Marvel fans were greeted with a welcome surprise yesterday when it was revealed that the entertainment powerhouse would be bringing its beloved comic book series Runaways to TV. Unsurprisingly, many are eager to see how the young adult heroes of the comics are adapted for the screen, but the most interesting aspect of the announcement came not from the show itself, but where it will reside. Runaways has found a home at Hulu, marking Marvel's first original series exclusive to the streaming platform.
The Hulu announcement may be new, but audiences are already familiar with finding Marvel shows on multiple platforms and networks. Marvel first branched into the TV game in 2013 with ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with its success leading to the 2015 premiere of Agent Carter on the same network as well as the launch of the Marvel/Netflix collaboration with Daredevil. The studio's clearly dedicated to its TV initiative, with a Netflix slate including a quartet of shows leading up to The Defenders, a Netflix solo series for the Punisher, the comedic Damage Control receiving a pilot order at ABC and teen drama Cloak and Dagger set at Freeform.
Marvel's strategy of placing different shows on different networks might seem strange, especially for diehard fans looking to keep up with every single series, but its actually a pretty smart play for the company — one that should help them reach the widest audience possible while remaining true to the creative visions of individual shows.
Building Brands On Different Networks
The future of Marvel TV may be branching off to new territory, but for now the landscape is dominated by two camps — the ABC shows and the Netflix shows. And there's a pretty distinct flavor between the two.
ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the now cancelled Agent Carter have shown pretty strong ties to the MCU, pulling in characters from the big screen with storylines directly influenced by the movies. S.H.I.E.L.D. has always had Agent Phil Coulson, who first appeared back in 2008's Iron Man, as a central character, and has used elements like Iron Man 3's Extremis project or Asgardian artifacts from the Thor films as jumping-off points for new stories. Similarly, Agent Carter was a direct spin-off of Captain America: The First Avenger that also served as a sort of origin story for S.H.I.E.L.D. The ABC shows have brought the same tone and style of Marvel's big screen efforts to the small screen, supplementing fans's desire for Marvel between movie releases.
Meanwhile, Netflix series like Daredevil and Jessica Jones represent a different take on the Marvel's characters. The shows still take place within the MCU, but so far have been largely unaffected by the films. Characters might mention how "everything's changed since New York," referring to the epic battle at the end of The Avengers, but that's about it. Moreover, the shows have a harder edge, dealing with more mature themes with their fair share of violence and sex. You'd never see a prison bloodbath in a Marvel movie, but we got one thanks to the Punisher in Daredevil Season 2. The Netflix shows represent a new adult brand for Marvel, and while Luke Cage, Iron Fist andThe Defenders will surely have their differences there's little doubt that the shows will be tonally similar to what's been established.
Why Diversification Is Smart
Marvel's diversification may seem pretty simple right now, with ABC shows representing an "MCU on TV" feel while the Netflix shows go for a mature flavor, but further diversification towards Freeform and Hulu indicates that Marvel's looking beyond just building distinct brands on different platforms.
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The TV landscape is pretty crowded, and it can be tough to keep up with every show you want to watch. But diversifying across platforms with distinct styles can make it a lot easier to keep track of what you actually want to watch. Interested in the MCU style? Go to ABC. Want an adult-oriented cable style? Head to Netflix. And the upcoming Cloak and Dagger and Runaways promise to fill a void in the studio's universe, finally embracing the younger audience that helped make Marvel Comics such a success.
Beyond just making it easier to find what you really want to see, spreading series across different networks and services ensures that shows with different styles don't undermine each other — a problem Marvel's movies have had trouble addressing. With each new movie the studio provides another chapter in a massive serialized story, and while they can have some distinct aspects the films can't diverge too radically from the status quo. As the story's continued audiences have come to expect certain elements from Marvel movies, from their conflicted protagonists to witty dialogue and universe-threatening climaxes.
But that isn't a problem on TV. Putting shows on different networks and services eliminates the expectation that they'll all have the same feel. Think of it this way — you wouldn't expect to find the same kind of show on ABC as you'd find on HBO. The shows might live under the Marvel banner, but having them live in different places allows each to explore brand new territory, diving into elements of the Marvel Universe that make it truly unique.
Marvel's making some major moves in the world of television, and it'll be interesting to see how the industry reacts to its dedication to different networks/platforms. Of course, it's worth remembering that Marvel is owned by Disney, which also owns Freeform and holds a major stake in Hulu. So, the plan is no doubt helped by a degree of corporate synergy. But Marvel's strategy could potentially signal a shift in how audiences enjoy and follow TV shows, highlighting the power of the studio and in turn building studio loyalty over that to a particular network or streaming service. People already expect quality when they see a Marvel movie, and now they'll expect the same when they see a Marvel TV show.
Which upcoming Marvel TV show are you most excited for? Let us know in the comments below.