Netflix is bulking up its programming with a roster of new Marvel superheroes.
The online movie and television service struck a deal with Walt Disney Co. to develop original live-action TV series based on four of Marvel’s lesser-known comic book characters: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage.
The first of four serialized programs and a miniseries will appear on Netflix in 2015.
The deal announced Thursday affords Disney’s Marvel Television unit the opportunity to develop stories and build audiences for these below-the-radar heroes, without the added scrutiny of daily Nielsen TV ratings or weekend ticket-sale tallies.
Netflix, meanwhile, hopes to capitalize on the cachet of a genre that has delivered muscular, billion-dollar box-office performances for such Disney films as “Iron Man 3” and “The Avengers.”
“There are a number of ways for Marvel to create more value-generating opportunities – and this is one of them,” Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Robert A. Iger said during a Disney earnings call. “And it also happens to be great for Netflix.”
Disney has deployed Marvel’s characters across a variety of media outlets, bringing such animated series as “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” and “Marvel Ultimate Spider-Man” to its boy-focused Disney XD cable channel, and the “Marvel Avengers Alliance” game to Facebook and mobile devices.
This fall, Disney’s ABC network launched its first big program based on Marvel’s characters: Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” The show opened to huge numbers – more than 12 million viewers – before its ratings settled down to earth.
By producing Marvel-themed shows for Netflix, Disney is bypassing its own channels.
The Netflix deal, whose terms were not disclosed, provides a new platform for Marvel’s superheroes to inhabit, and gives them a chance to develop over the span of the multiyear agreement. The stories will explore gritty worlds such as New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, where the fictional Matt Murdock grew up in relative poverty and experienced a violent accident as a boy that cost him his sight. As an adult, he seeks justice as a lawyer by day and as the avenging, acrobatic Daredevil at night.
Larry Tanz, chief executive of the Vuguru digital studio, said it makes sense for Disney to turn to Netflix to develop Marvel characters that lack the broad, marquee appeal of a Spider-Man or an Iron Man. Indeed, his own studio turned to YouTube to reach fan communities eager for new stories from the noted comic book figure Stan Lee and his company, POW! Entertainment.
“If you’re trying to develop these characters without as much brand awareness, it would be hard to launch a Jessica Jones character off broadcast TV,” Tanz said. “Netflix can launch full series without having to worry about what the overnight ratings for the first episode are. They can take advantage of characters that are not the movie star franchise characters and they can be a little bit more free with the story lines and explore these characters’ story lines over multiple seasons – which is the cable TV model.”
The new original content deal builds upon a movie distribution agreement Netflix reached last year with Disney, which will bring first-run, live-action and animated films from Walt Disney Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel and Lucasfilm to the streaming service, beginning in 2016.