The DC Universe streaming service and app is less than a year old and already there are questions about its viability going forward. While there have been successes for the streaming service — notably, the positive reception of the original series Doom Patrol — there have been enough disappointments during the platform's short life thus far that has left the public (and particularly, DC fans) wondering if there is still a place for it in Warner Bros.' future.
First announced in June 2018, the DC Universe was meant to unite the movies, television, and comics created from DC Comics properties, housing them all in one easily-accessible location. It was envisioned to be a hub for all things DC-related and competitive with other streaming platforms, offering original TV shows adapted from newer or second-tier DC Comics properties — including Swamp Thing, Stargirl, Doom Patrol, a new animated Harley Quinn series — which would help expand the world of DC onscreen. The platform was launched in September 2018 and has, so far, not seemed to impress.
Nine months into DC Universe's life, it looks like this new venture from DC is threatened with extinction. How did the once-promising platform so rapidly devolve into an albatross around DC's neck?
DC Universe (Still) Lacks Good Content
Perhaps the most short-sighted thing DC could have done was launch DC Universe with no original programming in the can and ready to go for the September 2018 launch. The DC Universe Original TV show schedule was released at Comic-Con during the summer of 2018, revealing the first of DC Universe's upcoming original slate would be Titans and — here's the kicker — it wouldn't premiere until one month after the platform had launched. After Titans would come (in quick succession): Young Justice, which premiered in January; Doom Patrol, which premiered in February; and finally, Swamp Thing, which arrived in early June. Stargirl and Harley Quinn are slated to arrive later in 2019, with Stargirl landing in September and Harley Quinn coming in mid-October.
This, to put it mildly, is a big problem. In the era of peak TV, where Netflix rolls out multiple original series on any given Friday and there are plenty of channels competing for viewers on a daily basis, DC Universe asked for fans to wait months for a new show to hit the platform and required them to invest in one new show at a time, letting the first seasons play out week by week. In this way, DC Universe has also eschewed the binge-mode model, dropping entire seasons in one go and allowing fans to indulge immediately, react on social media, and organically build hype for a show to sustain it.
This drip release model risks alienating subscribers who don't like whichever new show is airing at the time and unsubscribing from the service because of it, a problem by the fact that none of DC's most popular new content is available since neither the CW's Arrowverse or the DCEU have not made their way to the DC Universe platform. The reason for this is neither of these profitable, popular corners of the DC world have been absorbed into DC Universe is because of rights and IP ownership. The CW and DCEU are subject to licensing agreements put in place long before DC Universe was launched, and Warner Bros. has to respect those deals. Even if the deals were to expire, it's highly possible licensing them to the likes of Netflix and HBO would still be more lucrative, and squirreling them away on DC Universe could be a net loss.
Swamp Thing Was Cut Short And Canceled
Meanwhile, the originals DC Universe has already premiered on its platform have presented a murky, unclear focus. Unlike the Marvel Netflix series (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, etc.) which had a mostly unified tone and aesthetic quality while still bringing in jolts of individuality into each respective world, the DC Universe originals have varied wildly. Add to this a half-hearted attempt to create a shared universe among the original shows that have premiered thus far and it's tough to truly pin down what DC Universe's vision is with their slate.
Titans, which is currently preparing second seasons, presented dark and gritty vision of the comics and previous adaptations, while Doom Patrol offered a much more humorous tone, ranging from bizarre slapstick to intentional cringe to some very dark humor. Meanwhile, Swamp Thing was set to take an extremely dark, horror movie-like approach to its source material courtesy of Saw director James Wan's involvement. However, the show was unexpectedly cut from 13 to 10 episodes, then canceled almost immediately after the first episode aired and the exact reason has yet to be stated — which can't be good no matter what angle the situation is viewed from.
Warner Bros. Is Getting Their Own Streaming Service Ready
In October 2018, just one month after the launch of DC Universe, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey announced a new streaming service would launch in late 2019 which would draw from various Warner-owned brands including HBO and Warner Bros. Entertainment. The proposed WarnerMedia streaming service was framed as a competitor to platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and the upcoming Disney+ (a similarly structured streaming behemoth drawing from its own family brands like Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios), and so forth.
WarnerMedia's service is expected to cost $16-17 and include HBO, Cinemax, and Warner's vast library of content (including New Line, The CW, Adult Swim, DC, Cartoon Network, The Criterion Collection, DC, and more). When such a robust service is already available for Warner Bros. properties, it's evident is that this poses a threat to the DC Universe's future. WarnerMedia has the opportunity to bring in DCEU films, a big plus for scrupulous potential customers, and it has the opportunity to just fold in DC Universe as well as other streaming platforms from companies owned by WarnerMedia. Considering DC Universe is struggling as is, it's easy to envision a scenario where WarnerMedia absorbs the young platform, retools its offerings, and includes it in its own streaming service launch.