Snap Election: Vote Wisely

The UK’s current Prime Minister, Theresa May, has just announced plans to call a General Election on June 8th. Primarily claiming Brexit as the reason, this puts a bit of a slant on how to consider one’s voting.

I know there are people who will say “Don’t Vote Tory” and leave it at that. Personally, I think that’s how we got saddled with a Conservative Government in 2015, even though there was a strong anti-Tory sentiment. The Conservative Party got just over a third of the votes, at 36.9%. The remaining two thirds, though, was incredibly fragmented. And this is what I think a lot of the media speculators and unsure voters forgot to take into account. It wasn’t enough for “Not Tory” to be the majority, not if they still got the lion’s share of the votes. And people holding off on voting before they weren’t sure if their vote really mattered… well it could have.

Ono top of that, I think there are those who were put off from voting Labour because Ed Milliband seemed to lack charisma. Or who were out off voting Liberal Democrat because they got sort of scapegoated for decisions they made as the minority group of a Coalition Government when doing otherwise may have risked making things fall apart.

I think this time around, there are a few important things that people have to keep in mind when casting their vote.
The stakes are higher than in a usual General Election so the usual criteria have a few extras added into the mix.

Does Your Party Share Your Brexit Viewpoint?

Whoever is in charge is likely to be the main steering force during the next couple of years. It doesn’t matter when you want Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit, No Brexit or Liquid Brexit, you probably want to vote for a party that shares your viewpoint. The next couple of years are what’s going to shape the UK’s longer term future. Whether or not “your team wins” for the next four years is secondary to how your country fares for the next several decades.

What About Your Local Candidates?

I’ve maintained for a long time that what causes your local candidates stand for should be taken into account as much, if not more, that Party Loyalty. This is true now more than ever. If anything Brexit-related is put to Parliamentary vote, your MP is going to be voting on your behalf.
So like choosing a party above, choosing a candidate should at least have some thought put towards which local option is closest to your viewpoint on Brexit. Otherwise you really are just voting against you own best interests.

If You Can, Vote!

Make your voice heard. Even if you think the best option is merely “lesser of the evils”, do you really want to sit by and risk the greater evil winning?

Remember, a vote that isn’t cast for anybody also isn’t cast against anybody.

And if you’re young and a first-time voter (and reading the online wittering of a middle-aged bloke for some reason), don’t be put off voting. Your generation may well be much more affected by things done by the next Government than my generation or that of my parents. 

Forget Personality Politics

So, the candidate your considering voting for has either the party or personal alignment that most interests you but you really don’t like the current leader. Do you vote for someone else or choose to abstain?
This time, I’d caution against it. Again, this is bigger than just who’s the Government or Prime Minister for the next few years. This is down to whether you trust your MP or the Government to handle Brexit the way you want. If you vote against your preference just because you don’t like a certain politician, this will be counter-productive.

TL;DR

We’re on the Good Ship Brexit and we’re about to vote in our Captain and Crew. Regardless of where else they take us, you probably want to make sure that this particular trip is to your taste.

Vote wisely!

UK Labour Party: Crisis or Identity Crisis

There is a lot of talk at the moment about whether or not the Labour Party is in crisis.
and, if so, whether it is being caused by their current leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

I think that the (Parliamentary) Labour Party is looking at it the wrong way. There is a crisis or, at least, and identity crisis. I don’t think that Mr Corbyn is the trigger for it, though. If anything, his rise to leadership and the tensions it has brought are just symptoms of an issue that was already there.

The PLP appears to worry about being seen as too “left wing” and have concerns about being electable. As I mentioned in a previous blog, this isn’t all there is to being the major non-government party. They are the official Opposition Party. This has responsibilities that cover the current period following the previous election. Looking solely towards what kind of a government they would be in an election that isn’t even scheduled until 2020 is very little use in 2016.
If another General Election was called then this would be a different matter. But until such a time, they have to at least put some priority into being the Current Opposition rather than a Future Potential Government.

This is where, I think, the focus on being seen as moderate as opposed to left-wing starts to go a little off target.

Basically, it’s a lot harder to balance from the middle. And if you’re trying to seek a compromise, giving ground from the start isn’t useful. It feels too much like what Labour wants to be is the party that stands from the compromise position. But when you give ground form that position, you don’t get compromise. You become compromised.

Where the New/Blairite/Moderate Labour wants to be isn’t necessarily a bad place. It’s just that it’s more like the end position after a reasonable discussion and compromise. It’s not a good position to counter from.

The term “Red Tories” gets thrown about towards the main Labour Party. Although I think that’s going a bit far, I see where it comes from. The current political parties feel like “Variations on a Theme”.
Take McDonalds and Burger King. Both have their own style but both are fast-food burger joints. Then you get higher-end places like the Gourmet Burger Kitchen. Even then, though, it’s still just three different takes on “Burger, Fries and a Milkshake”. When sometimes, as a customer, what you really want is pizza and a coke. Or roast dinner and a beer.

Jeremy Corbyn’s take on Labour leadership is something different. It’s not the same old same old. He appeals to people otherwise disenfranchised with Politics. This is a problem with politics/politicians in general, not with Mr Corbyn. If a split is occurring, it started ahead of this. Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to power, despite the direction of the PLP, is a symptom of the cracks, not their cause. I don’t even believe in everything he stands for but I find him a very refreshing change to politics. And where I disagree with him, I still think he helps give a more rounded overall view to a discussion.

Parliamentary Labour want to chase people already catered for by politicians. Jeremy Corbyn represent a segment of the public who are used to (and sick of) being overlooked by Big Politics.

And this is where I think the PLP is risking a misstep. There’s a large section of their newer membership who, otherwise, probably wouldn’t give a damn about politics. Because, all too often, they feel like politics doesn’t give a damn about them. Finally it seems like someone actually wants to stand for them… and the Party just wants to ignore them as if their voice and opinions don’t matter.
And this is a Party that, still, claims to be “For the People”.

The “right kind of people” only, it seems.

Samurai Flamenco: UK Release and Related Issues

The Story So Far

So, about a month ago, Anime Limited’s CEO Andrew Partridge mentioned on an anime forum that the second part of Samurai Flamenco was slightly delayed owing to poor sales of part one. They still intend to complete the series but, to date, it still hadn’t recouped all of the costs of part one and they’d have the same costs for part two.

A major problem, as usual in the UK, is the BBFC certification fees. Home video must be rated to be legally released. This is mandatory and, unfortunately, this is done at a per-minute rate payable by the publisher or distributor. Apparently fees for part two would be around £2,100 and part one still hasn’t fully recouped its BBFC costs.

Unfortunately, I think the title has a few things going against it. Some of which are out of Anime Limited’s hands.

The BBFC charges being one of them.

Not on Crunchyroll in the UK

I think this got things off to a bad start. When Anime limited first started picking up brand new shows, they worked through partnership with Wakanim. A service which has since left the UK, although is still going strong in its home country of France. Although the show was available on Crunchyroll in America and elsewhere, it (along with Kill la Kill) were Wakanim exclusives here in the UK.

Both shows have since ended up on UK Netflix but not getting onto the most well-known legal anime streaming service can’t have helped.

Subtitle-only Release

Where Kill la Kill became pretty massive, Samurai Flamenco didn’t fare quite as well. Kill la kill got an English language dub. Samurai Flamenco did not. I think this worked against the latter’s interests. Unfortunately, the existence of a dub pretty much always relies on one being produced by an American company.

Personally, find most dubs unenjoyable. But that’s my personal preference. In wider sales figures, the lack of a dub will attract less general interest in the product. It’s as simple as that. But the difference in sales probably wouldn’t be enough for a UK-based company to fund a show’s dub themselves.

No Standard Edition (Yet?)

Anime Limited’s usual method of release is to have some sort of collector-oriented release first with a standard release to follow. As a general rule, especially if mandated by the Japanese license holder, the standard edition won’t be released until the collector version’s print run has been sold.

Granted, this means that the initial release always has a somewhat high price tag. The SRP is £49 with many retailers currently selling it for around £35. This is just for the first 11 episodes, though, a bit of a hard sell for some. Especially when, by this point, there’s only part One with no Part Two in sight. This is a bit of a high barrier to entry for anyone who doesn’t already have it, with no guarantee of being able to complete the series any time soon. And no use to anyone who liked to marathon a series and would ideally wait until both parts are out to buy it.

Put it all Together

As of now, Samurai Flamenco is a sub-only, collector-only release that you’d be expecting a lot of people to buy into Sight Unseen. That’s asking a lot. Future purchases will be slow. And even if part one does recoup its costs, will enough people still care about part 2 if and when it eventually comes out?

That’s a tricky one.

What to do

Crunchyroll

Anime Limited are beginning to work a bit closer with Crunchyroll at the moment. Some of their current and recent simulcasts have been on the service. Also, they did announce in May that more of their shows will be turning up on the service. Many of us are hoping tat this will include things from their back catalogue that Crunchyroll didn’t get UK licenses for the first time around.

Getting Samurai Flamenco to UK Crunchyroll viewers will help, at least a little. It will lower the barrier of entry quite a bit and I can only assume it would bring in at least some amount of additional revenue.

Plus, Crunchyroll already streams the show and with English subtitles in other regions, so they already have the assets. It ought to just be a case of authorising them to enable UK access.

Standard Edition

Bringing out a standard edition of part one would have the advantage of lowering the initial buy-in price. People just won’t bite otherwise. There would still be a level of financial risk involved in this method but some of the heavy costs are already covered by the initial run. BBFC costs, authoring costs, these are already paid. A second print run would be somewhat cheaper than the initial one. Plus the packaging would be bog-standard.

I do get the feeling that anyone seriously interested in the collector edition will have already bought it. Any potential future sales are likely to be to people waiting for a standard edition release. Those of us who don’t need artbox or additional packaging but who do like a lower pricetag for 11 episodes.

Part Two

Eventually they will need to take a chance on it oner rather than alter. Even if part 1 recoups, leaving it too long risks leaving the show unfinished as there just won’t be enough momentum left for many people to want to finish the series even if it does get completed.

Complete Series Set

This one could be a tough sell to the Japanese licensor, I know, but an all-in-one-go buy-in will work better for some people. One option would possibly be having this as the standard edition release. Release the part two collector edition but follow it up before too long with a standard edition complete series.

At the very least, this would have a slight advantage of only needing one set of packaging for the standard edition. And with the authoring and BBFC certification already being done, it should help keep the set’s overall production costs down.

The other thing is that I very much suspect that if and when any standard edition comes out, people will be wanting to just buy and watch the whole lot in a short a period as possible. Riding on the PR from a part two release should also help keep it in the fandom’s eye for a while, too.

Why I Voted to #REMAIN

So, I’ve just cast my vote in the EU Referendum. I’ve voted to Remain. In some ways, to me, it’s an obvious choice. Some of my reasons are political, some personal. They’re all long-term, though.

In or Out, the UK has problems. In or Out, the EU has problems. Remain or Leave, those problems won’t vanish overnight.

In my mind, a vote to Remain isn’t automatically agreeing with everything the EU stands for right now. It’s also not assuming that the EU can or will always act in the UK’s best interests.

Similarly, I don’t buy that a vote to Leave is a racist or jingoistic response.

There are short-sighted, short-term and selfish reasons to vote in either direction. There are plenty of spokespeople on each side of the debate whose arguments are based on those very reasons. Yes, it’s easy to point out pro-Leave supporters who have one or more or those traits but there are too many pro-Remain supporters with them as well.

I’m 39 years old. Not that old, not that young. I’ve seen quite a lot of change in my lifetime. This is not the world of my childhood. The fact that I’m writing something that could easily be read by someone almost anywhere in the world within minutes of me posting it and agreeing/disagreeing/arguing with me almost immediately it proof of that.

In some ways, the world has shrunk and borders have become less relevant. They still matter, but in a different way than they once did. I see them more like the lines in artwork. They don’t have to keep regions totally separate. You can draw something and colour totally within the lines and it work to enhance the big picture.
They can give shape, not separation.

Instead, too many people see borders as push-up bras. Lift into view and separate out. “We’re better than you!”

I know there are some who are voting Leave because they think the UK is better off fending for itself. There are some who are voting Remain mainly because of what the UK can get out of the EU, as opposed to what we can help put into it.

To me, though, the EU is about being a part of something bigger. Having our own identity yet feeding into and feeding from a greater overall entity. Working together with other countries and cultures. Learning how we can be better. Helping those who need it. And everyone banding together when it all goes pear-shaped.

Since I first really heard about the EU as a kid in the late 1980s, it always seemed so full of potential to me. I don’t think it has currently reached anywhere near its potential but that potential is still there. And it’s a potential the whole world needs. Cooperation instead of Conflict.

And that’s why I voted Remain.

I believe in working towards a world where maybe we can work through our differences. Remaining in the EU might help achieve that. Leaving the EU would be a step away from that dream. To be fair, I don’t think it would be a permanent one. But it would be more of a significant step during my lifetime. And if people are going to vote in either direction for selfish reasons, my Selfish Reason is that I want to see the world become slightly less crappy before I die. I want to see it in my lifetime, dammit!

The EU’s like a family. Families don’t always get along well. And even the ones that do, some achieve that with distance. I don’t have any family members “just down the road”. Even my immediate family, my parents and my brother’s family, are an hour’s drive away each. I’ve not live with my parents for a decade, and not lived with my brother for two.
I couldn’t live with them again easily. But they’re still my family. They’ve been there for me when i needed it. i try to be there for them when they need it. It’s what family do.

Family also squabble. The stereotypical Family Christmas is everyone getting a bit tipsy and having an argument over the dinner table. Well, that’s what the EU is for. It’s the dinner table we all argue around.

And those arguments are why we’ve not had a major punchup in the metaphorical pub car park since World War II.

The EU is far from perfect. But thats no reason to leave. All we’d be doing would be putting up higher walls and sending a signal out to the rest of the world that looking after your own interests first-and-foremore is all that matters.

The dinner table would break up. Arguments would escalate. And the next punchup would be waiting in the car park.

And that isn’t something I want to see in my lifetime. (Or anyone else’s to be fair.)

I Have a Mental Health Condition

The last week has been a pretty crappy one, with regards to violence and the news. Amongst other things, we’ve had the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida, USA, and the killing of MP Jo Cox in West Yorkshire, England.

In the former case, the shooter was a Muslim and, as usual, the term “Islamic Terrorist” have been thrown around. In the latter case, it was a white guy with far-right sympathies and the media seems torn as to whether to call him a terrorist or not.

There are some that say that if he were dark skinned and had uttered something along the lines of religious rather than nationalistic rhetoric then he’d also have been called a terrorist.

Personally, I think this argument misses the real point.

In both cases, the suspect’s mental health issues are one of the first things that get revealed in the media. As if this explains it all. As if mental illness makes someone a killer.

That’s about as likely as someone’s religious beliefs making them a killer. Or their political beliefs. Or what sports team they support.

Sure, sometimes these can be a contributing factor but I don’t think they’re ever The Main/Only Reason.

But the media loves a scapegoat. The Muslims. The Immigrants. The Mentally Ill. Basically, it’s always blamed on The Other. And all this really does is inspire hatred and fear of The Other. Which is often what will cause the next tragedy.

I can at least say one thing as someone with mental health issues, though. Which brings me to the title of this post. I have a mental health condition.

Having a mental health condition does not automatically make someone a danger to others. Hell, I’d say that my depression and anxiety means that I’m more likely to kill or harm myself than anyone else. And even that isn’t very likely.

And if this is true for one type of “Other”, it can be true of other “Others”, too.

Try to understand those who are different from yourself. It’s not always easy and I know I don’t always get it right. But don’t succumb to hate. Because all that ever does is extend the cycle of tragedy,

Thinking out Loud: A UK Anime Streaming Solution

Let me get this out of the way first, I’m not any sort of Business Mind. This is just something I want to explore “out loud”.

Having said that, there’s been a lot of talk around the UK anime fandom over the past few months with regards to streaming services. We don’t really have a UK-based streaming solution for anime simulcasts over here. Over the recent years, we’ve had:

  • Crunchyroll: Probably the strongest option available so far but they’re an American company and are not always able to acquire English-speaking rights for areas outside of the US and Canada. Plus, as we’re not their primary audience, trying to get the UK rights isn’t exactly a priority for them.
  • Animax UK: A UK-focused arm and Sony-backed, theoretically Animax should be able to do well over here. So far, they’ve not quite seemed to grab the fandom the way that Crunchyroll has. And, despite being a UK arm, they’re still part of a multinational brand.
  • Viewster: A European-based streaming video platform that branched out to really embrace Anime. However, after a really strong start at treating the UK market better than it’s been treated in a while, they also branched out to really embrace the American market. Or, to be fair, a more global market from a US subsidiary. Then when the OMAKASE experiment failed, the American arm closed and it was back to only having an ad-supported SD-only offering.
  • Wakanim UK: Short-lived venture from a French VOD platform. Website and social media presences now defunct.
  • Daisuki: Japanese operation streaming anime globally. Obviously, not a strong contender to full a UK-focused niche but having a Japanese company trying to provide a worldwide legal method of online distribution is not bad thing.
  • Funimation: A formerly American-only streaming service, and home video distributor, who brought their newly-revamped “Funimation Now” to the UK earlier this year.

So, long story short, we do seem to have a fair few alternatives that either offer a really strong service or who at least have the unrealised potential to do so. None of them have a real UK focus, though.

UK-based

What we don’t have is a streaming solution with a strong UK focus and a desire to really provide a service that is comparable to that provided by Crunchyroll. So, I’ve found myself wondering what would be needed to put one together.

There are several factors that would have to be considered. The impact of these, and the solutions to them, would vary depending on whether it was a brand new venture or, otherwise, what kind of company it originated from. As a whole, however, these are the things that (as a viewer) I suspect would need to be dealt with.

Content

So, yeah, an anime streaming service would require anime to stream. That would probably make a good start.

Joking aside, though, content is key to a streaming video service. The natural starting place for this would probably be to work alongside the current UK-based home distributors, where they hold the streaming rights.
For simulcasts, this would be a case of making the service known to the companies, such as Anime Limited, who pick up streaming rights but don’t have a streaming platform of their own.

Going forward, there would also be the option to bid for the rights directly from Japan. I get the feeling, however, that this would probably require deeper pockets and/or a proven track record, both of which would be easier after getting some successful seasons under your belt.

For back-catalogue titles, these would probably always come directly from whoever already held the UK rights. This would then depend on whether they thought a streaming outlet would raise awareness of the show or cannibalise potential sales.

One important factor here would be to ensure that any deal is mutually beneficial. Yes, UK distributors are going to be happy if people are watching through legal means as opposed to illegal ones, but they’re still going to be concerned if people stream their shows instead of buying the DVD or Blu-ray. Having any deal make it financially worthwhile would be important, obviously. Cross-promotion would probably help, too. Also/Soon-to-be Available From __ on Home Video on a show page could be useful. Possibly even with affiliate links to various online retailers.

Exclusivity Not (Necessarily) Required

This may sound backwards to business-minded people but, from a viewer’s perspective, having exclusive rights to a title runs the risk of annoying/alienating the fanbase. Permanent exclusivity does, anyway.

It’s the flip-side of the coin regarding monopolies. Competition is good but, when combined with exclusivity, fragmentation is bad. People resent feeling forced to subscribe to multiple different services for what is basically the same content. Especially if other regions have the same shows all available in one place. Even putting the costs aside, having to switch apps or websites (or even hardware platforms, more on that below) just because you want to watch a different show can be very off-putting. Complementing current services will get people wanting your operation to grow and improve. Competing with an inferior or untried service, however, risks people wanting you to pack up and leave.

A useful service over here would be one that shared rights with other platforms. In the beginning, at least. When trying to build up a user base, you want to get some credibility behind you before even thinking of becoming the Only Place To Go for too many titles.

Obviously, having some sort of must-watch show would be useful and there will always be titles that simply don’t/won’t/can’t get picked up for the UK by one of the current platforms. Where possible, these would be a good starting place. “Sniping” the local rights for something that an existing service like Crunchyroll has (or is likely to have) in another region doesn’t usually go down well. Bringing over a show that CR would almost definitely have no chance of bringing to the UK, though, tends to leave people with a more favourable opinion of your operation.

Taking this further, picking up catalogue rights to a show you couldn’t simulcast can still be useful. Even if a show has a very limited first-run somewhere else, adding it to your back catalogue later will likely prove useful. More accurately, not doing so could prove problematics as people may ask “Why would I want to subscribe to a service that doesn’t even carry Titanic Ninja Deathgods as back catalogue?”

If you can’t pick up a show as a simulcast, try to get the rights later. It will help. Similarly, if you have the main license rights to a show and want to be the exclusive simulcast, offer out the sublicense to other services once the season run is complete.

Website and Apps

This is probably the first visible technical hurdle to overcome. People don’t see your data centre, content delivery network or traffic stats. They do see your website and any apps you have. It’s not that the infrastructure side of things isn’t important (see below) but it’s all wasted if your site looks amateur and your apps are either buggy or missing on key platforms.

Look at other legal streaming sites. Don’t rip of their designs, that would clearly be a bad thing. However, try to aim for a similar level of polish where possible. Also, look at illegal streaming sites. Try to look more professional than them, otherwise people may not realise you’re a legit service at first. I have seen “The site looks a bit dodgy, so I didn’t realise they were legal” a few times about more than one service.

Basic things like a queue, decent listings pages and a competent search function are a must. They may not seem like much but, for a user perspective, convenience and ease-of-use is key. Legal streams haven’t totally eliminated illegal downloads but there are many people who now favour sites like Crunchyroll or Netflix over torrenting shows because it’s just so much easier. If the illegal streaming sites, or competitor’s legal sites, are more convenient than your then people aren’t going to use your service.

Make sure your website’s video player works well. Chances are that contractual obligations will lumber you with having to rely on Flash, to enforce content restrictions, so try not to make it any more of a hassle than it has to be. users these days really don’t like Flash. Also, browser developers seem to be making slow but constant progress away from using it. If trying to get it to work for your site is too much of a ballot, people won’t use your site.

Regarding apps, trying to hit the main hardware platforms fairly quickly would be a good move. AppleTV and Roku would probably be your best starting place for streaming-player apps. iOS and Android, for mobile viewing, are also pretty much compulsory. Similarly, games consoles are very important platforms to target, although these do seem to take longer to get released. Especially on Sony consoles. Despite this, though, they’re pretty common media-capable devices, and there is a fair bit of crossover between gamers and anime fans so a chunk of your potential audience already has them. And, really, who wants to sit at their computer desk to watch a half-hour show when their Playstation or Xbox is connected to the TV in form of their armchair or sofa?

A Windows 10 universal app would also be really useful. Not only does this target another mobile platform but it would also work on a Windows 10 Desktop/Laptop. Perfect for those people who really hate Flash. Also useful for those who have a Windows-based HTPC.

My personal thoughts would be to have apps for at least one streaming box, one mobile platform and one games console at launch, with the others already in late development or testing. Although some people are fine with streaming things directly to their computers, there are many people who really like to watch TV shows on a TV screen, or on the go. A lack of apps can be a real dealbreaker for some.

After that, things getting Kindle Fire, Chromecast and Smart TV apps would help round things out. These may be less popular than the other options, hence a lower priority, but they are still important platforms. Fire TV and Chromecast have very affordable options and some TV or Blu-ray players have Smart TV app support built in. Meaning that some people already have multimedia capability on their existing equipment. Buying extra gear sounds like an easy enough solution but people don’t always have the money, HDMI socket or space available to add to their AV setup. Being asked to spend money on this additional hardware as well as a potential subscription fee isn’t always going to go down well. Yes, it will involve additional development time and costs but it’s certainly worth looking into.

Now, obviously, any brand new service wouldn’t be able to get an app out on every platform immediately. However, any service that doesn’t seem to have many apps out, or even in the pipeline, will probably get ignored by armchair or mobile viewers.

Infrastructure

This is going to be the next important thing. How your site and service looks is the most important factor, how well is actually works is a very close second. Having your videos load up quickly and in a consistently good quality is essential to the experience. Delays, buffering and constant quality shifts tend to go down badly with viewers. Make sure that the CDN offering you use is up to the job. If you have a lot of simulcasts, making sure that the episodes propagate through the network (especially at the higher qualities) quickly is going to be key. Not everybody is going to want to watch the episodes at the exact moment of release but having them viewable and at good quality very shortly after your go-live time is going to matter to some. If nothing else, failure to do so tends to result in negative word-of-mouth. This will sour sour offering even to those who aren’t quite so bothered about immediacy.

Geographical Restrictions

This is something that comes with both pros and cons. Being a UK (and probably Ireland, going by most licensing bundles) specific service makes this a lot easier to deal with. If all of your members are supposed to be in the same region, you only need to set a single restriction. You won’t ave any problems trying to juggle which shows can be viewed in which regions. you can either show them or you can’t.

Another advantage is that if you’re only offering to a single region, your infrastructure (see above) only needs to be geared towards that area. It doesn’t matter how well your CDN operates on a global scale, just that it works really well at a national level.

There are still drawbacks. For one, you still need to lock it down to only work in the UK (and Ireland). Geographical filtering isn’t an exact science. Misidentification, although rare, isn’t impossible. Oh, and these things can be faked. So you’ll need try not to have people affected by false positives, as well as not wanting to sink too much time and resource into a solution that can never be 100% effective, all whilst doing enough to satisfy your contractual obligations from the licensor.

Not having to worry about multiple regions and differing restrictions across many different titles will make it a lot less of a headache, though.

Advertising and Subscription Tiers

Having an ad-supported “free” option is going to be essential for any anime streaming platform. It’s pretty much the standard operating procedure at this point. Both using advertising on the site and some sort of inline video adverts during the episodes. Although, in that latter point, trying to make sure they’re not too frequent or too repetitive is probably a good idea.

It doesn’t matter how much your free offering can’t survive without advertising, inflicting the same, single advert on your viewers, every show, every day is just going to piss them off. This is best avoided.

When it comes to what is available to free users and what is limited to paid subscribers, finding the right balance is going to be key. I don’t think there’s any one correct way to go about it but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Simulcasts

You’ll probably want some sort of limit on simulcasts for your free viewers but not something too restrictive. There has to be a some advantage for paid users, yet there’s still got to an incentive to favour the free streams over less legal solutions. Personally, I think Crunchyroll has the best idea i’ve seen. There’s a one week delay before free users can watch a current show but then once it’s up, it’s up. So if you miss a few weeks, there’s not locked out entirely like with the services that only have free episodes up for a few weeks.

It’s a bit different in Canada, where free users only get access to simulcasts and not catalogue shows. Even then, though, each episode is available for 13 weeks. Meaning that you can catch up at pretty much any time during a season.

Catalogue

This is a bit trickier to work out. Having the full back catalogue being an incentive for paid subscriptions is no bad thing. If nothing else, having most of the catalogue only being visible to paid subscribers means that your level of paid subscribers can help inform how much to spend on older licenses.

I’d say that having some of the catalogue available to ad-supported members will help draw interest in the service as a whole. People often need to try out something before knowing if they want to put money into it. And being able to marathon a few older shows may just be enough to hook people in.

At what point you limit it really depends on a combination of your costs, your income and how you want your offering to come across. Having some shows rotate in and out of the free library may be one way of doing it.

Marketing and PR

Being visible to the fandom is be pretty damned essential. Show up at events, even fairly small one-day conventions. Be visible on Anime forums. Do press releases and interviews with fandom websites. Be friendly, don’t come over as spamming, and be prepared to give honest answers to some pretty tough questions and criticism. The fandom tongue is sharp at times but there is often useful feedback if you’re able to tough it out.

Last, But Not Least, Money

Ultimately, this is the most important factor. It goes last on the list, though, because it is dependant on the previously identified factors. Once you have all of these identified, you can then figure out your expected costs versus income. This will probably then require shuffling around the priorities of those factors but you need to know what they are before you can start to figure this part out.

You’d also need to then figure out your initial investment. This will vary, depending on some other deciding factors, but there will be some up-front costs that need to be covered. This is also going to affect the priorities of what gets implemented when.

Variables

Many of the previously listed factors will depend on the nature of the company trying to build such a service.

New Entry

Whether it’s a brand new company or a subsidiary of a company who hasn’t branched into media distribution before, this is probably going to have the highest hurdles to overcome.

It is likely (although not certain) that you will have a lower level of starting resources than a company that is already involved in media distribution. You’re also likely to have fewer relevant professional connections. This doesn’t make things a complete non-starter but it will require starting smaller. Fewer platforms at launch. Fewer shows at launch. Few, if any, exclusives.

In some ways this could be the hardest sell to the fandom. An unknown name, a small catalogue. Not too many people would want to put down money for something like that. This would be where trying to grow connections and reputation would be essential.

Try to work alongside existing distributors, getting them on-side. As a general rule, the UK Anime Industry tends to be fairly close. Sure, thee are disagreements, different viewpoints and a certain level of mostly-friendly rivalry. On the whole, though, they’re all part of a fairly small niche market. What’s good for the market as a whole is going to benefit the specific companies. So if you can make a decent case for being a positive force father UK industry, you’ll likely be able to work with them.

Existing Company

Of course, if a UK-based service was to grow out of an existing VOD or physical distribution company, they may already have right level of funding or connections. They may even have some rights already. Unlike a brand new entry into the market, who would need to build all of these up.

Media Industry (general)

Whether or not a company specialises in anime or streaming video, already being in media creation or distribution would give them a decent headstart. They’d already have a decent amount of general knowledge about how things work. Also their legal and business mindsets would already be somewhat aligned to how things needed to be done. They’d also probably have some level of reputation attached to the company name that would help whilst getting set up.

Similarly, they’d already be likely to be using technology specific to the industry general. This would mean that they’d already have working relationships with and/or knowledge of companies that deal in the infrastructure and technology. Even when branching into something new, being able to already trust your suppliers to give you sound advice and decent service is pretty essential.

Anime Distributor

If one of the existing UK distributors were to step into the streaming ring, they’d already have a good grip on how anime licensing and marketing works. Also, as Japanese licensors seem to be more interested in trying to bundle the home and streaming rights together, being able to pick up both and already have something to do with them will be quite useful.

Besides, viewing habits are changing. For things like anime that don’t tend get onto traditional broadcast TV over here very often, the home release was as likely to be picked up by the “Watch Once” crowd, as opposed to those who wanted to watch repeatedly or who like physical copies/extras. Streaming takes a lot of that away, so why not benefit from it yourself? Keep your customers coming to you, regardless of how they consume media.

The other obvious advantage to an existing anime company going into streaming would be already have the relevant business contacts and probably already having the rights to some older shows. Or at least a good chance of being able to acquire them if they were still available.

One potential drawback to this route would be that such a company would probably be restricted to only being able to show “their” titles. There’s no guarantee that one of their rival companies in the home space would want to hand over the rights to stream a show. A the very least, I’d expect it to be the exception and not the rule. So we’d still end up with a UK service that was potentially limited in scope.

VOD Platform

If a UK-based company were already involved in streaming video on demand, whether already operating a general video service or being more involved in the backend/infrastructure side of things, a streaming company branching out into anime would also already have a good head-start over a complete new service.

They would already have a good grip on the technology involved and how to actually go about streaming video content. Even if they were a newcomer to the anime industry, they’d have a proven track record of video distribution which would certainly help with credibility.

In some ways, this would perhaps be the most likely way of making a successful entry. As long as they can get used to how anime licensing and fandom works, they’d already have a general knowledge of dealing with licensing agreements and customer feedback.

Conclusion

I think something like this is necessary. Yes, it’s nice that the international streaming companies seem to be taking the Uk seriously at the moment but they’re still going to be focused primarily elsewhere.

Besides, as streaming increasingly becomes the way to initially or primarily consume content, the UK-based companies are going to be increasingly restricted to the more collector-oriented side of the fandom. The more casual shopper just isn’t going to be quite as bothered as they were a decade or so ago.

If the UK anime industry is to continue to be a strong presence alongside the fandom, I think it is going to have to break into streaming. Otherwise, most of the custom from the casual viewers is going to head out via America.

Quiet but Not Absent

Things have been rather quiet on the RantVoid front of late. It’s not to say that nothing’s been going on, though.

Between Jobseeking and helping my parents out wth a house move, I’ve not had quite as much free time as I would have liked. And the time that I did have, I’ve either been tired out and resting or off visiting family members.

From a content viewpoint, I’ve been trying to get a few things out as and when I could. Vlogs have been going up on YouTube, along with one current in the editing phase and a few others being planned out. Several blogs are currently in early draft, they just need polishing into something properly readable. Podcasting has gone on a bit of hiatus owing to both Roiben and myself dealing with Jobseeking and depression.

The Twitter feed has been seeing a fair bit of action, though. I regularly share out interesting articles and stories that I see, as well as linking to previous blogs and Vlogs if they become topical.

Hopefully, things should get back up to speed before too long. Until then, though, do keep an eye out on the feed as there are a lot of interesting tech and entertainment stories hitting the headlines at the moment. And you’ll be able to get an idea of which things catch my eye.

Why Assange Should Face Charges

This whole Julian Assange situation is one big political minefield, no doubt about it. It is unfortunate, for him at least, that there are multiple things at stake and one of them is big enough that maybe it shouldn’t be sacrificed for his political beliefs.

It all comes down to the rape allegations. It’s also related to, but independent of, whether or not the allegations are true. And this is where it gets messy. Assange is, quite understandably, worried that Sweden would use his arrest there as a pretext to extradite him to the United States over the whole Wikileaks situation.
Here’s the problem. People cannot be treated as “too important” to face rape charges. The disturbing amount of former celebrities now recognised as sex offenders should have taught us that by now.

There are those who, having read up on the public details on the allegation, think that he is basically being stitched up on false charges simply to give the US an excuse to get Sweden to extradite him. To me, however, this is an even bigger reason why Assange  absolutely must let this play out however it will. As I see it, anything else is allowing all those involved to trivialise rape.

  1. If Assange is guilty of rape, then he is using his status to try and avoid facing the consequences. This is not acceptable.
  2. If Assange is not guilty of rape, and this is all a pretext to get him to face different charges however important those changes may be, then it is saying that false rape allegations can be justified. Wrong!
    All this does is trivialise actual cases of rape. This is just as unacceptable. More so, in a way, as it makes it harder for rape victims to believe they’ll be taken seriously.

The sad reality is that a case can be made for Julian Assange to effectively be “sacrificed” to test the truth of the rape allegations. Because if he really is an innocent man being stitched up for an ulterior motive then this must be brought to light and those responsible held to account.
Anything else is just turning to actual rape victims and saying, “The pain and horror you experienced is insignificant enough for us to use to bait a trap for someone else.” That is a precedent that must not be set!

Oh, and Assange did skip bail. Which, as far as I am aware, is still generally frowned upon even if you don’t get proven guilty?  Whatever valid points the UN panel had, the message that “If you have powerful connections, using them to break bail conditions is fine with us” is probably not the point they’re wishing to make.

Viewster and OMAKASE, Focus on Video

I’ve blogged about Viewster, both specifically and when talking about anime streaming in general, multiple times now. I’ve also posted a vlog and a followup on YouTube.
Since then, though, I’ve been keeping an eye on what the more general opinions are regarding the OMAKASE service.

From what I can tell, on the whole it sees to be going down quite well. Especially in the US, as they lack the much higher shipping fees that Canada and the UK incur. The problem, from my point of view, is that the main focus of any praise for the service is the giftbox aspect and nothing else.

True, the HD streaming and the digital extras haven’t been implemented yet but it really seems that people are looking at OMAKASE as just an “Anime Lootcrate”.
Ironic, since Lootcrate themselves have recently announced an anime-specific offering.

I’ve seen OMAKASE mentioned as a really good giftbox service that just happens to be attached to a fairly good anime streaming platform and throws in ad-free as a nice bonus.
If that’s what Viewster are aiming for then fair enough. The problem for some of us, though, is that if your main interest in the anime streaming then you’re a bit of an afterthought, audience-wise.

So, here’s the problem. People who like merchboxes are completely catered for, as long as they’re in the right region for shipping. Fans of streaming video, which may possibly be some of the people following a video streaming company, are left out in the cold.

Outside of the US and can’t justify the higher shipping charges? No premium video for you.
Live in the UK and just want to see the exclusive simulcasts in HD and without ads legally? Sorry, out of luck.
Live in a region not covered by OMAKASE shipping at all? Sorry, premium video still not allowed.

And here’s where it starts to sting. Viewster are a European company with their Head office in Switzerland. Certainly here in the UK they’ve been a nice little addition to the video-on-demand scene and I would have to assume that the same applies in mainland Europe.
Similarly, their recent expansion into Anime simulcasts and catalogue streaming has been a much needed breath of fresh air over here. Again, I can only really speak for how it seems here in the UK but I would guess that the same applies elsewhere in Europe.

In the UK, at least, they were beginning to cover the holes not covered Crunchyroll’s licensing and were offering a much stronger service than alternatives like Animax and even Daisuki. Licensing by American companies was having a bit of an adverse effect over here. Funimation picking up the English language rights almost always froze Crunchyroll out of the running for a UK stream, as they are competitors in America. Viz picking up a show in America may put it on Crunchyroll over there but it also increased the chances of their European branch picking up the license as well. And that would mean Animax over here, as they’re the local competitor.

Viewster’s main strength over here was that they had a real passion for anime which they were showing to the local fanbases that were often overlooked by more America-focused companies. They just needed to improve a few things, like their queue, and have an ad-free subscription which enabled HD video. Which we were told was “coming soon”.

And in June 2015, having had a bit of an American presence for a while, Viewster opened its American subsidiary, Viewster Inc. It is at this point that their focus seemed to change a fair bit. Helped, in part, by the American CEO also being involved in their global strategies, like premium streaming.

Yes, the one thing that Viewster most needed as a European entity to stand equal with the American-focused companies was now being spearheaded by their own American subsidiary that was also tasked with expanding its American market.
Shortly after this, OMAKASE was announced.

Since then, their entire marketing push has been towards OMAKASE. Talking up their merchandising box with little mentioned about the video side of the service. Worse still, the HD video side of things still hasn’t appeared despite being much requested  (and hinted at)since before OMAKASE was even an official “thing”.

In various interviews regarding OMAKASE, it seems that they are wanting to go for the all-in-one offering to try and distinguish themselves as not being “just another anime streaming service”.
The problem is, it’s only really in America where they need to do that. Here in the UK, and likely elsewhere in Europe, there’s nothing wrong with being “just another anime streaming service”, especially when catering for titles that otherwise wouldn’t be legally shown outside of Japan or America.

This is where, I think, attitudes in the UK start to sour a bit. Viewster’s biggest advantage was that it actually seemed to give a damn about our segment of the market, unlike a lot of the America-focused (or America-exclusive) services. They were covering some of the licensing gaps that the American companies were leaving in the UK landscape.
Now they just feel like another America-centric service concentrating on the American market with anywhere else just thrown in as an afterthought.

With no HD-only subscription option, premium video is either tied to a costly giftbox or frozen out entirely, depending on where you live. And if Viewster are the only people legally streaming a show in your region, you’re basically screwed.
Whilst they focus on the market that is already extremely well catered for when it comes to anime streaming.

Focus on Video

My hopes for the (near) future are that they ease up on the giftbox push and focus on the streaming side of their offerings.

  1. Offer an ad-free premium video option that is standalone. People have been asking for this for a while.
  2. HD video, The shows are made in HD, so that should be the next “big feature” in development.
  3. The website and apps need a bit more work to have proper sorting and filtering.
  4. Apps on the Sony consoles would be nice, too.

Gun Control

Thunder 9 Pistol

By TacoArgentino (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“There’s been another mass shooting in America.”

 

Putting it this way sounds awfully offhand, and borderline flippant, but they are the exact words used by US President Barack Obama after the October 2015 shooting in Oregon. The way he uses this is rather “matter of fact” and “day to day” and I think thats sort of the point. It is becoming normal.

The way he delivers this speech is one I’m familiar with. It’s the parent disappointed with the child they thought had learned their lesson. It’s the headteacher giving the school assembly after its students got a bad reputation. It’s the boss, whether in an all-staff briefing or a one-to-one meeting, telling their staff that the current situation is not good enough.
Whether on the receiving end or as just an observer, I’ve seen all of these first hand before and this is exactly how President Obama comes across.

He’s tired, disappointed and verging on angry. As “The Man In Charge” it is his role to makes statements at times like these and, in a way, to accept the responsibility of “his people” for their actions.

Time after time, he’s had to stand up after one of these incidents and offer condolences. In other types of tragedy, the leader of their country will also be saying how they are going to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again. Yet, when it comes to gun crime his hands are tied. He wants to make a change but, instead, ends up having to be the public face of when it all goes wrong.

Again.

And again.

The guy looks tired.

“But we are not the only country on Earth that has people who have mental illnesses, or want to do harm to other people.”

This is probably the most serious and least discriminatory statement I’ve ever some across when talking about a link between mental illness and acts of violence. It doesn’t establish a causal link and it doesn’t assume that all mentally ill people are potentially violent, or that all potentially violent people are mentally ill.
It does, however, suggest that the problem lies with the intersection of the two.

It also goes on to outright state that other countries have people who fall into one, either, or both of these categories and yet do not have the same frequency of mass shootings. They tend not to have as relaxed gun laws, either.

Part of the complexity of the issue in America, though, is the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. It protects the right of the people to bear arms. It also states that these rights should not be infringed. And this makes it messy. “This is a right that should not be compromised” is a difficult thing to regulate.

19th Century Pistol

By AlejandroLinaresGarcia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The thing is, though, that the world is a very different place now. I don’t even mean politically, I mean technologically. The Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. At the time, the majority of firearms were flintlock-based single-shot models. This is a far cry from clip-fed semi-automatic and automatic firearms available today.

Assault Rifle

By Burnyburnout (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Were weapons with that level of power something that they had in mind when creating the Bill of Rights?

 

 

The obvious and fair answer is “nobody knows”. It is something that ought to be taken into account, though. The world, the politics and the technology were very different back then. Many laws have changed, especially in terms of protecting people from others. Look at the age of consent, for one thing.

Times change. Societies change. Laws change. Except, it seems, this one.

As someone from the UK, I can only provide an outside perspective. Here’s the thing, though, the outside perspective is how each country is seen by others. The combination of easier access to guns and a much higher rate of gun fatalities doesn’t really paint the US in a very good light at times. And it’s a shame. Many Americans get tarred with the same brush as the few who spoil it for everyone else. I’ll also extend it to say that many gun owners get tarred by that same brush.
Seriously, if all gun owners were dangerous individuals then America probably wouldn’t exist in its current form anymore. The fact that the country hasn’t managed to wipe itself out in a hail of bullets tells me that the majority of gun owners can be and are are safe and responsible.

It’s just that there’s the occasional dickhead who spoils it for everyone else, usually at the cost of dozens of lives at the same time.

My own personal view, even as a Brit, is that I’m not totally anti-gun. We have very heavy restrictions on all kinds of weapons over here. That doesn’t always make me feel very safe as, yes, it does mean that criminals still have guns. Or knives. Or whatever. Only the “bad guys” are armed. I don’t like this.
Oh, and the police. But even if they do shoot a suspect, if they have to make a snap decision and get it wrong (in either direction) they get raked over the coals.

That doesn’t mean I’m a fan of unrestricted gun ownership, though. In fact, if the UK ever did ever make it legal to bear arms then I’d hope it was bloody well regulated. And licensed, kind of like cars.

The Car Analogy

Think about it. Certainly here in the UK you have to have a license to drive. This requires reaching a minimum age and going through a testing procedure. Owning a car also has its own requirements. You have to license the car against its registered owner, or have it registered as off-road. You need insurance. A car has to be regularly serviced and pass its MOT to prove that it is roadworthy. Your driving license will cover you for specific categories of vehicle, and you can get additional categories through appropriate training.

If you are careful and responsible, you will be able to drive as long as you have a valid license. And it will be likely that you will stay licensed.

If you’re a dick, you lose your license. Here in the UK it is points-based, so some driving offences are less severe than others but either way if you rack up past a certain amount then that’s it.

I don’t see why guns should be any different.

The other thing about how driving is regulated in the UK, at least, is that things like old age and certain medical conditions don’t always necessarily mean you’re automatically excluded from driving. They do, however, require additional and more frequent reapplications for your license. A similar regulation on guns would make sense, including mental health conditions.

As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, and who knows people with varying levels of mental illness, I obviously don’t subscribe to the idea that all mentally ill people are dangerous. I do, however, think that it would be sensible if mental health issues were among conditions that required more frequent license application, or restricted from certain categories of firearm.
In my case, I do not think that I am likely to become a crazed killer the moment I got my hands on a gun. I would, however, say that when my anxiety gets particularly high it can impair my judgment and I get very twitchy. If that meant that, in a world where the UK allowed more open gun ownership, I had to reapply more frequently for a license, had restrictions on what categories of firearms I could use or it put me into a higher insurance bracket then so be it. Yes, it would be annoying but it would also mean I would have to think a little bit harder as to if I really wanted or needed a gun.

In Summary

I just feel, as an outside observer, that the current state of things is likely to lead to further tragedy and that, in response, one day there will be a knee-jerk reaction leading to a widespread ban on firearms. And I don’t think that would really work too well. Going straight from allowing something to complete prohibition is rarely a good solution.

Some level of regulation is needed, though. The statistics speak for themselves. Some things require proof of capability, responsibility and ownership. Driving is one of those things. I don’t see why guns shouldn’t be another.