After exploding onto the scene in 2012 with The CW's Arrow, television shows based on comic book superheroes have never been more popular. The Flash and Arrow continue to be tent poles for The CW as the network prepares to launch a second spin-off with 2016's Legends of Tomorrow, and CBS' first foray into the vigilante world Supergirl has proven to be a hit with critics and in the ratings. With more comic book adaptations like TNT’s Titans, AMC’s Preacher, SyFy’s Krypton in development at different networks this trend shows no sign of subsiding.
After establishing themselves as a force for traditional TV to reckon with, a steady rhythm has emerged with streaming services. Episodes air live on cable every week, and are then added to streaming sites like Hulu a few hours later. For those waiting to binge watch, the previous season of a show is typically added to Netflix right as the series debuts a new season. It's a distribution model that favors the newer streaming style of TV access, and it might soon be changed completely for DC shows.
Time Warner, the company that owns DC Entertainment and is a partial owner of The CW, is considering changing its current streaming distribution strategy. According to the New York Times, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes told analysts the company is considering extending the time period between when new seasons of DC shows air and when they are available for streaming, potentially not making them available until "several years after they first air" instead of the usual 12 month delay.
This move would potentially help cable providers retain customers as more viewers become "cord cutters," cancelling cable subscriptions and watching TV solely through streaming services. They would continue to encourage cable and satellite packages to DC fans by making full seasons available through on-demand video options, as opposed to just the five most recent episodes.
There is still no information about how this move would impact the 'season pass' streaming options that sites like Amazon, Vudu and iTunes offer. This change could affect the existing DC shows currently airing: Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Gotham and, iZombie as well as the numerous other properties in development including 2016's highly anticipated shows Legends of Tomorrow, Lucifer and Preacher. This decision will have a larger impact on the DC shows still in development, since the shows currently airing have existing streaming deals. It's possible those terms will be renegotiated, or they may simply leave the existing shows on Netflix as is and decline to add any subsequent seasons.
The streaming rights to these series are a smaller battle in the greater war between media models, and a clear attempt to curb the growing power of Netflix. It is interesting to compare Time Warner and Marvel, with the latter fully embracing the streaming service, creating exclusive content and consistently adding new seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Netflix almost immediately after the season's end.
The cable provider industry is often viewed as both outdated, and holding these ultra-popular shows hostage will not endear the cable companies to viewers. However for many DC fans eager to watch their favorite shows, this may be enough motivation to continue their subscriptions.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7pm central; Season 4 of Arrow airs on Wednesdays at 8/7pm central; Legends of Tomorrow begins in 2016.