NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Marvel characters such as the Black Panther, Mockingbird and 3-D Man can do a lot more than use super-stealth, great fighting abilities and heightened strength. If the giant Walt Disney Co. is lucky, these are the types of heroes that will help the home of Goofy and Donald Duck generate even more content across a broad range of traditional and new-media venues -- and thus boost ad dollars, subscriptions and licensing revenue in the process.
Figuring out how much any one Marvel character is worth to Disney is tricky. Much depends on how the characters are used and on fans embracing or rejecting the new ventures. The nature of the various agreements means some revenue could be shared with other companies too. But as Marvel's current use-of-character agreements with Disney rivals expire, licensing experts firmly believe the Mouse House will enjoy an increased stream of revenue built off the Marvel characters' backs.
Besides the myriad content plays, the fans are rabid. Comic-book aficionados are "the people who are at the movie on the first Friday night when they open. They're the first ones on line at the DVD store when DVDs come out," said Michael Uslan, the comic-book writer who produced "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight." "They keep buying the same products over and over again in many different formats."
Can any of these characters generate enough to justify $4 billion -- the price Disney paid for Marvel? Below we try to sketch as much as possible what money's at stake when a Marvel character hits the big screen. Thor and Captain America are already slated to appear in films produced by companies other than Disney, but at present Spider-Woman would seem to be ripe for development.
LICENSINGPopular characters can appear on anything from statuettes to bedding, and retail sales of products featuring entertainment characters came to about $9.88 billion in 2008, according to Ira Mayer, president and publisher of The Licensing Letter. He estimates Disney controls 35% to 40% of the market and believes any one character can generate up to $1 billion in a given year. Marvel's net sales from licensing came to about $292.8 million in 2008, according to the company's annual report.
PUBLISHINGDon't forget, the Marvel characters are first and foremost comic-book creations. Captain America, for instance, appears not only in his own comic as well as Marvel's "New Avengers," but in various limited series and compendiums of archived material and graphic novels.
TVCharacters can spawn any number of projects, from live-action dramas (Think "Smallville" ) to cartoons (an old Spider-Man cartoon is running on Disney's XD cable network). According to TNS Media Intelligence, "Smallville" earned $65 million in ad revenue in 2008, while Cartoon Network's animated "Batman: The Brave and The Bold" generated $361,000.