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 has produced some of the highest-grossing films of all time.
But four years later, it’s over. On Monday Netflix canceled both “The Punisher,” whose second season premiered last month, and “Jessica Jones,” whose third season will stream later this year. They were Marvel’s last remaining live-action Netflix shows — “Daredevil” was cancelled in November, and “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist” both got the ax in October.
So, what happened? Put simply, Disney and Netflix have turned from partners into rivals.
In 2017, Disney announced that its exclusive licensing agreement with Netflix would expire at the end of 2018, and that it was building its own Disney-branded streaming service, now known as Disney+ and set to launch later this year. Disney said at the time that the Marvel Netflix shows wouldn’t be affected by the change, but in 2018 it announced that Disney+ will be home to at least one new Marvel TV show — and people with knowledge of the matter told TheWrap that two other shows are being developed.
These new shows will hail from Marvel Studios instead of Marvel Television, and unlike the Netflix shows, they’ll be explicitly connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and will feature MCU stars like Tom Hiddelston (“Loki”), Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany (“The Vision and Scarlet Witch”), and Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan.
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.
But 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-vs-viewership, and that thanks to the unspecified high price of licensing Marvel IP, the shows were too expensive to produce given their viewership level. Marvel did not immediately reply to a request for comment from TheWrap regarding the price of licensing.
Attempts to iron out these issues ultimately failed. The abrupt cancellation of “Luke Cage,” for example, caught the cast and crew off guard. Netflix didn’t say why the Mike Coulter-led series was axed, but an individual with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap at the time that the decision came down both to creative differences, and an inability to reach terms on a third season deal. Similar drama played out behind the scenes on the other canceled Marvel shows.
Finally, there’s the fact that like most streaming platforms, Netflix is increasingly prioritizing content that it owns outright. Besides the Marvel TV series, which were produced by Marvel and ABC Studios, Netflix has trimmed its roster of other non-owned series including “American Vandal” and “All About the Washingtons.” That’s not only because in-house shows will always be available to subscribers. It’s also because original productions like “Stranger Things” and “The Crown” have become genuine cultural sensations (and awards bait), something only the first season of “Jessica Jones” managed to do out of all the Marvel shows.
But the former Marvel-Netflix universe may yet live on elsewhere. In a statement on Monday, Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb confirmed it was Netflix’s call to end the shows, and hinted that they may look to revive them on another platform.
“Our Network partner may have decided they no longer want to continue telling the tales of these great characters… but you know Marvel better than that,” Loeb said. “As Matthew Murdock’s Dad once said, ‘The measure of a man is not how he gets knocked to the mat, it’s how he gets back up.’”
Marvel TV declined to comment if that was 100 percent the route they were going to take, but if they’re revived, our money for their new home is on Hulu, which just signed a huge four-series animated deal with Marvel TV, instead of Disney+. After all, Disney will own 60 percent of that streaming platform after it closes its deal to acquire 21st Century Fox’s film and TV assets.