Sex sells. Just ask Time Warner.
Today, the company's New Line Cinema division is releasing the feature-film version of Sex and the City, following a blockbuster six-year run on its cable outlet, HBO.
Chronicling the travails and triumphs of four single Manhattan women, Sex spawned a devoted female following and later a cottage industry that has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue--and not just for the media giant. From booze shakers to shoe makers, businesses continue to cash in on Sex's enduring appeal.
New Line sees the film as "the Super Bowl for women," and they're already raking in cash. The studio has tie-in deals with eight marketers, including Glacéau VitaminWater, Mercedes Benz and Skyy vodka, whose products are mentioned by the actors or appear in the film. Bag designer Judith Lieber created a jeweled "cupcake" purse for Charlotte's daughter. Vivienne Westwood designed Carrie's wedding dress and Fred Leighton made her jewelry.
But Sex and the City's influence is nothing new. The show has been a marketing bonanza for years. It made a fashion icon of star Sarah Jessica Parker, who went on to become a designer. She created her own line of clothing, called Bitten, for retailer Steve & Barry's. Every item in the Bitten line costs $19.98 or less.
Parker also launched two perfume names with Coty--"Lovely," which has had global sales of $155 million, and "Covet," a recent launch.
Kim Cattrall, who plays seductress Samantha Jones, tried to capitalize on her fictionalized persona with two books: Sexual Intelligence and Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm. They sold a combined 370,000 copies. Even Marian Jordan, the founder of Redeemed Girl Ministries who speaks to women "about the unfailing love that she has found in Jesus," took a crack at the market. Her book, entitled Sex and the City Uncovered: Exposing the Emptiness and Healing the Hurt sold under a thousand copies. (Psst--people like sex.)
The show, which made a fifth character out of New York City, attracts fans to the Big Apple in droves, and locals cash in. Location Tours offers a three-hour bus tour that stops at shops and bars that have appeared on the show. The tour costs $40 a head, and its owners say it attracts as many as 1,000 people a week. Destination on Location Travel offers "set-jetting" weekends in New York, where groups of up to twelve women are shuttled around town and given the fantasy that they're one of the four Sex characters. The price: a hefty $15,000 per person.
Another Sex winner: shoemaker Manolo Blahnik. Blahnik has been designing shoes since 1971, but became a household name when Carrie Bradshaw swooned over his gravity-defying stilettos. "Manolo Blahnik's success skyrocketed as a result of Sex and the City," says Paula Correri, accessory editor at Tobe Report, a retail consultancy. "The prices keep escalating, but women will starve themselves to score a pair of his shoes."
Ironically, though, the woman who started it all, Candace Bushnell, hasn't profited nearly as much. Bushnell turned her "Sex and the City," column in the New York Observer into a bestselling book of the same name.
Soon after, Bushnell sold HBO the rights for six figures, but didn't share in the upside. Not that she's done badly. First published in 1997, Bushnell's book has sold more than 260,000 copies since 2001. Meanwhile, the show instantly became one of HBO's highest-rated attractions when it launched in June 1998.
HBO won't disclose DVD sales figures, and there's no way of telling how many of their 39 million subscribers signed up as a result of the series. In 2004, HBO sold the rights to Sex to fellow Time Warner cable outlet TBS for $750,000 an episode. The show is syndicated in over 200 countries. HBO's online store sells 74 Sex-themed items, including a "Carrie Balconette Bra" ($94), "Samantha Thong" ($36), "Charlotte Camisole" ($90), "Miranda Martini Glass" ($12.99) and a "Mr. Big T-shirt" ($19.99).
The network will be no more specific than to say it's made "hundreds of millions of dollars" from Sex. Not bad.