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.