The World's First Online Content Super Deal? Marvel + Netflix!

The future of online video just got a little clearer - and (for people like myself, who've been waiting for the online series that could become the model for 21st century global media franchises) a lot more interesting.

Ask anyone who's been binge viewing with Netflix: The future of serialized programming will be streamed online. 

But what about the global audience - most of whom don't laugh at Arrested Development or care about the political intrigue of House of Cards?

Where is the global series made for online distribution?

Yes. Netflix had dipped its toes into original content - and has recently won awards and a lot of attention in the US - but where is the original Netflix content that speaks to the world?

For all their interest in shattering the old film distribution models, Netflix is still licensing a lot of content from the six major studios - getting the titles with the strongest appeal to a global audience second hand - often after they have played in theaters.

And, as of late-2013, the big movie studios are maintaining their focus on making sequels to mega-budget theatrical films. 

Even though the studios are milking significant revenue from online and other home video sources, the studio model for making global entertainment still requires a healthy run in thousands of theaters to come close to recouping on new theatrical titles.

In other words, as of late-2013, nobody has really figured out how to make serialized content for a global audience that is profitable if originally distributed online alone...

Where is that first blockbuster series made expressly for online distribution to a global audience?

Where is the made-for-online franchise that might shatter the old paradigms and establish how it should be done for the next 50 years? 

We may be getting a lot closer to that milestone. 

According to a Nov. 7th, 2013 article in The Wrap, Netflix and Marvel-owner Disney have just agreed to stream four original live-action shows centered on lesser-known Marvel characters: Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones.

On a tactical level - this move makes sense: As Brent Jones writes in The Wrap: "In the intensely competitive world of streaming, where Netflix faces deep-pocketed rivals like Amazon and new entrants every day, content, particularly of the original and exclusive variety, is king."

It's a good idea to get new exclusive content - especially when superheroes are still a fad. (They're still a fad, right?)

But I think this move promises more.

The  Netflix and Marvel deal might just mark the beginning of an epochal shift in strategy.

Yes. The marriage of Marvel superheroes with Netflix distribution may not be as big a deal as I hope. It could just be momentary opportunism.  (This is Hollywood after all.) But I'm hoping that this particular set of original online shows - with their huge potential appeal to a global audience - could be the beginning of a new paradigm for making and marketing serialized entertainment.

In other words, going forward, media companies making serialized programming may start producing original content for global online platforms. And these four superhero shows may be the moment where that begins.

If any of the four live action shows being produced by Netflix and Marvel hit - I suspect we will see many imitators.

And, even though Marvel is owned by Disney, if any of these four shows hits online, it will be good news for all sorts of filmmakers - even the kind of filmmaker previously known as "independent." That's because a success will demonstrate that, in the New World, there will be opportunities for creators who can work on modest budgets and in a multi-platform environment - with filmmaking chops that appeal to a global audience. I may be wrong, but I expect that if any part of the Netflix Marvel deal really works, it will be interpreted as a sign that minor characters from a larger storyworld can have their own online series. And this use of "unfamiliar or marginalized characters" from a larger storyworld  (with or without the potential for "later appearances in their [bigger sibling] theatrical films or on network TV shows like ‘Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,’” per Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment in TheWrap) will show the studios how younger entrepreneurial filmmakers - who can work within online budgets and existing storyworlds while appealing to viewers all around the world - might become part of a changing motion picture business paradigm.

I'm not alone in pegging my hopes for a new filmmaking paradigm to this online initiative. Even some of the people working on the Netflix Marvel shows are predicting that the kind of filmmaking that will evolve if any of these series works will have its own aesthetic: "“The canvas is far more sprawling, because we’re being given dozens of hours to get to know these characters,” Gomez said. “On top of that, each of these superhero characters have interesting supporting casts, a rogues gallery of villains, and unique back stories (some of which they share with one another). So this is an opportunity for Marvel to unpack, stay a while, and have huge fun with its audience.”"

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic - but this sounds like a promising future of filmmaking. One that some of us think is already overdue.


1 comment:

Jeff Gomez said...

From a transmedia perspective Randy:

I've said before that Marvel scores a perfect 10 in terms of its overall approach to transmedia storytelling, but the Netflix deal exceeds even my expectations. While Netflix will retain rights to the various shows themselves, I don't believe that the actual characters will be forced to remain exclusively on the network. This means that Marvel has negotiated the optimal way to introduce a set of unfamiliar or marginalized characters to the world, priming each of them for later appearances in their theatrical films or on network TV shows like Marvel's Agents of SHIELD.

It's almost surreal how any kid's fantasy of a fully integrated super hero universe that provides you with fresh content whether you're watching cable, going to the movies or clicking up Netflix, is now being realized. That's the very definition of a fully concerted, transmedia story world.

The strategy of building toward a Defenders superteam miniseries after introducing four separate superhero shows is genius, and I don't just mean in a geeky fanboy way (though it's that, too). In a way it is both a microcosm and the inverse of Marvel's strategy behind the movies. Build up each of your heroes, well known or not, then mash them together in a giant blowout against a common foe.

The unique spin here is that Netflix is offering the luxury of time and scope. We are focusing on a more down-to-Earth aspect of the Marvel story world in the Hell's Kitchen, New York City setting, but the canvas is far more sprawling, because we're being given dozens of hours to get to know these characters.

It's funny, Disney CEO Bob Iger recently said, "Netflix hasn't cornered the market yet" as an Internet TV provider, but this deal is certainly going to push them a few steps in that direction. But ultimately Disney wins, because Marvel wins. Netflix will not retain the rights to these characters the way that Sony does with Spider-Man or Fox does with the X-Men. Netflix is simply a super-accessible launch platform for them, and that's great for Marvel.

At the same time, Netflix will also benefit tremendously. What superhero fan wouldn't sign up for Netflix with these shows right around the corner? Netflix will be on Xbox and PlayStation, including their next generations. Signing up is a snap, and everyone will want to stick around right through Defenders, even if they're not crazy about one of the interim shows. Truly this is the financial realization of transmedia's potential.

Randy Finch's Film Blog:

Thoughts from a film producer about making and distributing films.