Marvel Studios owes Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) a big thank you. Not even two days after the Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) subsidiary re-signed Robert Downey Jr. to star in two sequels to Marvel's The Avengers, Netflix is making the film available to its 29 million streaming members here in the United States.
Good timing, eh? Finally. Marvel hasn't done nearly enough to help lift comic-book retailers. Odd, since most of these fan-driven shops are go-to sources for the source material that informs its multibillion-dollar films.
May's Free Comic Book Day giveaway -- which also fell on opening weekend for Iron Man 3 -- included exactly zero comics featuring Iron Man. (A prequel to the film, distributed in March, had already come and gone.) This time, fortunate alignment with Netflix's release calendar provides what should be a nice tailwind. Call it a second chance to get new readers into stores to try comic books starring the characters they've come to enjoy on screen.
We know there's interest. Judging from what I saw in my Facebook feed earlier today, more than 19,000 are already gearing up to see the film. More than 645,000 have rated it at Netflix, netting 4.3 of five stars on average.
How might Marvel take advantage of Netflix's Avengers release? One idea would be to steal a page from rival DC Entertainment and sponsor a special edition packaged as a reprinted Avengers story, available free at comics shops on a certain predetermined date.
Or how about commissioning two Netflix edition variant covers for an upcoming issue of the "Uncanny Avengers" comic-book series? One could be for shops, the other marketed as an exclusive available only at next month's San Diego Comic-Con, which is sure to be buzzing with news about upcoming films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Either way, this is an area for investors to watch.
Publishing may not be the big business it once was, but for Marvel and Disney, comics are R&D and fans are beta testers. A little love from the studio executives could give life to a new billion-dollar storyline.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. Will you be watching The Avengers on Netflix this weekend? What comic-book storylines would you like to see Marvel Studios turn into a film? Leave your comments in the box below.
Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Walt Disney and Netflix at the time of publication. He was also long January 2014 $50 Netflix call options. Check out Tim's Web home and portfolio holdings, or connect with him on Google+, Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.
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