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.

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.

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.

OMAKASE @Viewster – Another Thought

I’ve still been thinking a lot about the upcoming OMAKASE service over the past few days, as well as reading various opinions on forums and social media. The whole situation has got me to thinking.

I’d be interested to see how good the takeup rate of OKAMASE is in the UK and whether people really are put off by the high price and non-optional extras or if that’s just a few of us online. Not just to know whether I’m “right” or “wrong” either. At least, not exactly.

Viewster obviously have a plan and an idea of what they’re doing. I’m just wondering if they know (or guess) something about the UK market that some of us fans don’t. Have Viewster really misjudged the UK market, and potentially soured the goodwill they’ve accrued so far, or have they spotted a genuine opportunity that others just can’t see?

Time will tell. Some of us think they’ve taken the wrong turning, Viewster themselves clearly don’t. The coming months will be interesting.

Hell, this month will be interesting. Viewster will be at MCM London Comic Con in two weeks’ time. I don’t know if they’ll have a panel there but I do know that they’re bound to get questioned quite directly about things at their booth.

Anime Streaming: Viewster Addendum

Since the last post, Viewster have formally launced their OMAKASE service. At the time of writing, it is defiantly a combined service with no streaming-only option.

As far as I can tell, signing up immediately gets the ad-free aspect. HD is still to come. Their non-US shipping charge is high but they cover VAT and import fees, so the overall price ($48 per two-months) gets it shipped to your door with no nasty little surprises.

As mentioned, they currently have no plans to have a video-only subscription without the box. So anyone who doesn’t want the physical items or who is outside of their supported countries is also out of luck for now.
Having said that, they tend to be good with feedback and there’s a lot of active chatter on various anime forums so I wouldn’t class this as set-in-stone quite yet. it is certainly the case for now, though.

As for my personal thoughts, I’ve already put them up here:

More on UK Anime Streaming

Last year, I put up a quick comparison chart of the various Anime streaming options available here in the UK. Since then some things have changed but the overall view doesn’t really seem to be that much better. Not yet, anyway. Things are moving forwards but the current state-of-play looks like this.

Wakanim/Anime Limited

Wakanim’s UK experiment has come to an end. I get the feeling it wasn’t doing too well. They had some definite technical issue to sort through but it sounds like they decided to just focus on their home market back in France.

Anime Limited are still picking titles up for streaming, though. For a while they were operating through Vimeo but are now using the existing streaming options.

Daisuki

Daisuki are still a bit of an odd bunch, in my opinion. They are still, currently, primarily web and mobile-app powered. They don’t have any real connect-to-TV options, which is a major failing in my personal opinion. They do have plans for console apps, apparently, which will help a great deal.
For anyone who mainly watches content on a phone, tablet or web browser, though, this is not going to be a drawback at all.

They appear to be ad-supported, with no current subscription option to watch ad-free. Again, for me personally, this is a dealbreaker. For other people, though, this isn’t much of a stumbling block at all. it’s all down to personal preference.

On the flip-side of things, they are now a part of Anime Consortium Japan. Comprised of several Japanese companies, including Bandai Namco and Aniplex, this gives them direct links to companies involved in Anime production. In addition to this, ACJ sits on the production committee for some shows directly.
As a company specifically involved in international streaming, this means that some upcoming shows automatically have an official outlet outside of Japan.

Crunchyroll

Still currently, the heavy-hitter in Anime streaming, Crunchyroll‘s presence outside of North America has had its fair set of ups and downs.

On the plus side, they have now rolled drama and manga into their basic Premium package, with the higher-tier “Premium Plus” give some additional benefits. However, as some of the benefits aren’t quite as useful outside of North America, this means that there is still a good value method of international subscribers having full access to the basic media content.

Recently, they have finally been able to get their apps onto Sony’s Playstation platforms. So the PS4, PS3 and Vita are all covered now. They now show up on all major consoles and quite a lot of streaming boxes. Their app platforms now also give access to the ad-supported free subscribers, rather than being premium-only.
On the other hand, they are currently moving away from Smart TVs to the dismay of anyone who was using them.

For the UK (and anywhere outside of the US and Canada, to be honest) their catalogue is still a bit of a mixed bag. Some shows have their international streaming rights with other countries and some shows just don’t have English-language streams anywhere outside of America.
This still causes a bit of friction as UK premium members are paying the same (technically fractionally more) for the same actual level of service, but there’s no getting around the fact that we have access to a smaller catalogue.

Animax

Animax UK occupies an interesting niche in the UK Anime fandom. A lot of us dislike them. On the other hand, they are still around and still adding (slowly) to their service so they clearly can’t be a complete flop as they’d’ve closed down by now if they were struggling badly.

They still operate with the two-week ad-supported free access to their simulcasts with the paid subscription giving ad-free access to their complete catalogue. They have also recently added iOS and Android to their supported platforms, and the PS4 joins the PS3 in terms of console access.

However, their less-then-perfect reputation isn’t exactly unfounded. They often seem to aquire (or at least announce) their simulcasts partway into the season and their uploads aren’t always the most punctual. This combined with a lack of queue/watchlist (which, currently, only Crunchyroll sees to have) means that they’re not exactly great value when it comes to simulcasts.

I suspect that their main strength at the moment would be in their back catalogue. If a show’s been available for a year or more, it hardly matters at that point if it went up on time or a few weeks late.
Plus, they do still have some shows that just aren’t available on any other service at the moment. Also, unlike Viewster (see below) their back catalogue is available ad-free to subscribers.

Viewster

Speaking of Viewster, they’re a fairy recent entry into the Anime side of things. They’ve been around a few years as an ad-supported free video on demand service but have recently expanded to include a hefty Anime back-catalogue and have also had a healthy selection of simulcasts in recent seasons courtesy of Anime Limited.

Based in Europe, although recently expanding into America, they definitely cater for the UK audience pretty well. They also have apps iOS, Android, several Smart TVs and set-top boxes (no AppleTV as of yet) and have started to enter the console app market on the Xbox 360. Hopefully with more platforms to come.

The currently have no ad-free subscription available which, to me, is a dealbreaker. However, for those who don’t mind watching ads, it does mean that they have a very large catalogue of TV show, movies and Anime all available to watch for free.

They are on the verge of entering the paid-subscription model, too. At the time of writing this, they are heavily promoting their upcoming OMAKASE service which is a combination of ad-free streaming and a Lootcrate-like giftbox.
As of yet, there are no concrete details about the video side of the service. So we don’t know if there’s a gift-free version, whether the same apps will work or if they use new ones, or anything further.

New AppleTV

Not a service in its own right but the recent announcement of an upcoming revised model with an App Store means it warrants a mention of its own. If for no other reason than the same information applies to all services so far.

Currently, none of the Anime streaming services have announced tvOS apps. I would be very surprised if none of them had them at least in the planning stages, though.

Crunchyroll features on the current AppleTV and has iOS apps. Animax has recently added iOS apps to its repertoire and has a very limited TV-connected selection so far. Viewster has an iOS app and has openly stated that they are planning to expand what platforms they are available on.

Other Services

Other VOD services such as Netflix and several paid video platforms such as iTunes do also have a selection of Anime available for streaming and/or download.

Anime: Not A Collector

I feel like I occupy a weird niche in anime fandom. I like to own copies shows I like, rather than being limited to digital streaming or downloads. I also like to have as high a quality copy as possible, As my various posts on Blu-Ray will attest.

I’m not a “Collector” though.

At least, not one of those who likes Limited/Collectors Editions. In fact, I actively dislike those kinds of release more often than not.

So many of the more hardcore collectors seem to have a major nerd-boner for nice, rigid boxed to house their media cases. Whether card-based or plastic Amaray-style, they all seem to go nuts for a box that boxes go in. Whereas I find them a complete pain. Why would I want to open a box to open a box? And why would I want to pay extra for that pain?

Artbooks also seem to be a usual favourite. I don’t have anything in principle against these but I also know I will rarely, if ever, look at them. The same goes for things like postcards. Pretty but, ultimately, an extra cost for something I will ignore.

Soundtracks can be nice. If they are just an extra disc in a standard case I can easily be tempted. They are rarely going to tip me towards the full Collector Edition, though.

What frustrates me most about them, though, is when they aren’t optional. When a release strategy or (more likely) a licensing restriction from Japan means that any Standard Edition on Blu-Ray will come a significant amount of time after the Collector Edition. Or, in some cases, there is no regular edition.

Maybe if I liked Artbooks or fancy boxes it would be a different matter. Unfortunately, seeing as I actually don’t like them, the end result is asking me to pay a premium for my non-preferred option.

Problems Facing Simulcasts (and other legal anime streams)

Legal options for streaming recent anime shows have made major inroads in recent years. Yet people still embrace fansubs. Whether from downloads or via unofficial streaming services, these options still gain a lot of views for various reasons.

The problem is that there are several reasons that people have for using fansubs and you can’t easily eliminate them all. However, there are several things that could be tackled. Also, because many people are swayed by a combination of reasons, the more that can be tackled, the less common it will be.

Cheap

OK. Let’s get this out of the way first. People can be cheap. Being able to get hold of multiple shows, ad-free and in a high-definition format is a big temptation.

For some, it is the only reason. For others, it is the tipping point when added to the reasons below.

Knowledge

Not everybody knows what legal platforms are out there. As a general rule, if you’re a part of a community that keeps a list of legal options then you already know they exist. Some people genuinely don’t know.

On a related note, not everybody knows of every service. Here in the UK, there is a big feeling that Crunchyroll is the only service that people have really heard of. In the past couple of years, when shows haven’t been on Crunchyroll over here, but were on other services, people genuinely thought there was no legal UK option at all.

Similarly, not a lot of generic video-on-demand platforms make a huge deal of their anime catalogues. So people with access to Netflix might not even realise that they have a fairly sizeable anime back-catalogue on there.

Fragmentation

Not every platform has every show. So even if Crunchyroll, for example, is seen as “The Anime Streaming Service”, they don’t have the licenses for every show. This ties into knowledge, above, in that titles are wrongly assumed to be unavailable because people haven’t heard of the service that gets the local rights.

It’s one thing over in America, where a fair few of the licensing companies have their own outlets and there are more generic streaming options (like Hulu) for them to partner with. Also, over there, titles showing up on multiple services is relatively common.
Here in the UK, a lot of licenses still get picked up by companies without their own platform. Worse, sometimes it is the English-language rights they have overall, which just happen to include the UK rights. And as Crunchyroll is a competitor over in America, them sub-licensing to Crunchyroll for the UK streams is rare. Not unheard of, but rare all the same.

Unequal Services

The different streaming platforms have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some go wider than anime. Some have larger catalogues. Some have apps on multiple platforms. Some have paid subscriptions to go ad-free No one service ticks all of the boxes.

This, when combined with multiple services and potentially multiple subscription fees, can be quite frustrating. Especially when shows exist on a service you use but a region you don’t live in.

Missing Shows

Some shows simply don’t get official releases in English, or any given non-Japanese language. For these shows, it does become a choice between “pirate” and “do without”. And not everyone wants to miss a show, especially if it is the main one they wanted to watch in any given season. However, this does keep fansubs as an active option in people’s minds. After all, once you’re used to using them for one thing, it’s hard not to see them as an option for others.

Platform exclusivity, regional lockouts and delays that cause the official version to go up hours (or even days) after a translated fansub hit the internet don’t help much, either.

Translation Choices

Here is where it starts to get tricky. We go from already shaky moral ground to something even more so, based purely on personal aesthetic preference. However, fans have their own preferences on how they like their translations. With fansubs, you can drop and pick up distributors depending on your preference. Even with much more legal products such as The Bible or classic French literature, you can “shop” for the translation which is more accurate or more to your personal preferences.
With contemporary foreign language products (such as anime), however, there is only One True Translation. If it isn’t your preference, tough. If it is jarring and distracting to you, tough. If you know what they really said, or can tell (from other audio-visual cues) that something really doesn’t match up, tough! You’re stuck with them.

I have more to say on this subject, but it’s potentially a blog post of its own.

This can all lead to getting a fansub of a show or episode. Maybe instead of the official release, maybe in addition to it. (Some things make more sense after having looked at more than one translation option)
Either way, though, it provides more excuses for people to rely on fansubs. Especially as, in this case, a translation that works better for someone is going to be a “superior” product for that person.

In Conclusion

These aren’t the only reasons but they are some of the ones used. None of them are easy matters to address, as they are mostly tied into how current licensing rules work. Even knowledge of services is hampered by business reasons because, as a general rule, one service isn’t going to recommend a rival owing to shortcomings in functions or content.

Ideally, the industry has to band together as “The Industry” to combat this. Less exclusivity, more sharing. Competing on service level, not exclusive shows. Cross promotion, because surely someone using a rival is better for business as a whole than using an unofficial download.

One other thing that the various companies need to do is to try to be a wide-reaching as possible. Licensing companies need to get things on multiple services and regions. Services need to work across multiple platforms. Expecting people to settle for a limited offering just isn’t going to work when there are free alternatives out there, legal or not.

Lastly, accepting that there is no single customer type, but that catering to multiple tastes (including translation tastes) is going to keep more people “legal”, as it takes away the reason people have of going elsewhere.

BBC, Top Gear and the No-Win Situation

So, the BBC has sacked Jeremy Clarkson. Or, to be more accurate, they are not renewing his contract when it expires soon. In a way, though, there is no real difference. He crossed a line, it cost him his job.

Cue a lot of outrage by fans of Top Gear.
Cue a lot of confused outrage by people who can’t understand why a petition to keep him on reaches nearly a million signatures whilst “more deserving causes” struggle to get any support at all.

The problem, though, is that although the situation itself (person hits and  verbally abuses another person) is fairly straightforward, the links between Jeremy, Top Gear and the (license-fee paying) audience is bloody complicated.

I don’t think the BBC had any way of winning this situation. There was no good choice available. I do, however, think they made the “right bad choice”. Whatever they did, people would be outraged one way or another. But better to be criticised for doing the right thing than letting the wrong thing slide by.

As business decisions go, though, the BBC dropped a ball. A ball they had no possible way of carrying, to be sure. But they dropped it nonetheless.
Yes, they have to show that no one person is bigger than their show. Or bigger than the corporation. In the case of Jeremy Clarkson, though, he sort of is the show. Him and James may and Richard Hammond, to be sure, but the major draw of the show is watching all three of them dick around. Lose one, you change the dynamic and the show won’t be the same one that many people tune in for.

On top of that, Top Gear itself is big business. For some people, it is basically the BBC show they watch. It’s what they pay the license fee for. And when the only show you think is worth paying over £100 per year for the license fee risks being changed beyond recognition, people are understandably getting angry at the corporation they are funding for making a decision they don’t want.

And that’s just the UK.

Over in the USA, there are people vocally stating that Top Gear (UK) is pretty much the only reason they are paying for a BBC America subscription. And, unlike the UK license fee, this is purely being paid by choice. If an American decides that Top Gear is the only show worth paying the BBC for, they can stop paying and drop their subscription.

The BBC really had no way of coming out of this in a good light. For what it’s worth, I think they made the only decision they could. Attacking anyone, especially a colleague, just isn’t right. Some sort of reprimand had to be issued and, with contract renewal coming up, it is the logical step. Clarkson had to go.

It’s just unfortunate that, with a show as popular Top Gear’s current (previous?) incarnation, the BBC are going to have to pay the heavy price for making the right decision.
“No good deed goes unpunished” and this deed, however good, is going to cause the BBC some real headaches at least in the immediate short term.

Evangelion 3.33 -The Plot Thickens

All hell broke loose this afternoon when customers with open pre-orders through Amazon UK for the long-delayed and previously blogged about release of Evangelion 3.33 got cancellation notices claiming that “Manga UK were no longer releasing it”.

“Is it coming out at all?” ask some.

“Have Manga lost the license?” ask others.

“Do people even bother paying attention any more?” asked… well, me.
(I’m not exactly known for my sweet, tolerant and patient nature)

What we’ve actually heard, so far, from Manga’s social media feeds is that it is still coming out and that further details are coming. It also seems to be tied into the ongoing delay.

What people seem to forget that, especially with anime releases, cancelled-but-not-cancelled isn’t unheard of. It has happened before, especially with regards to Amazon.

The exact situation is still unknown and whether the news is good or bad is yet to be clarified. There are a few things that can be said for certain, though:

  • Amazon currently list Anime Limited’s upcoming DVD release of Durarara as being cancelled. This has been confirmed by Anime Limited as not being true.
  • Both properties have been suffering ongoing delays. My own personal speculation is that both titles have been communicated to Amazon as having their releases pushed back with no clear date in mind.
  • Last year’s Manga UK release of Psycho Pass, when changed from two parts to one part, was “cancelled” when the release pattern changed.
    They couldn’t just change “Part One” into “Complete Collection” because the price would go up and Amazon would be forced to apply their pre-order “lowest price” guarantee to a different product that actually cost more. That and it was likely a different SKU.

Eva’s mid-February release date was all-but-confirmed as being impossible at this point. Funimation still haven’t given concrete details of the American release. And I am pretty sure that theirs would have to have been out by now for Manga to be able to release in February.

I suspect that the apparent “cancellation” is down to one of two things:

  • Amazon put their foot down after yet another pushback without being given a confirmed release date. Taking pre-orders for a product is difficult if you don’t know when, or even if, it is even coming out.
  • That particular SKU has been cancelled or drastically changed. Maybe to have a dual-format pack. Maybe to offer something else. If a specific release has been removed, though, with an upcoming-but-not-submitted SKU due to replace it, it is still “cancelled” from the point of view of that particular item.

Hopefully, time will tell regarding what’s actually going on. Hopefully, though, the movie is still coming out over here and the Blu-ray version (something Manga seems to be going through a phase of skipping) is still on the cards.

Personally, I just want the damn thing to come out already. I have no interest in buying it but I just want it off my damned blog stats. 😉
And between the first post about it being popular and events like today’s warranting followup posts, it continues to dominate why people visit here.