Has the revolution begun? Netflix announced just a few days ago that they had delivered 2 billion hours of just streaming content in their fourth quarter this year. Before that, Netflix chief Ted Sarandos provoked the industry with a confrontational keynote speech about releasing films day-and-date on the streaming service and warning theater owners that they will "kill movies" if they continue to resist multi-platform distribution. A convenient, self-serving statement, he's since back pedaled away from those comments (after all, it’s Netflix who mostly benefits here). Nevertheless, the Netflix behemoth is rattling cages with their media dominance and yesterday, in another display of their growing hegemony, the company announced another game changer: partnering with Marvel Studios to create four live-action superhero series that will kick off in 2016 (not 2015 as previously announced, according to Disney CEO Bob Iger).
The Marvel titles include "Daredevil" (already once besmirched theatrically by the lame Ben Affleck version), "Luke Cage," "Iron Fist" (already in development as two separate movies), "Jessica Jones," and a mini-series based on the super group "The Defenders." The hook is the series will be set in the gritty Hell’s Kitchen of New York depicted in Marvel’s comic universe (a type of now non-existent dangerous, crime-ridden 1970s New York that Daredevil inhabits in the comics). The shows will begin with "Daredevil" first and it will all culminate in a “Defenders” mini-series. The implications of this news within the cohesive Marvel Cinematic Universe are myriad. And here’s several different scenarios to consider as Marvel pushes ahead.
1. It’s like “The Avengers” model for TV.
It’s almost like Kevin Feige, Bob Iger and co. are saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." So they'll introduce one character (one series) than another, then another and then ramp up into one big super-hero team mini-series. Familiar much? This is “The Avengers” archetype to the letter. Build character, build brand equity, build a whole new powerful team-up, only just on a different platform—Netflix.
2. Does this mean all these characters are now off the table for Marvel's unannounced 2016 and 2017 films?
Yes, pretty much. The deal is exclusive to Netflix and as you can already tell by Sarandos and Netflix’s business model, they like to keep things that way. Plus, as the press releases says, “the epic will unfold over multiple years of original programming.” Meaning even if it starts in 2015/2016, you may not get to endgame of “The Defenders” for a few years.
It’s not unfeasible that they could use these TV series’ as roadmaps to movies eventually (more on that in a second), but under the auspices of this deal, it would have to be after the series are complete. Plus let's safely assume that Marvel—a business that likes to gets its ducks in a row far in advance—is already developing its aforementioned 2016 and 2017 films as we speak, so those slots are essentially spoken for at least in a general capacity (perhaps weighing some potential already written treatments/screenplays) and waiting to be announced sometime in 2014. (And while something extravagant like “Dr. Strange” might be on the table, we’d bet the Phase Three titles are much safer choices like “Avengers 3,” “Captain America 3” and already-established brands.)
3. Or are they laying the groundwork for a roadmap that leads to some movies?
Again, Simon Says no. At least not for those aforementioned release dates and not any time soon. Marvel and Netflix will play within this new arena and gauge their respective futures base on the popularity of their Netflix consumption. So yes, they could see how audiences take to the series and then, at some point, perhaps build a bridge to culminate in a feature length movie. But Marvel, despite what some may think, is rather canny about not leaping to the screen with rushed ideas or characters. They’ve already seen “Daredevil” fail onscreen (at least critically and from a fan perspective) and all of these the characters (Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones) are less fantastical and operatic than their super-powered big-screen counterparts. That said, Marvel will never completely close a door.
"Marvel has thousands of characters…and it is not possible to mine them all with filmed entertainment," Senior Executive VP and CFO of the The Walt Disney Company recently said. "While these characters are attractive characters they are not among the most popular… it’s not likely we would have made feature films about them…though if they are popular on Netflix, they could become feature films."
4. Expect character-based superhero stories.
“This serialized epic expands the narrative possibilities of on-demand television,” lan Fine, President of Marvel Entertainment said in the statement. Translation? Many of these characters and their respective comic book stories are character-driven; perfect for the medium of television, not so much for the spectacle that audiences are used to seeing on the big screen. Point being, while many fans would love to see the Marvel Netflix series as launching pads for feature-length efforts, it’s very possible that’s not Marvel’s endgame at all. Which brings us to our next point.