First Marvel brought us The Avengers. Next we'll get The Defenders, and this time Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX ) will be there to help.
In a new deal Marvel Entertainment President Alan Fine described as "unparalleled in its scope and size," Netflix will be Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS ) exclusive broadcast partner for four TV series featuring the superheroes Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. A culminating miniseries will bring them together as "The Defenders," the companies said.
Production details have yet to be released. All we know for now is that Netflix has committed to 13 episodes each, plus the miniseries, with the first episodes airing in 2015. When, precisely? I'd guess before Marvel brings The Avengers: Age of Ultron to the big screen that May. (Remember, House of Cards aired in February.)
For its part, Netflix intimated that new content from Marvel is key to international growth. "Marvel's movies, such as Iron Man and Marvel's The Avengers, are huge favorites on our service around the world. Like Disney, Marvel is a known and loved brand that travels," said Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos in a press release.
International territories accounted for the majority of new streaming additions in Netflix's third quarter, the first time that's happened. Nearly one-fourth of the company's 40-million-strong installed base resides somewhere outside the U.S.
What more can fans and investors take from this deal? Three things, I think:
1. Marvel sees its TV shows as "motion comics." Notice the texture of this arrangement. With multiple characters existing alongside one another with Hell's Kitchen in New York City as their home base, there's an implied crossover from the very beginning. A shared story arc, if you will, that's not much different than what Marvel built with its "Phase 1" of movies. They'd be comics if they weren't TV shows.
2. Lesser-known characters offer the most upside. A lot of you who read what I'm writing about the business of comics and pop culture are fans like me. Still, we're in the minority. Just because we know who these characters are doesn't mean the world knows, and Marvel and Disney do best by introducing newbies to these gems. Unknowns cost less to produce, and for Netflix, less to acquire.
3. The Netflix effect is real, and an attractive draw for studios. We know from the success of Breaking Bad that Netflix can help draw viewers to a property with a small but rabid fan base. Here, it's probably safe to presume that Marvel would use these shows to tease new films to Netflix's global audience, something it can't do right now with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Look at Thor: The Dark World, which has already done well overseas. A crossover Agents episode isn't due until Nov. 19, 11 days after tomorrow's U.S. debut and nearly a month following the film's London premiere.
The Defenders will change that dynamic, exactly what you'd expect from a Marvel superhero team.
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