Above: The trailer for Enter The Anime (2019), essentially a Netflix press release concealed as a documentary, illustrates its efforts to directly cater towards anime fan communities.
As streaming platforms struggle for dominance in a saturated market, anime serves as an interesting case study to help parse streaming curation strategies. This post examines anime curation on three streaming platforms (Amazon Prime Video, Crunchyroll, and Netflix) to examine how streaming platforms address and curate particularized markets, contents, and fan communities.
Amazon’s approach to anime in the past has been remarkably different from the rest of its content curation. Whereas most of Amazon’s content acquisitions appear to model their warehouse business model (acquiring enormous amounts of content, often regardless of quality), Amazon Prime Video’s short lived add-on subscription, Amazon Strike (2017-2018), curated anime behind a paywall within the Prime Video service. Many found the extra $5 a month for the service, on top of the annual Prime fee, to be plainly unaffordable. Notable here is the business and curatorial decision to separate anime from the rest of the Prime Video collection.
In contrast to Amazon’s content warehouse approach, Crunchyroll is labeled as a "niche" streaming site because it is primarily dedicated to streaming one unique type of content: anime. Initially founded as an anime piracy streaming site in 2006, the site’s popularity, alongside the rise of torrents, helped significantly shift anime consumption practices to online streaming. Crunchyroll pioneered the “simulcast” approach, offering subtitled anime episodes with 24 hours of their premiere in Japan.
This shift in access to the latest shows has resulted in pushback against Netflix’s handling of anime content. Netflix’s model of dropping seasons all at once, as opposed to Crunchyroll’s same or next day day access to newly premiering anime series in Japan, has drawn ire from anime fan communities. Netflix, like Crunchyroll, co-produces many anime to ensure streaming rights, but still hold fast to their season bundle drop model in a messy compromise between catering to particular fan communities, while refusing to change company-wide curatorial practices.
While Crunchyroll, alongside its former rival, then partner, now rival again Funimation, used to dominate the anime streaming market, hosting the majority of newly releasing series. Now, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, as well as newer upstarts such as HiDive and Retro Crush, are increasingly placing their stake in the bid to win the anime streaming wars. This case study of streaming anime serves as a microcosm of the streaming wars, and indicate that, rather than relying on the idealized consumer, streaming platforms are increasingly identifying and catering to unique content markets.
The long-tail & fan experience
One feature that is often overlooked in the discussion of long-tail distribution is the way that niche content begets different modes of audience engagements and brand bonding, which creates a challenge for internet distributors who endeavor to be neutral platforms. It’s not as simple as “put it out there, and they will find it” in the way that Chris Andersen laid it out—with niche content, the experience is on sale as much as the content.
It seems internet distributors must either choose between catering to niche fandoms (like Crunchyrole) with intentionally geared platform features at the cost of a wider mainstream viewership or catering to the mainstream crowd through more conventional features while failing to provide the particular and authentic experience that fans of niche content want.
As a non-anime fan, I’m just curious, to what degree do you think Crunchyrole and Netflix (with its anime content) are catering to different audience groups? Do hard-core anime fans who subscribe to Crunchyrole have any incentive to watch the anime content on Netflix? Do you think the viewers who are watching anime on Netflix are the dabblers, who wouldn’t care to subscribe to a site that is completely focused on anime, or who can’t afford to subscribe to multiple platforms and have chosen to put their money on the site with a wider variety of content? Generally, what I'm asking is, are these two sites competing for the same audience group, or are they after different types of viewers?
The 'niche' and the conglomerate
Jacqueline -- Thanks for the post (and for tweeting it out so that I caught it). I appreciate the consideration of the dreaded "Netflix jail," the delay that keeps anime programs from airing during the same TV season they air in Japan and on sites like Crunchyroll (CR) and Funimation. I gripe about it all the time to myself.
What I'd like to ask you to weigh in with are thoughts about the ownership of CR and Funimation and if that shifts the streaming wars in certain ways for you. (For folks who may not know: Funimation is majority-owned by Sony and has a first-look deal with Hulu, majority-owned now by Disney. CR is now a subsidary of WarnerMedia, previously being owned by an AT&T subsidary (and WarnerMedia has HBO Max forthcoming and made a big deal about its deal with GKIDS to get Ghibli films for the platform).)
In what ways, if any, do you think these ownerships shift anything for how these anime-specific platforms are positioned in the streaming wars? Does it serve WarnerMedia to have CR as a separate platform? (I joked just this week to a friend that CR may eventually be folded into HBO Max at some point.) And while Funimation obviously benefits from the Hulu deal financially, does sharing its catalog with a more mainstream streamer (mainstreamer?) dilute or enhance its brand, or standing with casual viewers of anime? (I ask, fully aware that Hulu picks what it wants, after titles have been available for a while and mostly have dubs available.)
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