TV Networks Binge on Comic Book Properties. Is the Bubble About to Burst?

Three Fools talk about why so many comic book-based tv shows are getting funded, and whether that’s good for broadcasters’ business.

May 18, 2014 at 10:20AM

ABC. NBC. The SyFy channel. The CW. Broadcast and cable networks are adding a wide variety of programs based on comic book properties for the upcoming fall season. Will the move lead to profits for the businesses behind these productions?

Host Ellen Bowman puts this question to analysts Nathan Alderman and Tim Beyers in this week's episode of 1-Up On Wall Street, The Motley Fool's web show in which we talk about the big-money names behind your favorite movies, toys, video games, comics, and more.

Nathan says networks are backing comic book-based properties in order to reduce risk since fandom guarantees a sizable, built-in audience for most projects. Think of Preacher, which Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are adapting for AMC Networks (NASDAQ:AMCX). The project, though still in the early stages, is enjoying plenty of buzz because of the popularity of the nearly 20-year-old source material from writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon.

Yet Nathan says Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) may be the biggest benefactor of the binge. In ordering Marvel's Agent Carter to serve as a companion for Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, ABC will offer at least 38 weeks of coverage of the Marvel universe during the fall TV season. New crossovers should help the company's box office marketing efforts while also boosting sales of toys, comics, and DVD and Blu-ray sets. (Peggy Carter's character is already slated to appear in next summer's Avengers: Age of Ultron, for example.)

Agent Carter Hayley Atwell

Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter, a co-founder of SHIELD in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Credit: Marvel Entertainment.

Tim says comic book properties continue to work because we're living in a niche programming age where the goal isn't so much to reach everyone as to reach a small but highly engaged audience. Few groups are as actively engaged as sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book fans.

Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) has seen the benefits of catering to this crowd via Arrow, which drew 2.37 million live viewers during its season 2 finale. A great deal more probably tuned in via DVR and on-demand showings. Either way, Arrow is a quantifiable niche programming hit for The CW.

In response, Warner has doubled its bet on genre programming by ordering the spinoff The Flash to series. Grant Gustin's scarlet speedster will air Tuesday nights this fall with Arrow following the next night in the same 8 p.m. timeslot. Warner is also producing Gotham for Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA) and Constantine for NBC.

Flash Pilot Grant Gustin

Grant Gustin as The Flash in the upcoming CW show of the same name. Credit: The CW/ DC Entertainment (via Flash TV News).

So when can investors expect the bubble to burst? Nathan and Tim say the major broadcast and cable networks will continue to produce genre programming so long as there's a niche to be served and advertisers with relevant products to market. Both requirements remain firmly in effect today.

Now it's your turn to weigh in using the comments box below. Which networks do you expect to profit most from genre programming? Click the video to watch as Ellen puts Nathan and Tim on the spot, and then be sure to follow us on Twitter for more segments and regular geek news updates!

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Neither Ellen Bowman nor Nathan Alderman owned shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Tim Beyers owns shares of Time Warner and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends AMC Networks and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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