As soon as Disney announced that they were beginning to pull some of their most popular titles from Netflix and other streaming services in order to hoard them for their own, upcoming service, a vocal contingent of fans wondered what that could mean for Marvel's raft of Netflix original series.
Over the course of the last few years, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist came and went, setting the stage for the just-released Defenders and the upcoming series adaptation of The Punisher.
That first wave of raised eyebrows was more or less put to rest during the same stockholders' meeting where Disney announced long-rumored streaming service, with CEO Robert Iger saying there was no changes currently planned for the Marvel and Star Wars movies.
“There’s been talk of launching a proprietary Marvel service and Star wars service, but we are mindful of the volume of content that would go into that service,” Iger told investors, suggesting that they don’t want to create a service so specialized that fans will not get value for their subscription.
He said that while Disney would continue to work with existing partners until a final decision is made.
“Disposition of Marvel and Star Wars will be announced at a later date when we know what we want to do,” Iger added.
That later date came fairly soon, with the announcement last week that Disney would bring Star Wars and Marvel to their own streaming service rather than continuing on with Netflix after 2019.
There remains no firm commitment to what is going on with the Defenders-branded Marvel TV properties, but while early buzz was "everything is fine," it is difficult not to ask some questions when things are changing so quickly -- and they all seem to be changing in a way that takes things away from Netflix rather than committing more to it.
The Argument For
There are some pragmatic arguments for the Defenders series leaving Netflix, beginning with the simplest one: if Disney is moving the vast majority of its premier content out of Netflix, it would not make a ton of sense to leave a sizable chunk of Marvel TV's most popular content behind.
Doing so at a time when Disney has fundamentally altered the math of their relationship with Netflix could leave the series vulnerable to cancellation or neglect, especially with the recent acquisition of Millarworld and a wide variety of superhero and superhero-like properties by Netflix.
It has also been estimated that Disney will need more than 30 million subscribers to their streaming service in order for the service to break even. Those numbers are, of course, estimates and nobody really knows exactly what Disney will do with the service yet, but when you need something like 5 percent of all eligible households to subscribe to your service, it cannot hurt to gather as many nuts together for the winter as you can.
Marvel is a premium brand, and it is likely that Disney will feel compelled to make bring some original Marvel content to the branded app at a relatively early point in the development. Bringing original content that has already been established and successful at Netflix could be a way to capitalize on Marvel's existing brand loyalty in a very direct way.
Bringing original, premium Marvel content to the Disney app would also likely allow them to compete more directly with DC's already-announced app, which will bring a new season of Young Justice as well as original series like Titans, and likely a host of older content, web content, comics, and the like.
The Argument Against
First, let's acknowledge that nobody outside of Marvel and Netflix knows exactly what the licensing deal is, and so it is distinctly possible that it would be borderline impossible for Marvel to take their ball and go home.
Even if that is not the case, Netflix is a massive platform that has over 100 milion users -- many of whom might not consider Marvel TV in the same way if they had to pay for it independently of their monthly Netflix dues.
There has been much discussion about how the death of the video store market has been a huge problem for smaller features that either do not go to Netflix, or older movies and TV series that the service allows to expire.
You can hear the Emerald City Video Podcast discuss this phenomenon in an episode, embedded below and titled simply "The Netflix Algorithm Sucks."
It seems unlikely that a brand as powerful as Marvel could be dealt too harsh a blow by simply being removed from Netflix and moved to another platform, but given the fact that Netflix keeps its viewership information, production budgets, and other significant numbers mostly under wraps, it is easy enough to believe that depite the nominal success of Marvel's Netflix shows they are actually operating on the slimmest of profit margins.
Either way, there is likely a complicated financial relationship between Marvel Television and Netflix on these shows, which is exacerbated by the fact that it's Netflix that does all of the shows' promotion, a cost that Disney can save.
Netflix also remains the undisputed leader in this industry, so there may be an inherent value to leaving Marvel TV's relationship with Netflix intact. Even if they aren't specifically doing it in case they need to double back, Marvel could be just practicing good business by dancing with the partner what brung 'em.
What Has Been Said
Thus far, nobody at Marvel, Disney, or Netflix has said anything that could be seen as definitive on this issue.
Generally speaking, Netflix has expressed an interest in hanging on to as much Disney/Marvel/Star Wars content as they can. This is the safe position for them to take, as it costs them nothing and retains as much goodwill as possible with consumers. Netflix can say, loudly and often, that they want their subscribers to have access to this material...and then if negotiations implode or Disney wants to go another way, or even just somebody wants too much money, the streaming provider can credibly say they couldn't come to terms.
The safe assumption would seem to be that the Marvel/Netflix partnership is a mutually beneficial one that both parties are (at least at present) interested in keeping in effect, but it is difficult to imagine that given Disney's recent behavior, Netflix is not preparing themselves for the worst.
It is almost equally difficult to believe that announcing shows like Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Force and buying up interest in Mark Millar's comic book properties is not being seen by Disney as Netflix maneuvering itself into a position where it does not rely on Marvel as heavily as it previously did for genre content.
Stay tuned, true believers -- the next 18 months or so are going to get really interesting.