How Netflix’s Marvel TV Heroes Were Defeated by the Changing Media Business

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“Jessica Jones” closes out a four-year partnership that ended far sooner than anyone expected

Sarah Shatz/Netflix

Netflix’s street-level Marvel TV heroes have bested villains like The Kingpin, Kilgrave and The Hand, but in the end, Jessica Jones and the rest of The Defenders encountered one enemy they were no match for: the media industry. On Friday, Netflix will debut the third and final season of “Jessica Jones” — the final season of any of its Marvel TV superheroes — ending a partnership that once looked to be as long-lasting as the Marvel’s big-screen MCU. But while Marvel TV chief Loeb promised a “very satisfying ending to that particular story,” the rest of Marvel’s Netflix universe is going to be left hanging. “We didn’t know, when we were making that show, that even ‘Daredevil’ had been canceled,” Loeb told TheWrap last month. “At that point, we knew we had lost ‘Iron Fist,’ but other than that, we were living under the impression that this was going to go on.” Loeb wasn’t the only one surprised by Netflix pulling the plug on The Defenders. In 2015, the Netflix/Marvel Television partnership appeared to have a long future ahead. The shared setting that kicked off with “Daredevil” was supposed to be the television equivalent of the hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, which just closed out a 22-film chapter with what may end up being the highest-grossing movie of all time in “Avengers: Endgame.” But in a four-month span, Netflix ended that relationship, bringing the hammer down on “Daredevil,” “Iron Fist,” “Luke Cage” “Jessica Jones” and “The Punisher.” Disney is preparing to challenge Netflix in the streaming wars with the November launch of Disney+, turning the onetime partners into rivals, and Marvel TV is the collateral damage (though the small-screen division may have found a second life with fellow Disney-owned streamer Hulu). “We were basically having a block party in New York, and they took away our permit,” Loeb said. “It was not a decision that Marvel made, it was a decision that Netflix made. It was their right to do that. All I can say about it is, those characters will live on, and we’ll see what happens.” In 2017, Disney announced that its exclusive licensing agreement with Netflix would expire at the end of 2018, so it could build its own direct-to-consumer service. Then it brought in Marvel Studios — not Marvel TV — to spearhead a group of shows based on MCU characters, including Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Clint Barnes/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). And unlike the Marvel TV shows, these ones will be explicitly tied into the larger MCU narrative. The end of the licensing deal already meant that Netflix no longer had any business-related obligations to keep Marvel and Disney happy. But now, Disney is directly-competing with Netflix — and in the process overshadowing Netflix’s Marvel shows, which were already on the periphery of the MCU despite Loeb’s often-stated stance of “It’s All Connected.” There’s also the matter of expense, according to an individual with knowledge of the matter. Though Netflix famously does not release ratings information, the individual told TheWrap that Netflix does weigh cost versus viewership, and that thanks to the unspecified high price of licensing Marvel IP, the shows were too expensive to produce given their viewership level. Disney isn’t the only company going full bore into the streaming world. Along with the Mouse House, Apple, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal are all launching their own streaming offerings by next year. Disney CEO Bob Iger has called the launch of Disney+ one of the most important initiatives in the company’s history. That might not give fans of Netflix’s corner of the MCU any solace, but at least “Jessica Jones” fans can take comfort in the fact that Krysten Ritter’s binge-drinking superhero will get an ending, even if the rest of the Netflix-Marvel universe won’t. “We’re not leaving on some cliffhanger,” Ritter told TheWrap. “We have the luxury, and the luxury that most people don’t get in TV, to have a complete journey.” The third and final season of “Jessica Jones” premieres Friday, June 14.