The Beatles earned a total of $10,000 from three performances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964. A month before the 50th anniversary of their debut on the show, they're still making millions.
They could have gotten more for even a single performance on the popular television show back, but their manager, Brian Epstein, negotiated a lower sum for top billing and increased exposure.
He was right. The Beatles were the headliners for each program and got a massive TV audience—including a then-record 73 million viewers for their historic U.S. TV debut on Feb. 9, 1964.
That kind of thinking, combined with a relentless drive and vast musical history, has kept the Beatles brand making money half a century after John, Paul, George and Ringo took America by storm.
"Their financial impact today is bigger than any other artist, living or deceased," said David Fiorenza, a Villanova University economics professor who specializes in art and entertainment.
"The surviving members and the group's holding company continue to search avenues that weren't available to them in the mid-1960s," he said. "They've always been on the cutting edge."
The business legacy of the Beatles started immediately, said John Covach, a rock historian who teaches a Beatles course at the University of Rochester.
"The Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitars they used on Sullivan just flew off the shelves the next day," he said. "Kids wanted to be like them, from the instruments to the haircuts."