. “I don’t know what they’re gonna do and I don’t fully understand their marketing might. I might be pleasantly surprised. I mean, it’s a huge corporation. They could probably make more selling socks.”

-Ariel Shapiro; Forbes

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