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Marvel Moves Beyond Motion Comics With More Web Video

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Look out, true believers, Marvel Entertainment (s MVL) is making a big push into the world of online video with more original programming, licensed content and even some gems from the wayback machine. With more than 5,000 characters, including established brands like Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk, the push into web video is helping position it for life beyond comic books.

Much has been made about Marvel’s foray into motion comics, with both Astonishing X-Men and Spider-Woman launching in the second quarter of this year. But almost under the radar, Marvel has been churning out other video, like its podcast-y Weekly Watcher and One on One series for awhile, and last month it launched Marvel Super Heroes What the –?!, a Robot Chicken-esque spoof show. “What The–?! is something for our hardcore fans,” said Rubenstein, “We have the ability to create a lot of short, fun content at an economical price.”

In addition to in-house productions, Marvel is also hosting full-length episodes of some of its cartoons like X-Men: Evolution, and even bringing back some classic gems. Last week it started running subtitled versions of Japanese Spider-Man, a decades-old show from Japan that features a very different wall crawler than the one Americans are used to. The company will also be going further back in time to show episodes of the classic 1967 Spider-Man cartoon (the one with the “does whatever a spider can” theme song).

According to Rubenstein, starting April 1, will have a new piece of content every day of the week, and down the road there may be enough programming to have something akin to a Marvel IPTV type channel.

Rubenstein won’t talk budgets, and the company is still working out its distribution and monetization plans. Marvel has sold content on iTunes and has its own YouTube channel, which has “met with expectations” though a quick look at the playcounts show Marvel videos only plateauing in five figure range and rarely breaking 100,000 plays. Rubenstein isn’t sure about distribution going forward, though from our discussion it seems it will most likely be a combination of for-pay and ad-supported.

Marvel’s main rival, DC Comics, has its own intellectual property library that it’s leveraged with projects like the high-profile Watchmen and Batman: Mad Love motion comics, and it is owned by a major media company in Time Warner, which could provide other synergistic, cross-promotional muscle (hello, The Dark Knight).

Marvel’s approach to web video seems like a sensible one: leverage your brands, know your audience, create content on the cheap and most of all, have fun with it.