Last week we discussed why Marvel gets a pass in their cinematic universe compared to DC. This week we are going to take a look at their TV representations. The small screen has been an area where DC has excelled over Marvel. Now, we’re not talking about in terms of quality here, before you say anything. No matter how you feel about the finished products, the fact remains that Netflix has canceled four of its six series, while all of The CW’s shows — including their worst performers — continue to run.
Below are the reasons DC has the upper hand.
Streaming vs. Weekly Episodes
There has been an ongoing question of which is better: streaming or weekly shows? There are some great benefits to both. We all love some good binge-watching, am I right? While this makes for great entertainment and a nice escape, this can also be a negative. For instance, you can knock out an entire season and tell your friends either it was good and add it to your list, or the opposite and you either take a pass, or push it to the bottom of your list. That is honestly what happened to me with this season of The Punisher. I do want to watch it, but a friend told me it is relatively slow so it made its way down the pecking order for now.
The CW still has the old advantage of “tune in next week!” Even if there is a bad episode, who knows what you will get unless you tune in the following week. Miss a week? Well, you aren’t too far behind. The other luxury that the weekly episodes have is that it provides room for mid-season finales. The ratings have increased for The CW shows during their mid-season cross-over events. The benefit is that viewers don’t necessarily have to have watched every episode of the shows in order to understand what is happening in the mid-season event.
Even though the CW shows have dropped in ratings over the seasons (The Flash -17%, Arrow -1%, Legends -34%, Black Lightning -42%, and Supergirl -23%) ALL said shows have been renewed for new seasons. What that means is that The Flash will be on Season 6, Arrow Season 8, Legends Season 5, Black Lightning Season 3, and Supergirl Season 5. On top of that, all of the shows have earned somewhere in the 80% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with Black Lightning earning a 94%, so they must be doing something right. The CW also has the advantage of having the weekly episodes AND being on Netflix at the conclusion of the season, so viewers can have the best of both worlds.
Did the drop for DC shows have you question how they could get renewed? Well, if so, Marvel’s drop may make more sense as to why some shows were canceled. According to Business Insider (using a third-party metric system, so not official numbers from Netflix), The Punisher dropped 40%, while the others dropped even more: Luke Cage -63%, Iron Fist -69% Daredevil -61% in between their recent seasons. Now, the interesting part is that Marvel’s Netflix shows had fairly similar certified fresh results with The CW shows. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 94%, Daredevil 84%, Jessica Jones 88%, Luke Cage 89%, Iron Fist 38% (yikes), The Punisher 60%, and The Defenders 77%. The only show to have a lasting series has been Agents which is currently on Season 6, and the rest did not make it past a Season 3.
For further support that DC is winning the TV battle with their weekly viewings, we can also make a comparison using Google Trends. Let’s look at some of the more popular shows by comparing Daredevil with Arrow. Yes, Arrow has been on longer, but you can see that due to the nature of its weekly episodes, the network shows keep a sustained amount of viewers, holding their interest for a longer period of time. Conversely, Daredevil only seems to spike when new seasons drop on Netflix, as evidenced on Google Trends:
With the weekly episodes, fans are exposed to a show over a longer period of time which can often keep more consistent interest rather than with binge-watching as seen above.
So, what other factors are there? Well, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones are not as well known to the general public as their characters such as Daredevil or Punisher, and even though there was some initial success, I think they forced Defenders too quickly, which leads us to…
As we discussed last week, characters are important to fans. We need characters we can either relate to, admire, or even hate. They need to have depth. It appears that also the choice of characters matter. Both The CW and Marvel have gone for B-Level characters (aside from a few who are probably considered A), but some are more obscure to the everyday fan than others.
The CW has The Flash, Green Arrow, Supergirl, The Legends, and Black Lightning, and the upcoming Batwoman (amongst some others). The Flash is well known, and maybe Green Arrow, but the rest are not as well known, but some of their names suggest a connection to other well-known characters. Supergirl and Batwoman. Common fans can make a connection to who they connect with and possibly some of their background. Legends was made up of characters already established in the CW Arrowverse, so if fans had been following at all, then they may have had a general idea of who these characters were.
In order to provide some more support, let’s look at some recent comic sales for the top characters representing each brand on TV from as recent as this past December, 2018. This data also focuses on entire character comics and not single-runs. According to ComicChron, The Flash shipped an estimated 42,212 units, Supergirl shipped 21,564 units, and Green Arrow shipped 18,951.
Some of the main data I could find for Marvel was for Punisher which shipped 29,906 units and Daredevil which shipped an estimated 624 units. The rest of Marvel’s TV brand shipped less than 624 units recently. This once again shows that even if DC are using B-List characters (for the most part), they have still made wiser choices than Marvel in choosing what characters they want to represent their TV Universe.
I believe there is a direct correlation between the success of characters in their comic sales to their success on the small screen. This can also be seen using Google Trends. I made a comparison between Jessica Jones and Supergirl, and as you can see, the consistency to which Supergirl is watched is still higher compared to that of Jessica Jones. Even though we talked about part of this being from the concept of weekly episodes vs. streaming, the choice of a character who is also successful / popular on the shelves of comic book stores is what is crucial.
DC has chosen a route that constantly keeps people exposed to these characters. I think they work in tandem. People who enjoy the comic will tune into the show, and people who came primarily for the show may become interested in the comics. This happened to me. I had not followed Green Arrow until well after I started watching Arrow.
This was an interesting area to research. Where the CW originally dominated was in the younger female demographic due to the type of shows they produce as well as the type of characters and stories they tell. According to an article from Forbes, they have since expanded their target viewers intentionally:
“The CW has attempted to solve this by broadening its programming to encompass the sci-fi niche in addition to the teen drama and draw in people of other ages and other genders with more broad, but still hip, content. Seeming to take a cue from the rising superhero genre in the film with Marvel’s mega-franchise, this franchise of shows has helped revitalize the CW by bringing in a demographic of comic book readers and sci-fi fans alike.”
So in essence what they have done is found a way to cross over genres while still keeping a fun approach to their characters. This can come across as extremely cheesy if an individual does not consistently keep up with a specific series, but The CW has worked towards giving fans what they want. Further evidence of this was shown in both Season 4 of Arrow and The Flash. They tried something new, and failed, but then came back with what worked. Even if the ratings have dropped over the years, their shows are still being renewed because The CW understand what the fanbase wants.
This is where it gets interesting. Netflix keeps very close statistics for the shows they produce. What I found out from an article in Forbes was that:
“The fanbase viewing Marvel-Netflix shows is sizable, even if it was declining from one season to the next for each of the shows. The declines were not enough reason to cancel, however. Instead, the real answers lie in those aforementioned stats about viewing habits of the fanbase for the Marvel programming. Viewers who watched the Marvel shows were also overwhelmingly likely to be regular audiences for other Netflix original programming. In other words, the Marvel shows were not attracting and serving a particular audience that would otherwise be absent.”
This shows that the Marvel Netflix shows are not necessarily bringing in new fans, but individuals are tuning in because they are already on Netflix. This could be said to be the opposite of The CW. For instance, I do not watch the station unless one of the mentioned shows are on, but I am on Netflix for numerous shows.
In case you didn’t know, Disney is taking over the world. With Disney taking over, that also means shifting some content from Netflix to their new Disney+. Now they could reunite some of the series, but, as discussed before, are these fans going to be willing to pay for Disney+ just for these shows, or did they have a decent following because people were already on Netflix for other shows?
According to Forbes, once they make the jump, Marvel already has plans concerning their Marvel superheroes:
“Marvel meanwhile plans live-action series for characters including Loki, Scarlet Witch, Winter Soldier, and several other characters. There will also be plenty of animated Marvel fare coming to Disney+, too, of course. Meanwhile, the Marvel-Netflix shows will remain available on Netflix for fans to watch and rewatch to our hearts content.”
So, while this definitely sounds like it has potential, will fans make the jump in order to see these? More than likely, it depends on the other content that Disney+ provides, much in the same way fans followed on Netflix, but because Disney+ will be another streaming service, could their shows fall into the same issues that they did on Netflix and not develop a stronger fanbase? The Verge reported that Captain Marvel will be the first exclusive film to come to Disney+, but what does this mean for Marvel’s episodic characters? Based on the data, it looks as if Disney+ could fall into the same issue that Netflix did. Only time will tell, but the unsure future of Marvel TV once again gives DC the upper-hand and makes them come out on top in the TV world.