Disney is using Marvel's Agents of SHIELD to battle for ratings with CBS and Comcast

Lady Sif guest stars on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in "Yes Men." Credit: Disney, ABC

You see that sly smile? That's the look of a man who knows he's got Thor's right-hand warrior backing him up.

Of course, we knew this day was coming almost two months ago, when Marvel fans exploded with excitement after an ABC executive revealed Disney (NYSE:DIS) Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would eventually look to the familiar Asgardian for help.

Sure enough, tonight's show -- titled "Yes Men" -- is all set to welcome Thor: The Dark World's Jaimie Alexander as Lady Sif, who travels to earth and enlists the help of Coulson and his team to track down fellow Asgardian Lorelei. The episode also serves as the lead-in to next week's all-encompassing Marvel special, which in part promises to reveal more about the show's direction.

The goal for Disney, of course, is to generate enough hype to give Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a solid ratings boost -- and why not? The last time they tried a crossover with Thor: The Dark World, it led Disney's ABC to its strongest Tuesday performance in the eight weeks since the series began. 

And though I agree with fellow Fool Leo Sun's assertion that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ratings don't really matter -- that is, given its broader purpose in promoting the current Marvel Cinematic Universe -- you can bet Disney wouldn't complain if it could have its cake and eat it, too.

It's not all about quantity
Now seems as good a time as any; last week's episode yielded just 5.46 million viewers and a seemingly awful 1.8 live + same-day rating in Adults 18-49.

By comparison, 14.53 million tuned into Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) NBC's The Voice for a 4.1 rating, and CBS's (NASDAQ:VIAC) NCIS commanded a 2.5 rating with a live audience of 17.85 million.

The funny thing is, when you dig a little deeper there's plenty to like about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most recent numbers.

First, the results weren't entirely surprising since both S.H.I.E.L.D. and NCIS were battling against The Voice for the first time since October. Luckily, Disney can also take comfort knowing additional millions tend to watch their show through DVRs later, helping Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gain significant ground when live + 7-day figures arrive.

Next, if you're wondering why the same-day ratings points don't seem to offer a direct correlation with overall viewers, look no further than the quality of each show's audience. Despite CBS having more than three times as many viewers, Disney and ABC were quick to point out Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actually tied NCIS in the hour among adults 18-34. In addition, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. led NCIS by 40% in men 18-34 last week, marking its 14th consecutive first-run telecast as the number-one scripted series in the hour for young men.

Finally, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also improved its hour for ABC by 24% in total viewers, and 13% in adults 18-49 over the same night last year. That's a rare highlight as Disney's broadcasting segment just posted respective first-quarter revenue and operating income declines of 2% and 32% year-over-year.

Take it away, Lady Sif
So where does that leave Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. now?

In short, tonight's crossover represents the series' biggest yet, so I'm optimistic it should be able to provide an even bigger boost this time. If the episode also manages to pique the curiosity of viewers regarding Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s future direction ("Uprising" story arc details, anyone), I suspect many of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s current DVR viewers may not be able to wait until the next day to tune in.

I'll be sure to touch base when the final ratings arrive, but in the meantime I'd love to hear what you think. Will Lady Sif provide the boost Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is looking for? Are you watching tonight's episode live? Let us know in the comments below.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.