The story of entertainment-generated wealth over the last two decades is inextricably connected with the development of the internet. "It meant that everything that was creative suddenly was given away for free," the writer Jaron Lanier once said. Or if not "given", exactly, then stolen or digitally copied. This did not mean, of course, that there were no longer super-wealthy entertainers, but those who remained on the Rich List slowly changed the way they made the bulk of their money.
As cinema box-office receipts waned in the Noughties, actors supplemented their film fees with perfume endorsements. Musicians began to tour more prolifically - live performances were the one thing that could not be pirated - and the records themselves were often reduced to mere promotional tools (Prince led the charge by giving his away for free).
It has also meant that the upper echelon of the Irish entertainment rich list is populated by household names, whose personal brands give them the power to diversify into endorsements and put bums on seats at live events. In 2004, U2 endorsed Apple's iPod as part of its Silhouette ad campaign. The Irish rock legends brought Apple's stock shares to a 52-week high within 72 hours of the endorsement. Since then, the band has built its wealth through touring. After launching and completing 2018's Experience + Innocence Tour (which was in the top 10 grossing tours of 2018) and spending most of 2019 off the road, U2 returned for a 15-show Joshua Tree Tour run across Australia and Asia in November and December, which grossed $73.8m. Their clean-cut image has turned out to be as asset in the long run - it has meant they are all fit and healthy enough for arduous and frequent tours.
Liam Neeson remains the wealthiest Irish actor, thanks to a long history of low-cost high return movies. While his films have been less successful at the box office in recent years, thanks in part to some intemperate comments, he has diversified into endorsements, although not as much as he might, given that Nielson once rated him the top actor in their advertising score. He has endorsed brands including Supercell Games and LG.
The streaming companies now compete with cinema as the bigger profit makers in visual entertainment. Roma Downey's vast wealth is a reminder both of this fact and of the huge evangelical Christian population of North America. She and husband Mark Burnett are worth €446m having announced plans to launch a subscription-based streaming service for faith-based viewers as part of MGM's LightWorkers entertainment.
The couple, who are proud of being "Hollywood's noisiest Christians", are seeking a strategic and capital partner to assist in launching the new streaming service. Downey, a Derry-born actress and entrepreneur, has her own star on Hollywood Boulevard and also co-produced the history mini-series Messiah, which, though critically panned, was one of the biggest releases of the winter on Netflix. The couple reportedly own three homes in Malibu.
Impresarios Caroline Downey and Denis Desmond will see their wealth significantly increase this year following the sale of the country's largest concert promotion business, MCD, to music giants Live Nation. This follows the Irish and UK competition watchdogs' finding that the deal does not raise competition concerns. Desmond and Downey previously fully controlled MCD, but by selling to Live Nation they effectively retain a half share. Their windfall will be tempered by the very high costs - thought to be around €3m - a figure which was absorbed by the joint venture during the regulatory investigation process.
A theme of the 2020 entertainment Rich List is the relatively advanced age of most of the entrants. Most of our richest entertainers are household names, who have been around for a long time. The exception to this was Niall Horan. Horan paid himself €2.4m from his two Irish companies last year. Accounts filed by Neon Haze Music Ltd and Jaredon Ltd show Horan earned the salary after combined revenues surged to €6.1m at the two music companies. The coming years may see Horan joined by other young entrants on the list.
Although not yet on the list, some entertainers displayed the kind of momentum which should see them make a future appearance. Singer-songwriter Hozier saw profits increase to just over €3.68m last year at the firm he owns and his autumn tour across North America sold out.
Saoirse Ronan's career hit a new high recently with her fourth Oscar nomination - for Little Women. Her films have scored increasingly healthy box-office figures - they have now grossed over €500m worldwide. She has also diversified into endorsements - she featured in the recent campaign for Calvin Klein Woman.