In 2008, with the release of the first installment in the Iron Man franchise, Marvel took a step in a new direction. The company had previously licensed movie rights to third party production companies, as in the case of the Spider-Man and X-Men trilogies. While those movies were huge hits (Spider-Man movies grossed over $1BN worldwide  and the X-Men trilogy grossed over $500MM), Marvel's royalties from those releases were only in six figures as most of the windfall went to the studios producing those movies, Sony Pictures and Fox Studios. In order to capture a bigger piece of the profit from its hit movies, Marvel will make its own films through its new movie production segment - which hit the ground running when its first release Iron Man grossed nearly $100MM its opening weekend.
Moving film production in-house is part of a larger strategy shift at Marvel, as the company is looking to combat poor creative management of its characters by third parties, such as the movie Elektra which grossed only $24MM domestically despite a $43MM budget. However, in some businesses - toys, for instance - Marvel will continue to outsource production. Despite its recent successes in movies and video games, Marvel continues to face challenges in industries that require creative talent. These industries are risky not only because of the difficulty of producing quality content, but because of the fickle nature of consumers - what's considered brilliant one month is a bust in the next. A movie has significant production costs, and there is no guarantee that these costs will be recouped if the product is unpopular.
MVL's primary assets are rights and properties associated with its various comic book characters. The company sells those rights to a variety of media and entertainment outlets and uses these characters in products of its own.
The company reports in 4 different segments:
According to Marvel, its most popular characters are:
The company has hero "teams" such as the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Brotherhood of Mutants.
For a complete listing, please see Wikipedia, "List of Marvel Comics Characters"
Given that MVL's only character base is in its super-heroes (and associated villains), there is a concern over the number of movies in this genre that have been released or are in production from 2005-2010. The DC Comics Batman and Superman mega-franchises have recently had successful movie releases, and will likely continue to receive sequel treatment. Audiences can be fickle to their super-heroes, but more importantly these movies have captured the casual viewer who may not be a comic-book reader but is attracted to the films. Saturation of the market risks losing this mainstream audience's interest. Comic Book to Movie adaptations have benefited from a few box office blockbusters, but there have been flops as well, including Elektra (Budget: $43MM, Domestic Gross: $24M), and Catwoman (Budget: $100MM, Domestic Gross: $40MM). Movie production has more associated risk than the licensing "third-party" businesses, but the upside is significant as a successful movie can gross in the hundreds of millions.
Due to Marvel's licensing business model based on its characters, it does not have very many comparable companies or direct competitors. The closest comparison could be made with rival DC Comics owned by Time Warner (TWX), which also has licensed its comic book characters, most notably, Superman and Batman.
Marvel has nearly 70 years of character history and awareness built up around it's properties. This is an extremely valuable intangible asset that can be levered in almost limitless ways to provide revenues, and costs practically nothing to maintain. Everyone from 5 year old boys to 70 year old women know of Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Captain America, etc. This is a big competitive advantage that cannot be easily reproduced by a competitor.
In the licensing space, Marvel characters are sold on various products generating overall revenue on the same scale with other large licensors. The largest licensor in the world is Disney, now Marvel's parent company, with over $20BN in licensed sales relating to its many children-entertainment properties.. Competitors with similar scale to Marvel are:
The publication business was the underlying business for character creation that Marvel is capitalizing on today, and continues to compete against rival DC Comics, each with their own respective character portfolios. More minor publishers include Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics.
Marvel no longer directly competes in the Toy business, as it has licensed the right to manufacture to Hasbro. Previously, it did not directly compete in the Movie business, but has since moved to directly compete the space. Its primary super-hero genre competitor DC Comics is continuing to license the right to make movies however.