We’ve been focusing on discs all the time, how about streaming?
Streaming parties such as Hulu and Netflix are gaining more and more traction within the mainstream, but are also claiming niche licenses to reach viewers that still have to resort to genre specific, when related to anime, alternatives such as Crunchyroll or Funimation. Netflix is buying up anime licenses to tempt the anime viewer to subscribe.
Crunchyroll remains one of the most noticeable when compared to Funimation. The marketing of Crunchyroll is more in your face than Funimation and the partnerships Crunchyroll is establishing are very valuable. Just look at the possibility to download Crunchyroll to the PS4 with a push of a button. This is a very strategic move when you consider that gamers and anime watchers often times tend to overlap. Crunchyroll is right in the target market when engaging in comparable partnerships.
With the rise of parties such as Netflix, rules for distribution have changed. Viz Media and parties alike don’t stronghold the content creators with their monopolistic psychical distribution model. With Netflix’s expanding reach, selling a license becomes a very tempting and lucrative business. Distributing physical copies is a time consuming and costly hobby, with Netflix you are in the home of your target audience through a few easy steps. This is convenient for the distributor, since leaving the house to buy a copy within in an on-demand based consumer market can work out negatively for sales. Of course there are regional discrepancies where internet infrastructure is not as developed and the psychical copy remains the better alternative. Yet, when solely focusing on areas with an advanced online payment network and internet infrastructure, streaming is the way to go and may guarantee a greater success for the future.
An interesting development occurred during 2013, stated by an article in the Japan Times, when the studio behind Knights of Sidonia, Polygon Pictures, partnered with Netflix for its distribution. Apparently this event shook the anime industry and proved that streaming anime wasn’t that strange of an idea. The timing is quite disturbing. It was the year 2013 when the anime industry caught on with streaming. As I’ve stated in previous articles, the Japanese anime industry is a conservative one and implementation of new technology is sluggish not only in the anime industry. The fax machine is still a thing in the professional lives of many Japanese.
Interestingly enough Polygon’s President Shuzo Shiota said in the article that working with North American companies such as Disney, gave them the opportunity to witness the rapid changing media landscape and be on top of the game otherwise not possible in the slow adapting Japanese business landscape. Netflix has said in 2015 that it has aspirations to produce anime as well. Reed Hastings wants to invest 6 billion Dollars in 2016 to produce more content. Recent anime Ajin – Demi-Human is also airing on the Netflix network. Netflix has added more series to its line-up such as Detective Conan as well.
Nonetheless do I feel that this does not counter the fragmentation of the media landscape. When many parties compete for licenses to distribute certain IP’s, this results in a paradox of choice for the consumer. There will be so many parties that distribute media, that choosing will become too complicated and leave potential buyers frustrated. Consumers are looking for a unified platform to satisfy all needs. That’s why multi brand online stores can exist, but single brand shops struggle to stay afloat. Consumers want an all in one option.
A possible scenario to unify the whole streaming industry would be for market leader Netflix to win the battle for best licenses, making other alternatives such as Hulu obsolete. When their licenses become available due to bankruptcy and when forced to selling of their assets, Netflix can horde many licenses to its platform.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Anime producers seem to have caught on with streaming and now that the first steps are made, many more will undoubtedly follow. Polygon Pictures has witnessed firsthand what a powerful partnership can do. It’s quick, has great, yet highly targeted when needed. As other parties follow, anime will find a new distribution platform and reform to meet new consumer needs reaching far beyond their domestic audiences.