Can Marvel’s Daredevil help Netflix battle new rivals?

A scene from "Daredevil" on Netflix.
Source: Marvel
A scene from "Daredevil" on Netflix.

Daredevil may be a lesser-known Marvel superhero, but he could be a key player in Netflix's battle to add subscribers as it faces a growing host of rivals investing in original content. "Daredevil's" 13-episode season—which has drawn rave reviews, and was described by the company's content chief, Ted Sarandos, as "dark and brooding"—hit Netflix at 12 a.m. Pacific time Friday.

Sarandos said he expects the show to appeal to Marvel's broad audience.

"We have over 57 million subscribers, so our demographic is pretty broad, and we're not feeding the fanboys at the expense of the broad audience, and we're not feeding the broad audience at the expense of the fanboy." said Sarandos. "The Marvel universe has translated into other media really successfully," so he says he's optimistic.

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This is the first of a five-series partnership between Netflix and Marvel, which is owned by Disney. The first four shows are based on lesser-known Marvel characters, while the fifth—"The Defenders"— features all four. If the shows are successful—which Netflix says it will measure based on critical and subscriber response—it'll be a win-win for the two companies.

Netflix has the deals in place to produce additional seasons, and Marvel is building up new characters, to potentially turn into movies, or exploit in other ways across Disney's various divisions.

But will this kind of high-profile show draw new subscribers to Netflix? Sarandos said new shows don't tend to be subscriber drivers, and the company doesn't look to any one show to add subscribers. But rather, the company is looking to build a portfolio of shows that are so appealing people will want to subscribe—and never drop the service.

This comes the very week that Netflix faces its first direct competition from HBO's stand-alone app HBO Now. Time Warner's premium channel is looking to draw subscribers with the new season of "Game of Thrones," which debuts Sunday. And it's looking to appeal to millennials who are less likely to pay for cable: HBO is giving away an episode of "Silicon Valley" on Twitch, Amazon's live streaming video game platform, ahead of its season two premiere Sunday.

The question is whether huge hits like "Game of Thrones," the sampling of younger shows like "Silicon Valley," plus a free first month will draw subscribers for HBO's new $15-a-month service. Netflix, in contrast, costs $9 a month. "HBO Now's strategy is different than Netflix," said Nomura analyst Anthony DiClemente. "They're still tethered to the ecosystem in there. They want to ensure they're not cannibalizing those subscribers. Netflix's strategy has been stand-alone," he said.

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Netflix's Sarandos calls HBO Now a "validation of the Internet TV model." And he said its launch isn't competition—pointing out that there's no overlap in the content on that service and Netflix. He says it's "not a winner-take-all situation," predicting that consumers will subscribe to multiple services, as they currently watch multiple channels.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name of one of Netflix's new shows.