Why Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Should Survive Until at Least 2016

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Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't set the world on fire in its first season, but Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) and ABC would be smart to let the series survive for at least two more years. Despite what my colleague Daniel Kline believesAgents' long-term prospects are more appealing than they look. 

An hour-long commercial
The most obvious strength of Agents is that it takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, already the second highest-grossing film franchise in history behind Harry Potter. As I've harped on before, Agents' ability to follow S.H.I.E.L.D. -- the unifying force behind the Avengers -- can't be judged on ratings along. Yes, it's probably true that after 12 million people watched the debut, the show has bled viewers quicker than ABC expected.

Source: TVByTheNumbers, ABC. Graph compiled by author.

But compared to Once Upon a Time -- another ABC drama currently in its third season -- Agents hasn't performed as poorly as it may look. It's obviously no LOST, but does it need to be?

After all, Agents' real strength is that it serves as an hour-long commercial for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers and Iron Man 3 have already demonstrated the franchise can yield billion-dollar box office returns -- the challenge is simply to keep fans interested enough that they keep coming back. Marvel and Disney's staggered film release schedule is one way to boost retention, and Agents fills in the gaps.

Mr. Kline is correct to point out the show's high cost -- its $12 million pilot was more expensive than even LOST and Game of Thrones' first episodes -- but that doesn't mean it should be held to a higher standard. Compared to the enormous marketing budgets of most blockbuster movies, Agents isn't as extravagant as it looks.

Marvel's third phase
The MCU has already wrapped up Phase One, and with Captain America: The Winter Soldier set to hit theaters next month, it's smack dab in the middle of Phase Two. After Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015, Phase Three will commence with the third Captain America one year later.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC.

Because of Nick Fury and Black Widow's close ties with the Cap, I expect S.H.I.E.L.D. to remain involved in at least a limited capacity, meaning it would be prudent to keep Agents on the air until 2016. Marvel recently announced the film will square off against Batman Vs. Superman two summers from now, meaning Phase Three will need all the firepower it can get. 

The bottom line
Critics of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., including Mr. Kline, aren't wrong to say the show has disappointed in the ratings department. But calls for its cancellation ignore the main reason ABC began airing the show in the first place: to broaden the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Agents probably won't become as popular as LOST was, but that's O.K. It should continue to feature S.H.I.E.L.D., and in my humble opinion, it wouldn't hurt to rope in more characters from the films. Whether that means a Season Two appearance from Captain America or Black Widow, a high-profile cameo could be the shot in the arm the show needs.

Dan Kline disagrees with pretty much everything I wrote. Click here for his take.

Regardless of how long Marvel's TV show survives, the competitive landscape will change and cable will eventually go away. But do you know how to profit? There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had. Currently, cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't last. And when cable falters, three companies are poised to benefit. Click here for their names. Hint: They're not Netflix, Google, and Apple. 

Read/Post Comments (13) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 12:21 PM, mobrocket wrote:

    Only reason I might buy this is cus its DIsney owning every step in the process and keeps cost low.

    But ultimately, I think the show will get canned. I think disney would be better served with a similar show on cable.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 12:26 PM, UncleRoy1 wrote:

    Question: Ever since day one, "they" have been on Shield's case, every critic, everyone making more than minimum wage has ragged on Shield. It's a TV Show, formula, it's not the third coming, it's a TV show let it stand or fall by itself.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 12:30 PM, HerbieJPilato wrote:

    But nobody cares about this show because it doesn't have any SUPERHEROES! People want to see SUPERHEROES! Who gives a flying fig about agents!!!

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 1:44 PM, stevn25 wrote:

    Ok people this show isn't about super heroes so get over it, this show is about agents of shield not many of the agents have powers it's about the one thing they haven't made a movie about (the agents of shield) the movies are about super heroes the TV show is about all the little people who do the regular stuff.So if you don't like it don't watch it, i'd rather watch this show than some of the other crap on tv.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 2:36 PM, ickabodx wrote:

    Two articles today alone on SHIELD. That's why they keep making it, so much publicity.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 3:24 PM, tfoutlaw wrote:

    Maybe it would have better ratings if it wasn't stacked up against the #1 show on TV (NCIS) and The Voice. Maybe any other night of the week, you could see a difference.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 4:32 PM, Richardragan wrote:

    i happen to like AoS its been getting better and better ever sense they had Deathlok on. I look foward to watching it every week.I just wish it would come on every week and lets make it a 2 hour show ......ok thats wishfull thinking lol

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 5:45 PM, msorrentino wrote:

    I expect that Agents of SHIELD will surprise all the critics out there when it ends up running longer than LOST. I also noticed something about the three shows on the graph, of those listed which one have I never watched and never will? Hint: I watch Agents of SHIELD and Once Upon a Time :)

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 5:54 PM, WhoCaresWhoCares wrote:

    Why do they keep taking the superheroes out of superhero shows?

    I know! Lets show human agents instead of superheros!

    I know! Lets do an Origins movie so there a no superpowers 3/4 of the time!

    I know! Lets do an, 'he lost his powers' movie!

    Why? Why? Why?

    I want to see superheroes....not agents!!

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 6:12 PM, macanoodough wrote:

    For those who say Disney is in it for other reasons....

    A single movie would need $100 mil more than it would otherwise make without SHEILD TV just to pay for the shows production. Add in loss of potential revenue from commercial spots for a show with better ratings, like double the ratings and you're talking more like $500 million for a single seasons total potential ad revenue + costs.

    How many movies come out each year?

    1 or 2

    That means every movie needs to make $250-$500mil more than it otherwise would without SHIELD's primetime slot on a major network, depending on if they are the only one releasing in a particular 12 month period or not. And NCIS???? You are not going for the same audience. The weeks SHIELD earned 9-12 mil viewers, NCIS was barely effected if at all. They average 18-20 million viewers. Don't think you're gonna go after Bellisario, the Magnum Magnate of the 80's. He forgot more about TV than SHEILD seems to know just now. His Clairvoyant was Robin Masters and at least he gave you a voice for a few years before turning Higgins into Masters, AND HE GOT AWAY WITH IT! LMAO! These guys might not see season 2.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 8:30 PM, maineiacle wrote:

    They really got the name right when they called themselves "fools" In one day they have a story suggesting why SHIELD should be cancelled and with the next breathe they give us a story telling us why it won't be. D

    Do they just employ you imbeciles to write whatever you feel like just to stir up conversation?

  • Report this Comment On March 19, 2014, at 12:33 AM, coachcondon wrote:

    I agree with you Jake. I also agree with one of the other readers who said it has a terrible time slot. I think it should be moved. Moreover sometimes it takes a bit longer for a syfy series to find its audience.

  • Report this Comment On March 19, 2014, at 8:32 PM, Har1en wrote:

    As a fan of both Joss Whedon and the Marvel universe, I watch Agents of SHIELD weekly. I buy it on Xbox Live. I don't think many other people do that, but I do wonder sometimes whether there are business factors to this that the Nielson ratings miss.

    Also, duelling Fools is a time-tested and beloved (at least to me) practice at Fooldom. I love hearing the alternative perspectives, and you should too. Make up your own mind, darn it.

    When it comes down to brass tacks, will the decision to kick-or-keep Agents change my ownership decision for DIS stock? Nope.

    I love that they tried Agents, and I trust they will make a good decision whether to keep it. They've earned that much respect from me in the last few years.

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Jake Mann

Jake Mann covers sports, economics and politics for the Motley Fool.

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