Anime Versus is a blog series where I talk about anime and its many elements like the usual tropes, industry, genres and many more. We try to give you the pros and cons of the topic being discussed and what our standpoint on it looks like.
This time, we have asked for the opinion of readers on our next topic for this series. Among all the other choices, the topic of streaming services came out to be the most favorable. So, with that result, let’s talk about where the concept of streaming services for anime started and how it looks like now.
Slapping down a little bit of history
Streaming media has always been a thing even before it became a form of service. Ever since the 1990s, to “stream” media has always referred to those being shared on the radio, television and others. Now, when we say “stream,” we talk about digital means of viewing media such as using YouTube and other video-streaming sites.
Now that we’ve delved on what streaming is, in a general sense, it’s time to talk about it from the perspective of anime and how our means of consuming it gradually changed.
Back in the olden times, watching foreign films was especially hard since there were lack of subtitles and those that did needed proper licensing rights from the original creators. This was the same in the case of anime where there was little to no interest on the media format and thus, it wasn’t usually given official English translations.
That problem subsided when the community took it upon themselves and started to band together in order to create “Fansubs” or subtitles which were added in by the fans fluent with Japanese.
The distribution of these “fansubbed” anime was usually through selling VHS tapes. The process usually involved acquiring a raw video file of the original material by recording it on a laserdisc or VHS tape. A script would be prepared and was used to time with the dialogue and given proper typesetting to look presentable. After that, there would be mastering of the sounds, subtitle timing and other elements.
Methods of distribution gradually shifted to the Internet which allowed collaborative fansubbing thus more people could join and finish the work of subtitling. Using the same process, these fansubbers would release their fansubbed version of an anime episode on a self-hosted or distributor’s site.
Somewhere along that line, anime companies who had branches based in the US pulled out of the country due to the lack of enough support to bring their work to the region. As a result, there was lesser moral obligation for fansubbers to worry about copyright and other legal issues of their work.
However, there was also the question of continuing fansubbing or anime fandom as a whole since material was getting more harder to acquire for subbing and a bunch of other small problems that made the fandom almost non-existent.
Any attempt of US companies to license Japanese animated shows were completely failures and even if they did manage to acquire licenses, they would put them under the guise of “kiddy shows” which targeted younger audiences. This showed that US companies have ever since operated under the notion that cartoon-ish animation style mean’t actual cartoon.
Little did they know about the deep and mature undertones which anime had to offer which was entirely not suitable for children.
A little bit of history and nudges from key people within the fandom ultimately rekindled interest for anime and formerly fansub groups became legitimate streaming avenues for seasonal anime just like Crunchyroll.
Enough of the history lesson. What’s the huge deal with streaming services for anime?
The importance of streaming services for anime
Over the course of a past few years, the fandom surrounding anime has grown exponential and we are at that time period where companies are now considering us as potential market from which they can earn from.
Now that we live in a digital age where the preferred medium for media consumption is from the internet, streaming services are getting in demand more than before. Because of that opportunity to gain from the anime fandom, major streaming services are now pushing to acquire licenses from Japan.
These services are Netflix, Hulu, VIZ Media, Crunchyroll and many others.
But for being deemed as potential market, the majority of these streaming sites don’t really understand what makes us latch on to anime shows.
Issue: Anime A can’t be found in Site A, but in Site B. Anime B (…)
Companies fail to understand that the fandom or market in which they are trying to appeal to actually has a certain air of “traditions” or “culture,” if you will, that they always try to fulfill.
One of those is following seasonal anime.
The internet is where the anime fandom comes together and discuss about the stuff that came out during that specific season. That means that there is a need of streaming services that give watching opportunities to newly released shows fresh from Japan.
However, the issue here is that a streaming site doesn’t have all of the anime a fan might be looking for.
Even if they might have some shows that we, as viewers, really like, the bottom-line is that no streaming service has everything.
According to an article from the Los Angeles Times, the streaming revolution is not necessarily good for everyone since there is no variety of choice in each streaming service platform. The issues is much more serious especially now big players like Netflix and Amazon Prime are forcing their way into the market.
Recently, we have seen Amazon attempted to showcase anime through their now-defunct Anime Strike brand and Netflix is trying to create original content for anime with Violet Evergarden as one of those examples.
The immense influence of these two huge streaming giants may actually allow them to get more licenses to more shows in a much more easier way compared to what previous streaming sites were capable of doing.
With the entry of these two giants, the future is slowly becoming dark for the small distributors who have long dominated the anime streaming market. Acquiring licenses for shows has always been harder to do but now that these two major companies are doing deals directly from Japan, it’s gotten more harder for these smaller sites to compete with them.
But there is one thing that big streaming companies like Amazon and Netflix don’t have in comparison to the smaller and older players within the market – an intimate knowledge of the fandom.
A battle of swaying and appealing more audience
An intimate knowledge and bond with the fandom is what bigger companies lack. In comparison to smaller companies, Amazon and Netflix cannot provide better merchandising and promotion of the shows they get licenses for.
Older streaming sites like Hulu, VRLive, Crunchyroll, and others create their own merchandising in behalf of the shows they get licenses for in order to promote them. What’s better is that people who are working for these companies are usually part of the fandom itself. This means that people from these streaming sites understand the behavior and culture of their market far more better than bigger players which are just looking to gain more subscribers.
But as the streaming companies get more competitive, who benefits? Obviously not us.
Consumers get the short end of the stick
Normally, competition usually means well for the consumers since these companies will be forced to make their service much more better compared to the ones on top. In this case, it’s not exactly the case.
We have to understand that the age demographics of people who watch anime, according to this recent survey, range from 22 and below. These consumers are people who are still studying and do not have a stable source of income. In this trend of competitiveness and streaming services not having everything, the major consumers are forced to sacrifice money in subscribing to multiple sites that show their favorite anime.
This leads viewers to opt for more questionable or harder means of watching material like piracy, viewing with ads (which Netflix and Amazon don’t provide since they aren’t free) and many other actions.
Varying prices to watch anime from streaming sites are actually a huge pain and contribute to this problem too. For example, Crunchyroll subscription costs five dollars, Funimation costs six and others.
Of course, no one would want to spend that much money per month just to watch anime when there’s actually a more better yet questionable means of acquiring material like piracy, torrenting and all other bad stuff.
Honestly, I don’t know what players within the industry can do in terms of actually lessening the problem. Maybe they could band together as Crunchyroll had in their partnership with Funimation or another alternative might be considered.
It needs to be a solution wherein all companies can still profit but at the same time, cater to the convenience of their customers by making sure that every anime per season is available in the majority of streaming sites currently operating.
I’m led to believe that the problem is Japanese animation companies and their hard, lengthy process in order for Western streaming sites to acquire licenses. Maybe it’s because Japan doesn’t really see that much profit in bringing their products to the international stage or some other reason in which I do not understand.
In any case, this problem needs to be fixed and must be given a well-studied solution to ensure a positive effect for all parties involved.
What do you think about streaming services? Share your thoughts in the comments below!