As its movie slate continues to mimic serialized TV on the big screen and ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. remains one of the season’s top-rated new series, Marvel Studios is cutting another unorthodox deal with major potential: four superhero series will come to streaming service Netflix in 2015. In the same way that the theatrical properties culminated in The Avengers, the four Netflix series will lead into a miniseries, The Defenders.
Altogether, the series will reportedly form a total of 60 episodes.
Speaking to investors during the company's FY Q4 earnings call, Walt Disney Co. executive chairman and CEO Bob Iger allowed that the four heros (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones) “are not among the most popular” Marvel characters, adding that it was unlikely that Disney would ever “make feature films about [them].” He went on to say that if one or more heroes enjoyed a breakthrough moment on Netflix, “it is quite possible they could become [the subject of] feature films.”
The most interesting character in the lineup is Daredevil, a property that sat with Twenty-First Century Fox until earlier this year when the studio let its rights lapse (a lackluster movie with a lackluster spin-off seem like the likely reasons). And the Fox studio, which competes with Disney, still holds a number of the most popular Marvel properties—Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four among them. Rather than return the property to the big screen, Marvel will put the New York-based hero, whose adventures tend to involve TV-friendly gangsters and ninjas, on the streaming service. Daredevil will be the first show to premiere, according to the network.
In fact, all four properties coming to the TV screen seem to be street-level heroes based in New York—the other superheroes on the roster are the Harlem-based crimefighter Cage, martial arts hero Fist and Jones, a spy and frequent double- (and sometimes triple-) agent.
“This deal is unparalleled in its scope and size, and reinforces our commitment to deliver Marvel's brand, content and characters across all platforms of storytelling,” said Marvel Entertainment president Alan Fine in a statement. “This serialized epic expands the narrative possibilities of on-demand television and gives fans the flexibility to immerse themselves how and when they want in what’s sure to be a thrilling and engaging adventure.”
Why make such an undoubtedly costly investment? It's no secret that Disney needs to make the $4 billion acquisition of Marvel pay for itself, and quick. Ted Sarandos gave some indication of his line of thinking on last week's earnings call: “What we have seen is that some of the original content has got a particular halo effect on the brand that creates a stickiness that we are liking the signs of,” he told investors. “That's why we are continuing to invest in that space.” Marvel, clearly, appears to Netflix to be a brand with that kind of stickiness.
When asked why Disney agreed to develop the serials for a third-party platform rather than its own ABC or ABC Family channels (not to mention Hulu, of which the Mouse House is a part owner), Iger this afternoon suggested that he wanted to avoid burdening the home-grown brands with too many Marvel projects. (In addition to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC is developing a mystery project to which Iger alluded at the end of the call. Long in development, Guillermo del Toro's live-action Hulk series has been shelved.)
“When we look forward, we realize that there were just so many Marvel shows we thought we could actually fit onto our own platforms,” Iger said. “There was a lot of interest from a variety of different distributors—new and traditional platforms—and ultimately Netflix won out. They are in the business of creating original programming already; obviously, House of Cards is a great example of that. And we saw a scenario where they were only going to continue to buy more original programming and this seem like a good opportunity for us to provide them with some branded product that they haven’t had access to. So, we thought it was a good opportunity for them and a great opportunity for us.”