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

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.)

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.

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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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 May 18, 2014, at 2:42 PM, RobtJonz wrote:

    How many cop shows are on the air?

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2014, at 1:14 PM, riwaterman wrote:

    how many cooking competition shows are there? How many singer competition shows are there? how many fix-it shows are there?

    IF the show is good it will survive, it it is bad it will not.

    I watch Arrow and I think it is way overdone. It needs to settle down with believable stories.

    Watched the trailer for the Flash and it looks like it could be great but if the villains and the super heroes are given too unbelievable powers, it might not go anyway. The story is everything and the characters can be super but they have to be not godlike in their powers.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2014, at 6:15 PM, JimNiner wrote:

    Primetime network television has been composed of courtroom and cop shows for 4 decades plus. To ask if there are too many comic shows is kind of moot. We are finally at a place where the comic book shows are actually pretty good ... and that's taken a long long time.

    Smallville ran longer than any other superhero show. Arrow has a dedicated and growing fan base and a surprisingly good production value. The upcoming Flash series looks impressive. Marvel's Agents of Shield may not have the jawdropping ratings to coincide with the box office returns from Winter Soldier or Avengers, but it still brings in millions of viewers a week and is finally getting good.

    At the point that any comic book makes it into a show is the point when we've gone too far. Marvel, to its credit, has reserved a fair stable of its new concept shows to air on Netflix rather than network TV. That's wise, because it will reach the fan base, but not be subject to all the hand wringing Agents of Shield has been.

    There have been plenty of bad superhero shows (90s Flash, Birds of Prey, bad Wonder Woman reboot, and others). But they weren't bad because there are so many comic shows on TV. They were bad because they were poorly done. There have been plenty of bad cop shows too (Cop Rock anyone?).

    If Agent Carter is awful, it will get pulled. If Flash is great, it will inspire more shows like it. Personally, I, like many my age, have waited decades to see the comics I collected as a kid turned into compelling TV and movies. I'm glad there's finally money to be made in the genre, because studios are now finally willing to invest the time and resources to do it right.

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