October 31, 2019

Streaming the big three (a little background)

That's Crunchyroll, Funimation, and HIDIVE. The biggest streaming services—Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, to name three—all have substantial anime libraries, demonstrating the mainstream acceptability anime has garnered in the last decade or so. But at my "big three," Japanese content (mostly anime) makes up 99 percent of their offerings (the remainder going to a handful of Chinese and Korean productions).

Crunchyroll was acquired by WarnerMedia in 2018. It has exclusive access to Kadokawa titles and is a majority owner of distributor Viz Media Europe (along with the Hitotsubashi Group).

Funimation has been in the anime localization and distribution business since 1994 and is now owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment. It has a content sharing arrangement with Hulu.

HIDIVE was independently incorporated from the assets of Anime Network Online, and remains the exclusive streaming distributor of select titles from Sentai Filmworks and Section23.

How the big three compete in what nevertheless remains a niche market shines a spotlight on the evolution of the streaming business. Netflix in particular made its mark as a one-stop shop, a repository of what Chris Anderson christened a "long tail" library of everything for everybody. But especially in streaming, both upstarts and veteran Hollywood movers and shakers are challenging the one-stop shop model.

Netflix again becomes the case in point, with WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal taking back the rights to Friends and The Office. Half of Netflix's most-viewed content is owned by Disney, which is launching its own streaming service. Hence all the billions going to in-house productions. As Justin Fox observed back in 2015, everybody wants to be HBO these days, including former long tail poster child Netflix.

On the other hand, former Amazon Studios strategist Matthew Ball argues that the market can only fragment so far before that fragmentation becomes self-destructive to the aims of the content providers.

There's an ongoing balancing act going between content providers, who want to drive the most viewers to their branded sites, and production companies, who want the most eyes watching their shows. That tension doesn't go away even when the site and the production company are the same entity. As Netflix illustrates, we've entered a shaking out period.

Each of the big three has exclusives with distributors and content developers, so the only way to (legally) access most anime in the North America market is to subscribe to all three. But they also have to maintain deep enough catalogs to make a subscription worth the bother. That means shared content on top of content sharing deals. Though the deal making can have curious consequences.

If you end up on a title page at Crunchyroll with no videos attached, well, that's what happens when media businesses get divorced (though I appreciate that Crunchyroll preserves the stubs).

And just to make things that much more interesting, Crunchyroll is joining the lineup of HBO Max, the new streaming service from AT&T (which owns HBO and WarnerMedia). All well and good, but this raises questions about the future of VRV (which is anchored by Crunchyroll) and its content sharing deal with HIDIVE. Oh, if you're curious about what happened to Friends—it ended up on HBO Max.

As has the Ghibli Studios catalog. If nothing else, AT&T has deep pockets.

Netflix and Amazon (annoyingly) continue to acquire anime exclusives to entice subscribers to buy into the rest of their offerings. Hulu has a "first look" content-sharing deal with Funimation. But with Amazon divesting itself of Anime Strike (some of whose assets were acquired by HIDIVE), at least in North American, the anime streaming universe seems to have comfortably divided itself among the big three.

I have no idea where this business is going in the long term, especially with AT&T (which owns DirecTV) publicly proclaiming its preference for streaming over satellite distribution. We're in the middle of a sea change and the channel is crowded with many tiny schooners and fleets of huge tankers all trying to grab the least-obstructed course to an open sea of media consumers.

Related posts

Streaming the big three (comparing content)
Streaming the big three (the user experience)
The streaming chronicles

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# posted by Anonymous Lehst
11/07/2019 11:08 AM   
interesting. thanks for the summary.