The newest MCU Disney+ show debuted on June 8, 2022. It was definitely not the debut that Disney was hoping to see. Combined with Lightyear flopping at the box office, Disney has had a tough week. As a Disney stockholder, none of this makes me happy as it looks like Disney’s stock price is going to continue to plummet. Currently, Disney’s stock is trading at its second-lowest number in five years. Yay.
Anyway, nobody came here for stock talk! You came here for fun rating talk and geek talk! Let’s get to it. Disney has been SambaTV’s client for streaming numbers for a while. In fact, on March 4, 2022, SambaTV and Disney expanded their multi-year relationship to bring Samba’s True Reach and Frequency measurement to agencies and holding companies accessing Disney inventory.
Therefore, SambaTV has been the outlet to release streaming numbers for their client, Disney. SambaTV has regularly released the streaming numbers for the first episodes of every MCU Disney+ series. The streaming numbers for the first episodes cover the number of households that watch the debut episodes in the first five days following their release.
When SambaTV released the streaming numbers for the first episode of Ms. Marvel the number was awful. However, I was not surprised at all. I never thought there was any chance that a Ms. Marvel TV show was going to get good numbers. I just did not see any evidence why it would. Still, many people who operate in a constant state of denial were stunned that Ms. Marvel did not even come close to the other MCU Disney+ streaming show. Here is the list of all the streaming numbers for the first episodes of the various MCU Disney+ shows.
- Loki: 2.5 million households
- Moon Knight: 1.8 million households
- The Falcon and The Winter Soldier: 1.8 million households
- WandaVision: 1.6 million households
- Hawkeye: 1.5 million households
- Ms. Marvel: 775,000 households
Loki is in first place by a massive margin. There is no doubt that Loki has been the biggest hit with consumers. However, what is interesting is that Moon Knight, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, WandaVision, and Hawkeye are all bunched up together. There is only a 300,000 household difference between second and fifth place.
Again, I did expect Ms. Marvel to come in last place on this list. Now, I had no idea what kind of number Ms. Marvel was going to post with its first episode. I thought it was possible that Ms. Marvel could hit the 1 million number given the strong numbers of the other MCU shows. Instead, Ms. Marvel only got half of the viewership of Hawkeye. That is a massive difference and even larger than I was expecting.
SambaTV then said, “Viewers age 20-24 watched at the highest rate of any MCU show, and it drew a more diverse audience with Black, Hispanic, and Asian households watching at a higher rate.” I have no idea what this means. Without being given the actual numbers for the breakdowns of the audiences for each MCU show this statement means absolutely nothing.
For example, is SambaTV saying the percentages of younger, black, Hispanic, and Asian audiences were higher for Ms. Marvel? That is an empty statement. Let’s take Hawkeye. If 10% of the audience was Asian then that means 150,000 Asian households watched Hawkeye. Let’s say Asians watched Ms. Marvel at a higher rate of 15%. That translates to 116,250 Asian households watching Ms. Marvel. This would present an actual reduction in the number of Asian households that watched Ms. Marvel. Yet, SambaTV could still say a larger percentage of Asians watched Ms. Marvel and would not by lying.
As a general rule, I do not trust American corporations. Nobody should. When have corporations given us a reason to trust them? Disney is a client of SambaTV. There is no financial reason for SambaTV to ever make their client look bad. SambaTV’s statement is obvious spin in order to gloss over a stunningly awful number for Ms. Marvel. Disney’s stock is falling like a rock. Disney is already battling the bad news of Lightyear flopping in theaters. The last thing Disney executives want is more bad news online about one of their properties failing. That will only further hamper Disney’s efforts to resuscitate its flailing stock values.
Without SambaTV giving us the actual numbers of minority households who watched Ms. Marvel versus the other MCU shows we really cannot take away anything of value or substance from their statement. I think what SambaTV did is what I just outlined above. The percentages for minority viewers were higher for Ms. Marvel even though the overall number of minority viewers was lower for Ms. Marvel compared to the other MCU shows. It is brilliant corporate talk by SambaTV. They are not lying. They are just submitting statistics that best represent their client. I respect the game.
At this point, I want to quickly touch on my review for the first episode of Ms. Marvel. Then I want to go through the various possible reasons why Ms. Marvel’s first episode flopped. I will give my opinion on which of these reasons are more likely the culprit for Ms. Marvel’s low viewership number.
I will admit up front that I am not a big MCU fan. I have not really been impressed with any MCU movie since the Avengers Infinity War back in 2018. And even by Avengers Infinity War, I was beginning to tire of the formulaic approach of the MCU movies. I also have not been that impressed with any of the MCU Disney+ shows. They are certainly not bad, but they are not great, either. They are just decidedly average.
Having said that, I found Ms. Marvel to certainly be no worse than any of the other MCU Disney+ shows that we have gotten to date. In fact, there were many things that I liked about Ms. Marvel. And keep in mind, this is coming from a person who thinks the comic book version of Ms. Marvel is completely unreadable.
I loved Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel. Vellani was fantastic! Vellani brought such heart and soul to a character that I have always found dull and one-dimensional in the comic books. Vellani is able to make Kamala a character that is easy to like and easy to root for in a quick fashion. I was shocked at how quickly Villani made me like a character that I have never liked before. Seriously, Vellani deserves plenty of praise for her work on Ms. Marvel. There is no doubt that Vellani is the star of this show.
I also found the first episode of Ms. Marvel to be far better written and constructed than the first episode of Moon Knight. Yeah, I went there. I know this will firmly place me in the minority. Don’t care. While the first episode of Moon Knight was slow and boring and failed to accomplish various basic tasks of a debut episode, Ms. Marvel was the exact opposite.
The first episode clearly establishes Kamala’s character and her core personality traits. The episode also quickly and effectively introduces the entire supporting cast and what roles they play in Kamala’s life. We also get introduced to Kamala’s high school nemesis and the hint that this female version of Flash Thompson may end up being a friend at some point. The viewer is also quickly introduced to all of the various conflicts that Kamala must deal with both at home and at school.
The first episode also seamlessly establishes the mission objective for Kamala. The viewer also gets an excellent sense of the tone and mood of this show. The first episode effectively communicates to the viewer what type of show the viewer can expect to get on this show if they come back for more.
All in all, the writers did everything that you should do with a debut episode of a new TV show. The first episode of Ms. Marvel was well done from a structural and technical standpoint. Again, I found Ms. Marvel’s debut episode to be far superior to the first episode of Moon Knight from a structural and technical standpoint.
Also, the first episode of Ms. Marvel was not dreadfully slow and boring like the first episode of Moon Knight. This episode moved at a quick pace and was well-plotted. This episode constantly had some good conflict between the characters, comedy, or action to always keep the viewer entertained. I love that the writers did not stretch out Kamala gaining her powers. Thank the comic book gods. Kamala gets her powers by the end of the first episode and this story is off and running at a good pace.
Now, is Ms. Marvel all that original? No. It takes from the common tropes of every teen TV show that you have ever seen on the Disney Channel or Disney XD. I assure you that you have already seen this story before. And is Ms. Marvel that deep or intelligent? No. It’s the MCU. C’mon. That is not the point of the MCU. Ms. Marvel is pure fluff. Popcorn for the brain. Again, much like the MCU in general. So, no need to hold that against Ms. Marvel and not the other MCU shows.
Now, Ms. Marvel is a juvenile show. You definitely get the feeling that you are watching a Disney Channel or Disney XD TV show rather than an MCU show. Having said that, this is not necessarily a bad thing! I love the fact that Ms. Marvel does not look like every single other MCU show. And there is nothing wrong with being a juvenile show if your target audience is the under-18 crowd. But, make no mistake. This show definitely feels like you are watching a pre-teen or teen Disney Channel TV show.
In the end, Ms. Marvel is perfectly fine for what it is. I would classify Ms. Marvel as a combination of a typical CW show starring a DCU property and a Disney Channel teen show. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that approach. It is just that CW-style shows and Disney Channel-style shows are just not going to offer me enough quality content to warrant me watching them when I have so many better options available to me.
I only had one real complaint with Ms. Marvel. That would be the casting of Bruno Carelli. This show takes place in Jersey City in northern New Jersey. New Jersey has a deep and rich Italian culture. Why Disney thought it would be okay to cast a white boy from Georgia to play the role of a northern New Jersey Italian-American is beyond me. Matt Lintz as an Italian-American from northern New Jersey is just silly.
Disney has made a huge deal that representation matters in casting. Well, if that is true then it matters for all ethnicities. It is this type of progressive view that seems to prioritize the handling of certain ethnicities in a manner contrary to other ethnicities. It reminds me of the Seven Commandments in Animal Farm where the pigs amend them to say that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. And that “Four legs good, two legs bad” is similarly changed to “Four legs good, two legs better”.
Disney needs to treat all ethnicities with respect when it comes to representation. After all, this is a huge priority for Disney that they lead with whenever they get the chance. C’mon, Disney. Do better.
All right, that is it for my take on the first episode of Ms. Marvel. Let’s take a look at the various reasons why Ms. Marvel flopped in its debut and which reasons are more likely to be the real culprits.
At one point, many people thought the Western would last forever. It did not. It is currently the superhero genre’s time to reign supreme. However, it will not last forever. Nothing does. The question is when does over-saturation of superhero content kick in and cause burnout among the consumer?
Well, we are definitely not at this point, yet. Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is about to cross the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office (without China, by the way). Moon Knight just concluded on Disney+ and posted great numbers. So, I think what we are dealing with is not an MCU problem, but a Ms. Marvel problem.
Another reason that has been floated around has been that Ms. Marvel debuted on Disney+ when Obi-Wan was still dropping new episodes on Disney+. This seems like a weak sauce argument. There will always be competition for eyeballs in this day and age of theatrical releases and streaming shows. The competition will come from other products from the same studio and from a myriad of content from the various competing studios. This is a loser’s argument. If you are scared of competition then either your content sucks or you lack the skills necessary to make it in Hollywood.
Do people expect Disney to only ever release one single piece of content at a time? That is impossible to expect given the amount of content and the number of different studios that operate under the massive Disney umbrella. What Disney can try to do is to avoid oversaturating the market and targeting the same demographic with multiple shows at the same time.
There are 137 million Disney+ subscribers. Obi-Wan was pulling in around 2 million households. That leaves a potential 135 million Disney+ subscribers just sitting around waiting for something to watch. Further, the target audience for Obi-Wan was most definitely not the same target audience for Ms. Marvel.
The target audience for Obi-Wan is definitely males aged 30-60 first. Then males aged 18-29 second. Every other demographic was a distant third. Ms. Marvel was obviously targeting a female audience under 18. It was as plain as the nose on your face. Disney should absolutely release shows that overlap for a few weeks when they are targeting completely different audiences.
This excuse for Ms. Marvel’s flopping holds no water. People advancing this reason come across as apologists with an agenda rather than people engaging in an honest and critical examination of the situation.
MarvelNow was massively unpopular with comic book readers and led to awful sales numbers. MarvelNOW even managed to do the impossible and allow DC Comics to actually beat Marvel Comics in the sales charts for a couple of months. So, the question is that now that Kevin Feige seems intent on bringing MarvelNOW to the MCU will we start to see diminishing returns. Or will the MarvelNOW approach be more popular with the general public than it was with comic book readers? After all, we know that these are two largely different audiences.
The Eternals was the first MCU movie that felt like a MarvelNOW story. It bombed in the theaters. Disney pocketed 50% of the domestic box office which came to about $82.5M. Disney pocketed roughly 40% of the foreign box office outside of China (Studios only get 25% of the box office money in China). That would have given Disney $94.8M from the foreign box office. According to The Numbers, Disney then pocketed another $5.3M from blu-ray and DVD sales. That comes to a total of $182.6M. Given that the budget for Eternals was $200M and the marketing and ad budget was around $100M means that Disney took a $117.4M loss on the Eternals.
On the other hand, The Falcon and The Winter Solider was definitely a MarvelNOW story and it tied Moon Knight with 1.8 million households for its debut episode. Sure, that number got destroyed by Loki, but it is definitely right there in step with all of the other MCU shows.
Hawkeye was another MarvelNOW show and it brought in 1.5 million households for its debut episode. Sure, that is the lowest number prior to Ms. Marvel. But, it is not that far off from WandaVision, Moon Knight, and The Flacon and The Winter Soldier.
At this point, I think it is way too early to draw any type of conclusion concerning MarvelNOW being implemented in the MCU. At this point, I do not see any correlation and do not think the MarvelNOW effect had a real impact on Ms. Marvel’s flopping. Now, my opinion certainly could change as we get a larger sample size. But, at this point, it is way too early to tell.
I have seen it reported that Kevin Feige wanted Ms. Marvel to have a PG rating. Instead, Ms. Marvel ended up with a TV-14 rating. That is unfortunate. Now, I do not know what content is going to be in the remainder of the episodes, but there was nothing in episode 1 that I thought warranted a TV-14 rating.
There are two reasons why Ms. Marvel would have been better served to try to get a PG rating. First, the show is more of a Disney Channel-style TV show than it is a traditional MCU show. Second, the target audience is pre-teens and teens. We all know parents use Disney+ as a babysitting service to occupy their kids while the parents are freed up to do other things around the house. Or even just take a nap! Anyway, if Ms. Marvel was PG then parents may have added Ms. Marvel to the list of shows that they let their pre-teen kids watch. However, a TV-14 rating is going to make some parents of children under 12 hesitant to just turn on the show and let their kids watch it without parental supervision.
While a PG rating may have helped, I just do not see this being a big factor in Ms. Marvel’s low debut number. I think that the vast majority of the target audience is girls aged 12-17. Most parents of kids 12-14 are not going to care about a TV-14 rating. Also, it is worth noting that Common Sense Media has Ms. Marvel rated as an age 10+ show. Many parents rely on this website for guidance on new shows. So, again, I just do not see the TV-14 rating as really being much of a factor in Ms. Marvel’s performance on Disney+.
Changes to Ms. Marvel’s Character
In the comics, Ms. Marvel is an Inhuman. She is a polymorph and has the powers of Ant-Man and Mr. Fantastic combined. Ms. Marvel also has a healing factor, because of course. Who does not get a healing factor of some sort or another these days?
In the MCU TV show, Marvel Studios removed the Inhuman origin from Ms. Marvel’s character. Instead, Ms. Marvel is a member of ClanDestines who are essentially the Djinn. The Djinn from ClanDestine are from the Noor dimension. The Djinn derive from Islamic mythology. This change to Ms. Marvel’s origin is an attempt to anchor Ms. Marvel’s character more firmly into her ethnicity.
Ms. Marvel’s powers are also changed. Instead of being an Inhuman who receives her polymorph powers via the Terrine Mists, Ms. Marvel now gets her powers from a magical bangle from her grandmother. Ms. Marvel’s powers are the ability to create and manipulate a purple “hard-light.” Think Green Lantern.
It is clear that Kevin Feige wanted to more clearly tie Ms. Marvel to her ethnicity by making it not only a core aspect of her civilian personality but also the core aspect of her powers and her superhero origin. This approach does not surprise me given the general view of storytelling and politics of Disney executives.
Personally, I slightly prefer Ms. Marvel’s Inhuman origin. It makes her character something larger than just her ethnicity and makes her more of a cosmic character with a possible broader appeal. However, there will be plenty of consumers who have a similar ideology as the decision-makers at Disney and they will much prefer this new origin that more firmly roots Ms. Marvel’s origin and powers in her ethnicity.
At any rate, I do not think the changes to Ms. Marvel’s origin or her powers made any difference at all. Sure, hardcore Ms. Marvel fans may have been upset. But, you are talking about just a handful of people. Ms. Marvel’s comic book has never had good sales numbers. In fact, they have been historically bad. Ms. Marvel’s most recent title ended up at the number 161 spot in the comic book sales rankings. That historically translates to a title that is selling less than 20,000 units. So, If 20,000 fans might be upset that is statistically irrelevant and unimportant given that there are 137 million Disney+ subscribers that Disney is targeting with their MCU shows.
Now, if Ms. Marvel had a massive fanbase then I would agree that changing her origin and powers could adversely impact her TV show ratings. However, given that Ms. Marvel’s existing comic book fanbase is minuscule, I do not think Marvel Studios needed to concern themselves with what the comic book fanbase wanted or not.
The fact remains that Ms. Marvel is a completely unknown character to 99.99% of the 137 million Disney+ subscribers. Therefore, I completely understand why Kevin Feige and Disney executives would decide that changes to Ms. Marvel’s origin and powers would not adversely impact the show’s success.
Also, Ms. Marvel’s polymorph powers would be incredibly difficult and expensive to pull off on the TV show. Especially since Ms. Marvel already looked like it had low production values. The Green Lantern powers are far cheaper and easier to pull off on a TV show. So, I completely understand why Disney made these changes and have no real objections to them. Nor do I think that these changes made any material impact on the ratings for the TV show.
Unknown Niche Character
We finally arrive at a reason that resonated with me. Ms. Marvel is a completely unknown character to the general public and she is a niche character to comic book readers. It makes perfect sense that an unknown niche character would flop in their first episode. Absolutely nobody has any clue about her character. And what we did get in promotions and advertising about this show leading up to the debut was that it was a show that looked like it was targeting a kid audience. This would certainly explain why so many viewers passed on watching the first episode of Ms. Marvel.
It is tough to sell an unknown character to the general public. Now, obviously, it can be done. Look no further than Moon Knight. To be sure, Moon Knight was another completely unknown character to the general public. Yet, Moon Knight posted an impressive 1.8 million households for the first episode.
Of course, there are two big reasons for this. First, Moon Knight had an A-list actor in Oscar Isaac. Ms. Marvel had a bunch of unknown actors.
Second, Moon Knight looked like a traditional MCU show that was action-heavy, dark, and squarely targeted the 18-50 adult males of all ethnicities demographic. As a result, more of the MCU’s core fanbase was excited to learn more about this unknown character in Moon Knight. This cannot be said for Ms. Marvel.
Ms. Marvel took a gamble by rolling out an unknown character in a rather niche fashion that targeted a smaller audience. The result was a far smaller streaming number.
This is the perfect segue into the next reason why Ms. Marvel flopped. Ms. Marvel targeted a small audience compared to other MCU shows. It is obvious that Ms. Marvel’s primary target audience was the 10-17 age minority female demographic. The secondary target audience was the 10-17 females of all ethnicities demographic. A possible tertiary target audience would be the age 18-50 minority females demographic who may get nostalgic feelings of their own childhoods when watching the show. I only say this because my wife is in that over 35 age group and is a woman of color and she completely enjoyed Ms. Marvel.
However, the core demographic that powers the MCU to its customary success is without a doubt the age 18-50 males of all ethnicities demographic. Ms. Marvel definitely does not target this demographic at all. Now, that is not to say that some people within that demographic may not enjoy the show. Again, I did not think the show was bad. But, I am not going to go out of my way to watch Ms. Marvel when I have so much other content aimed at my demographic that offers far more quality entertainment like Severance, Stranger Things, Squid Game, The Umbrella Academy, Succession, etc.
There are only so many hours in the day and the age 18-50 males of all ethnicities demographic are going to naturally gravitate to the shows that appear to target them. At any rate, this is a huge demographic to miss out on and one that is vitally important to the general success of any MCU show.
Disney Channel Vibe
Another reason that may have played a role in Ms. Marvel’s flopping in its debut is the low production value and that the show lacked the trademark MCU look. Again, personally, I loved that Ms. Marvel did not have that generic MCU look. I am getting so tired of all the MCU shows and movies having the same aesthetic in how they are framed and shot, how the sets are designed, how the costumes are designed, and the way action scenes are filmed.
So, I liked that Ms. Marvel broke the mold and tried having a more unique look to the show. I also enjoyed the Scott Pilgrim use of graphics and text throughout the show. Having the characters’ texts appear as graphics on the screen or in set pieces like in neon signs of a store was fun. I thought this approach fit the youthful and cute vibe of this show.
Having said that, I could completely understand how many viewers might find this approach annoying and possibly too cutesy. This unique style for an MCU could have certainly turned off a large portion of the MCU’s reliable audience.
In general, Ms. Marvel looked far more like a typical Disney Channel TV show than it did an MCU show. Again, this approach may be a hit with some younger teen viewers. On the other hand, Ms. Marvel’s Disney Channel esthetic might have immediately turned off many of the MCU viewers over 18.
Another issue with the look of Ms. Marvel is that the production values look cheap. I mean very cheap. There are numerous shots of scenes on a city street that clearly look like they were shot in a studio with a canvas backdrop of a city behind the set. It was obvious and not good. There were other scenes that simply looked ordinary.
The special effects were generally the quality of what you might get on a CW show. It was obvious that Marvel Studios was not breaking the big bucks to give Ms. Marvel incredible-looking powers. The scene in the convention with the runaway Ant-Man helmet looks particularly low-budget like a Disney Channel show.
MCU fans are spoiled and are used to Marvel Studios dropping big stacks of cash to make sure the MCU movies and shows look as good as possible. While there have been plenty of instances of bad special effects in MCU shows in the past, Ms. Marvel certainly stood out as some of the worst that we have gotten to date.
It was a combination of various factors including the fact that Ms. Marvel was a sales failure in every comic book that she received from Marvel, that Ms. Marvel was a niche unknown character, and that the TV show appeared to be more like a Disney Channel show targeting a small audience that made me believe that Ms. Marvel was not going to get great streaming numbers. And that proved to be true.
However, what is concerning is how did Disney not also expect this outcome? Again, I remain mystified by the instincts of Disney executives as to what they think are good ideas that will yield big audiences and big profits. Disney and Marvel Studios had to know that Ms. Marvel was a show that was going to get bad numbers compared to the rest of the MCU shows. To think otherwise is to be willfully obtuse, disingenuous, or just legitimately clueless.
The big problem is that we are talking about the MCU. Disney certainly has no problem cranking out niche TV shows for Disney XD and the Disney Channel. However, Marvel Studios does not. Marvel Studios is all about one thing: Huge numbers. MCU movies get huge numbers. MCU shows get big numbers. If Marvel Studios has something that does not get big numbers then it is a failure. Marvel Studios does not do small. Marvel Studios does not do niche. We are not talking Searchlight Studios here.
Marvel Studios is at a crossroads at this point. Do they evolve into a studio that is okay with no longer being synonymous with blockbuster hits that cater to as wide an audience as possible? Is Marvel Studios okay with putting out more and more niche content that does not appeal to a wide audience and, therefore, does not post eye-popping numbers? That is for Marvel Studios to decide.
The problem remains that superhero shows are expensive. There is no way to get around that. This is why comic books remain the superior medium for superhero stories. There is no budget to wrangle with when dealing with exotic looks of characters, fantastical powers, and otherworldly settings. It is going to be hard to do niche MCU shows with a smaller budget that don’t come across as cheap and cheesy.
At any rate, it will be interesting to see where Disney goes from here with their MCU shows.