Disney has a lot of platforms to choose from when it comes to exploiting Marvel’s cast of superheroes. But as it looks to feature more of them in TV shows, the conglomerate’s own ABC and kids cable channels like Disney XD can’t do all the heavy lifting.
“When we looked forward, we saw there were only so many Marvel shows we could fit on those platforms,” said Walt Disney Co. chief Bob Iger while discussing the company’s strong fourth quarter and 2013 fiscal year results on Thursday, the same day Disney announced plans to run four new live-action series featuring Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones on Netflix in 2015.
Ultimately Netflix won out, according to Iger, when Disney realized it could use the streaming service as a way to grow the popularity of the characters, some of which most audiences aren’t too familiar with.
While “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a hit for ABC, and Disney XD has scored with animated series featuring Spider-Man and the Avengers, those networks can’t carry every Marvel TV show. ABC is currently developing another Marvel series that it has yet to reveal.
A TV series based around the Incredible Hulk, which Guillermo del Toro was developing, is no longer active at ABC. “When Guillermo del Toro comes and wants to do a show about your pinkie, you are going to want to do it,” Marvel TV’s Jeph Loeb recently told Ain’t It Cool News. “But it was just a case that once we saw what Joss Whedon and Mark Ruffalo were creating in ‘The Avengers,’ that was a better solution.” Another series centers on Jessica Jones, a character “very well known for having a large, female demographic,” Loeb said, but “it didn’t quite fit with the ABC model. We still believe in that show in a major way.”
Since buying Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion, Disney has sought ways to promote the comicbook company’s lesser-known heroes. It sees Netflix “as a value-generating opportunity,” Iger said. “It’s a great opportunity to create more brand value and character value.”
At the same time, Netflix benefits from the additional programming. “It happens to be great for Netflix,” especially as “they’re looking to make more original programming,” Iger said during a call with Wall Street analysts.
The Netflix series will also prove more cost effective than pricier shows for ABC that would require bigger budgets for visual and special effects.
Marvel has already been producing lower-budgeted live-action shorts packaged with the homevideo releases of its tentpole films like those in the “Iron Man,” “Captain America,” “Thor” and “Avengers” franchises under the “Marvel One-Shots” moniker (see the video for “Agent Carter,” on the “Iron Man 3” disc and digital release, above).
The new pact bolsters Disney’s relationship with Netflix after the two agreed last year to make Netflix the exclusive U.S. subscription-based VOD plaftorm for first-run, live-action and animated movies from the Walt Disney Studios, including Disney, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Disneynature and Lucasfilm.
Iger said platforms like Netflix make sense because not every character can star in their own movie, Iger said. “Marvel has thousands of characters. It is not possible to mine them all with filmed entertainment.”
“While these characters are attractive, they are not among the most popular, and they’re characters that we probably were never going to make feature films about,” Iger said. But if the characters prove popular on Netflix, “It’s quite possible that they could become feature films,” he added.
Marvel Studios releases “Thor: The Dark World” on Friday, followed by “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” in April and “Guardians of the Galaxy” in August. In 2015, it has “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” set for May and “Ant-Man” in November, while characters including Doctor Strange are also being developed for the bigscreen.