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.