I’m a strong believer in recent Anime shows and movies being released on Blu-ray. Hell, I’m actually a believer in any recent material created in HD to get a decent Blu-ray release. I suspect that the PR people in the UK Anime distribution companies probably see my avatar in a thread and go, “Oh Gods, another one of those!” Those of us who are really interested in more UK Blu-ray releases can be a little bit… persistent about the matter.
Especially in my case as, after a period of not watching a great deal of Anime, it wasn’t the DVD backlog on my shelves that brought me back into the fandom. It was renting some shows on Blu-ray, and seeing the extra quality, that truly hooked me back in.
The problem regarding Blu-rays for Anime in the UK is the customer base being a niche within a niche within a niche. Or, more accurately, a niche (Blu-ray owners) within a niche (Anime fandom) within a relatively tiny market.
Compared to the US or even Australia, we are a much smaller customer base simply down to being a much smaller population. So when you then factor in Anime fandom and Blu-ray preference, it is a ridiculously tiny share. The problem, however, comes in when you realise that we probably make up about the same proportion of home entertainment customers. So, understandably, we get annoyed when we see how we are treated in comparison to the overseas customers. The problem, though, is business realities.
There are still the Blu-ray licensing fees, the authoring fees, the initial production run, the packaging costs, any required marketing, etc. These minimum costs exist regardless of location. Added to this, in the UK we have our own particular burden to bear. It is illegal to sell home video material that has not been passed by the BBFC. They charge per-minute to check the video content and the rating label has to not only be present in the packaging but on the disc itself. (No buying pre-pressed discs from Australia, America or even Japan, then.)
For a large population like America or (to a lesser extent) Australia, this isn’t too much of an issue. Population size means that the niche audience is still large enough to take the risk, as they can recoup the costs. Here, not so much. Apparently they need to sell at least 1000 copies on Blu-ray to make it worthwhile. It used to be closer to 3000.
In a recent podcast, Manga Entertainment stated that production costs are falling and it can be cheaper to produce the BDs than the DVDs. This requires an overseas partner to share in the production, though. Which requires an overseas partner to be willing to work around any potential delays and even changes that the BBFC rating process imposes. And, as noted above, they can’t necessarily share in the actual production run unless the BBFC rating process is complete. So the best they can do is to share in creation of the master and then do their own run.
Current State of Play
As things stand, even when an English-language Blu-ray exists (even a Region B one, courtesy of Australia), a Blu-ray release is far from certain. Mainly down to the reasons stated above. Add to this the fact that even of the people who aren’t opposed to Blu-ray, many are still fine with picking up a DVD if that’s the only option. Or, in some cases, will pick the DVD as it saves a few quid over the Blu-ray. The drawback to this is that it means that some BD-capable customers are helping the DVD format flourish to the detriment of the Blu-ray sales figures. There are other reasons, too, that are a lot harder to argue against. Like people with only one Blu-ray player. Or people whose friends or family only have DVD players. Meaning that if they need a copy that can “play anywhere”, they are limited to the DVD release – unless there’s a double-play release.
One of the problems with this, though, is that the segment of the audience that prefers Blu-rays can be… quite vocal. And I can only see it getting more so, even if it doesn’t grow in size that fast.
Simply put, I can’t see a huge uptake in Blu-ray owners in the near future. There will be slow uptake as people replace older gear or buy the latest games consoles, but it’s not going to be a sudden explosion by any means. Also, as noted above, some people will still buy DVDs for various reasons. Again, these reasons will slowly shift, but it is not going to be an overnight process.
People will have multiple players. Their friends/family will have BD players. They’ll get more to the HD quality and more and more find themselves preferring that over DVD quality.
There are two different tipping-points, though. The first is the sheer number of people buying Blu-rays. The second is the section of the UK Anime Fandom who go exclusively Blu-ray only. And this is where things potentially get… interesting. As there’s no guarantee that the first one will happen before the second.
In future posts, I hope to comment a bit on what the current UK distributors are doing and also to speculate on how some some of crowd funding ideas may or may not help in regards to Blu-ray releases.