Yesterday, Marvel announced a partnership with Netflix that will allow them to conquer television the same way they've conquered movies and comics. The deal, which will bring four separate superhero TV shows to Netflix's on-demand, online streaming service — as well as a miniseries — is not only brilliant, but good for everybody, and that even includes DC and Warner Bros. Here's how.
First and most obviously, this gets more Marvel superheroes on the air and out to more potential audiences. As popular as Marvel's movies have been, it's not like the company had a lot of suitors for shows based on second-tier characters like Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones. Actually, if you'll recall, Agents of SHIELD was hardly a sure thing before it finally premiered this fall on ABC, and that had the benefit of 1) direct ties to all the Marvel movies through the character of Agent Coulson, 2) an established, likeable character in Agent Coulson, and 3) wasn't going to be too expensive, comparatively, because the stars would all be normal people and not superheroes.
If ABC was worried about Agents of SHIELD (and they were), what chance would a Luke Cage TV show have there? None. Which is obviously why Marvel hooked up with Netflix, a streaming service hungry for their own original content. Not only is Marvel providing them with that new content with a major built-in potential audience, but now the company is getting to use these characters that aren't quite big enough for movies or major network TV shows. These characters have potential, but try telling that to some cocaine-fueled network executive who never heard of Iron Man before 2007. Netflix is big enough to matter, but not so big that they're afraid of taking risks on a deal like this, and it's clearly going to benefit Marvel and Netflix both.
But it gets better. Because Netflix is so desperate for content, they're willing to accept not one show from Marvel, but four shows, all based around these different characters: Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron First and Jessica Jones. And since Netflix wants four shows, Marvel can now package them together in a way that would be almost impossible if they had aired on other networks — hell, even if they aired on one single network, such as ABC.
By ordering four shows at once — not putting them in development, mind you, but outright ordering them — Netflix has allowed Marvel to make plans for the future, something most companies rarely get to do, but Marvel still does exceedingly well. Do you realize the opportunities Marvel will have after these first seasons finish? They could pair up Luke Cage and Iron Fist for a Heroes for Hire series. They can join Cage and Jessica Jones for a show about their relationship together. Hell, they could hire someone for the inevitable Dr. Strange movie and know ahead of time that they can and will want to bring the character onboard the Defenders miniseries (or a subsequent series) and lhen be know to lock in the actor right then and there. Marvel has laid an amazing framework for its live-action entertainment on-screen, and this Netflix deal will allow them to do the same for TV, only much more quickly.
With all that planning and potential for crossovers and building up to an Avengers-lite miniseries like the Defenders, all that does is make the shows seem bigger and better, and Netflix is going to benefit from that greatly. Despite these shows being about Marvel's second-tier heroes, they're still going to be part of the Marvel cinematic universe — on the periphery, sure, but still part of it. That's going to draw a lot of interest from mass audiences who just want more Marvel in-between the company's movie releases. Anyone who's slightly invested in the Marvel cinematic universe — from hardcore comic nerds to the men and women who just enjoy the movies — will likely want to get Netflix to see these things. Maybe one show, they could skip, but four new Marvel TV shows? Tied together and leading into a Defenders TV event? That's going to be well worth the 8$ a month it costs to get Netflix Instant to just about anybody.
Furthermore, do you realize the opportunity this provides for the shows themselves? Marvel has created its cinematic universe one movie at a time, each new film building off the last. But with this Netflix deal, these four shows can be planned together. They can be written together. Jessica Jones and can pop Luke Cage's show or vice versa. Not only can the characters crossover, the stories can crossover in a way even the movies can't manage. And since all four shows will be on Netflix, Marvel doesn't have to worry about confusing the audience because all three other shows will definitely be available to viewers to watch whenever they want! Marvel won't have to worry about losing their audience by connecting these shows together, because they know the viewers will have access to the other three shows at any time. That's a level of security that even shows like Buffy and Angel, which aired at the same time for a bit, couldn't count on.
And let's not forget what Netflix can provide that no other network or basic cable channel can — freedom. As a pay service, Netflix has the freedom that HBO, Showtime, Starz and the rest have — they can curse, show nudity, have massive violence, whatever — they're freed from the restrictions facing regular networks. Now, I sincerely doubt that we'll be getting a Daredevil show where he has graphic sex with Elektra and then yells "Shit!" a lot. But that freedom allows Netflix to take chances with its content, and Marvel will be able to do the same.
I say to mostly to compare these potential shows to Agents of SHIELD, whose aggressive blandness and lack of risk-taking has led to most of the criticism leveled against it. On Netflix, Marvel won't need to worry about being accessible an entertaining to the Midwestern housewife that has never ever liked comics that ABC desperately wants to enjoy all of its shows. Besides, Netflix users — just by virtue of clearly being able to access the internet to view entertainment — are generally younger, smart, savvy, and looking for more challenging television than Two and a Half Men and NCIS. You can see that in Netflix's other hit shows, like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. If nothing else, this should avoid many of the problems that Agents of SHIELD has run into during its first season.
This deal is perfect for Marvel, and perfect for Netflix. But don't underestimate how good this is going to be for the live-action superhero entertainment industry in general. More superhero shows — I should say, more successful superhero shows should make networks more willing to order more shows based on comics, which obviously includes Warner Bros. and DC. If Warner Bros. would be willing to take a few risks — that is, make some actual series instead of just developing them or actually making pilots and then immediately killing them — they might be surprised to find out that a few of these DC shows might actually be good and/or popular. At the very least, they might be willing to concede that thinking about making an Hourman TV series that won't have anything to do with anything (not even the Hourman comic) is not nearly as impressive and definitely making four superhero shows that expand a shared, live-action comics universe.