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Marvel's 'WandaVision' looks to make Disney+ even mightier

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany take their Marvel characters to the suburbs in the Disney+ streaming series. Rick Damigella reports.

Posted: Jan 16, 2021 11:01 AM
Updated: Jan 16, 2021 11:01 AM

"WandaVision," Marvel Studios' first original series for Disney+, hits streaming this weekend. That's excellent news for Disney+, considering that Marvel is the company's mightiest brand. And it's bad news for Disney's rivals, since the new service has notched 86 million subscribers, even without an exclusive original series from Hollywood's biggest blockbuster franchise.

Sure, Disney+ has a treasure trove of beloved content from its brands, including Disney Animation and Pixar, as well as one of the biggest blockbuster series in streaming with "The Mandalorian" from Star Wars. Yet, Disney+ hasn't really had the deepest bench for new and exclusive content since it launched in 2019.

That changes this weekend with the arrival of "WandaVision" — a series that could make the mighty Disney+ mightier still.

"There are millions of Disney+ subscribers that spend $50 to $80 a year just for eight weeks of 'The Mandalorian.' If Disney can get its Marvel series slate right, those customers should be willing to pay a lot more for Disney+ in the coming years," Matthew Ball, a former Amazon Studios executive, told CNN Business.

"Marvel Studios is the most successful entertainment franchise in history," Ball said. "Even Cicero would need an hour to extoll the Marvel Cinematic Universe's achievements and popularity."

Case in point: Marvel has brought in more than $22.6 billion at the worldwide box office since 2008, according to Comscore. That includes the biggest blockbuster of all time, 2019's "Avengers: Endgame," which made more than $2.7 billion. In a rapidly-evolving Hollywood, one constant over the last decade is that viewers love Marvel.

"WandaVision" — which follows the exploits of superheroes Scarlet Witch and Vision as they seemingly enjoy suburban life — may also get more attention since it arrives as several Marvel movies have been shelved, along with most feature films, because of the pandemic. Disney is hoping that the fervent love for the brand translates from box office success to small screen subscriptions.

Ball is bullish that it will. "With more than 50 hours of connected stories, the MCU is already a series," he said. "Even if there were a reason to doubt the MCU's ability to work as a serialized subscription video-on-demand series, [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige has 13 years of proving skeptics wrong."

Marvel superheroes have already shown that they can find an audience on streaming. Characters such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage all had their own hit Netflix series before Marvel Television was shut down in 2019 and folded into Marvel Studios.

While "WandaVision" is Disney+'s first series from Marvel Studios, it won't be the last. Disney plans to release "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," "She-Hulk," and "Hawkeye," among a slew of others.

Zak Shaikh, vice president of entertainment at media firm Magid, believes that the arrival of "WandaVision" is ultimately "delivering on the promise of a Disney+ subscription."

"With feature films going through an especially tough time, it helps the overall Disney+ proposition to have Marvel generating content on their end of the platform," he told CNN Business. "A series also helps the world-building, because there is more time to explore different facets of the Marvel Universe than the two hours of a movie."

But now with more Marvel series heading to Disney+ and new films such as "Black Widow" and "Eternals" set to hit theaters this year, will the blockbuster brand become diluted?

Not likely, according to Ball.

"Saturation and overly complex storytelling is always a risk, but thus far, more content has helped the MCU become a better, more popular and more beloved franchise," he said. "In success, its TV series — especially those that allow it to further diversify its characters and narratives — should do the same."

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