If you are even a slight fan of pop culture you will have heard the once-charmed relationship between Netflix and Marvel has hit a rather rough patch of late. With two staples of the streaming Network Luke Cage and Iron Fist being cancelled recently. Leaving only Jessica Jones, The Punisher, and (for now) Daredevil standing each of which has a new season confirmed or currently airing as is the case for Daredevil.
With the first cancellation notice came down with Iron Fist there was an understandable worry. Previously the Netflix-Marvel relationship seemed untouchable even if Netflix and Disney were having some disputes. Furthermore, it was Iron Fist the black sheep of the bunch. Most of the explanations centred around Iron Fist and its failings. Namely its poor critical (if not audience) reception and the fact of the main series it garnered the least buzz online.
For myself, though I was more worried, mostly as the explanations did not seem to hold to the pattern. To be blunt, Netflix’s quality control or lack thereof is legendary. Netflix does not care about critics; the much-derided Insatiable for example got a second season recently and Iron Fist Season Two was vastly improved easily topping that train wreck of a series. Meaning even if Iron Fist did disappoint critically that has never been a reason for Netflix to cut a series loose before.
However, when it broke last Friday that Luke Cage was cancelled as well these explanations started to shift. While critically Iron Fist was a punching bag Luke Cage was not. With many saying its second season was as good as its critically lauded first. With both cancellations, it has become clear it was not the critics that got these series cancelled it was something else.
To understand what led to this I think a brief understanding of the past is in order. When these series were first negotiated, announced, and released Netflix was a very different service then it is today. Previously it is what I referred to as a “Secondhand” network, meaning the majority of its most popular properties were first aired elsewhere. Which worked when you are a one-stop shop for Friends, The Office, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and so many more. It was a model that could attract subscribers.
However, that model was always based on other studios willingness to work with Netflix. Which was never guaranteed to be sustainable in the long run. As streaming has become more mainstream the legacy media have started up their own on-demand services leading to an exodus of content from Netflix. Netflix had one choice exclusive content.
Which made Netflix and Marvel a perfect fit. As Marvel had a surplus of characters that would never work on screen and a burgeoning television cinematic universe it made sense two of the biggest name in media would team up. As such a deal was struck - Netflix would fund and distribute Marvel Studio television shows featuring street level heroes The Defenders in a mini-MCU format. Needless to say, people were excited and the numbers matched.
While Netflix is notorious for never releasing viewer data, based on general social media buzz the early Netflix Defender series was a hit. Which is good as the series were expensive in the range of $20,000,000/season with the team up Defenders a logistical nightmare even more expensive.
However, with the post-Defenders Phase Two these series started to underperform. Much like Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter on ABC, and the various MCU series on other distribution platforms Marvel TV was not nearly as hot as the films. Which brings us to the present.
Where Netflix was once a second-hand network it is now a full-time participant in creating and airing original content. With the balance sheet and Emmy nominations to match. Shows like The Queen, Altered Carbon, Orange is the New Black, and GLOW all have budgets matching or exceeding the Netflix MCU and a much larger reach. With Netflix continuing to invest large sums in other fantasy and sci-fi properties like the reboot of Lost in Space and the upcoming The Witcher starring Henry Cavill and The Chronicles of Narnia.
At its core where once the Netflix MCU was indispensable to Netflix’s brand they are now only one increasingly small piece. Furthermore, the quality has been slipping with many regarding Iron Fist, The Defenders, and Jessica Jones Season 2 as letdowns. When a series is both expensive and unneeded a cancellation is often in the cards.
Furthermore, much like the rest of the Networks on cable and over the air Netflix is increasingly attracted to both producing, financing, and distributing its own series. A process known as “vertical integration”. While that increases the risks it also increases the rewards. With the MCU shows Netflix is only a partner, a partner with an increasingly aggressive beast: Disney.
It is no secret that Disney is looking to expand into the world of streaming. With a stable of some of the most beloved franchises in the world, the Disney streaming service is a much talked about entity online and likely in the industry. This factor must have an effect on Netflix’s decisions.
While Disney has said the Netflix MCU series was safe. Likely due to the fact they do not fit the family-friendly vibe that is often attached to its streaming service. That statement does not speak for Netflix.
As we have established the Netflix MCU series are expensive. They are also quickly losing their lustre with viewers. All the while being owned by an increasingly aggressive rival that is taking its other properties off their service namely Star Wars and the MCU films.
With those factors in mind, it makes sense Netflix might want to cut funding. While Disney is currently playing nice now, there is no guarantee it will do so in the future. Furthermore, Netflix is spending large amounts of money on its own properties as its subscriber rate is beginning to slow due to the onslaught of completion.
From my perspective, the cancellation of Luke Cage and Iron Fist are not the “creative differences” anonymous sources have given us. This is a first strike on Netflix’s part to begin to unravel themselves from the great Disney behemoth. Meaning even though I still hold out hope for a spin-off such as a Daughters of the Dragon and Heroes for Hire this is an unlikely scenario.
EDIT: It’s done. Daredevil was cancelled.
Hell the last standing Marvel series I have a feeling are on borrowed time as well. I think the fate of Daredevil will make this clear; if in the next few weeks we hear of a cancellation the party is indeed over, if not perhaps there is hope. For now, I hope I am wrong and we will see more The Immortal Iron Fist and The Hero of Harlem but I am skeptical.
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