Anime license deals for North America

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Postby blkmage » Mon Jan 02, 2012 12:42 pm

Bandai is halting distribution, not licensing. They're still licensing stuff, they'll just get others to distribute it.

edit: beaten with a better list
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Postby goldenspines » Mon Jan 02, 2012 12:51 pm

ANN wrote:The following releases have been cancelled:
Anime DVD/Blu-ray Disc

[I]Nichijō]

8( I-I-I'm just gonna go cry in a corner now.

Although, it's not like Bandai was in a huge hurry before to distribute stuff *coughstardrivercough*. Maybe if they can get someone to distribute it, there's still hope?
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Postby A_Yellow_Dress » Mon Jan 02, 2012 1:17 pm

blkmage (post: 1525046) wrote:Bandai is halting distribution, not licensing. They're still licensing stuff, they'll just get others to distribute it.

edit: beaten with a better list


Oh, okay. Well, that's better than halting altogether!
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Postby MasterDias » Mon Jan 02, 2012 1:18 pm

It's disappointing particularly because it strands Gosick, Nichijō, and Turn a Gundam and leaves a US release up in the air. But, to be honest, BEI hasn't really been that relevant for several years now. They haven't licensed much and most of their releases were hit by an absurd amount of delays. They also never jumped on the streaming/simulcasting bandwagon like Funimation and Sentai have.

ANN is supposed to have an interview up tomorrow. We'll see what they say, I guess. If anyone still wanted some of Bandai's under-the-radar/lower selling titles (like Fantastic Children, for example), they should probably pick them up soon.

This isn't happy news for the start of 2012.
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Postby blkmage » Tue Jan 03, 2012 8:54 am

Man, this interview.
"The pricing range for our products kept dropping in Western countries, and people tended only to buy sets with very reasonable prices, which we understand is what fans want, but it lead us to a different strategy than what Japanese licensors wanted," he remarked. "So we always had a problem [with licensors wanting something different than what consumers wanted]."

LOOOOOOOOOOOL

And this corroborates with what I was suspecting.
But at this point, little is set in stone. Only one thing is clear: the role of a distributor for anime in North America is changing, and some well-equipped licensors can now cut them out of the process entirely, if they choose. Japanese publishers can now create Blu-rays with English subtitles, ready to import to English speakers worldwide. While those won't sell as many copies as American-produced discs, the higher price point and lack of middleman can still result in a decent amount of revenue with little additional cost. Bandai Visual Japan recently discovered this for themselves with their release of Gundam Unicorn. "They found the results pretty good, and that's how I think they would like to move forwards," Iyadomi says.

With the margins that they get on domestic releases, I can believe that the Japanese are willing to toss the broader North American market aside and cater to the hardcore people who are willing to import Japanese BDs at Japanese prices (also note that these people are not exclusively North Americans).
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Postby A_Yellow_Dress » Tue Jan 03, 2012 10:19 am

"...people tended only to buy sets with very reasonable prices...."

Pretty much how everything works, hm? XD

I don't think I'm hardcore enough for importing......
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Postby MasterDias » Tue Jan 03, 2012 10:40 am

So, basically the same viewpoint that gave us Bandai Visual USA and unsuccessfully attempted to get American fans to pay Japanese pricing is responsible for this. I'm not surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised.

Gosick and Nichijō will likely get a release from someone else sooner or later, I would think. But man, it's a real shame about Turn A Gundam. This was probably its one chance at an official US release.
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Postby Roy Mustang » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:16 am

blkmage wrote:And this corroborates with what I was suspecting.

With the margins that they get on domestic releases, I can believe that the Japanese are willing to toss the broader North American market aside and cater to the hardcore people who are willing to import Japanese BDs at Japanese prices (also note that these people are not exclusively North Americans).



But will it work. We saw what happen, when they gave us Bandai Visual USA and that was pointed at the hardcore market. I just not sure if they will bite, but if go for all the hardcore and not make it exclusively for the North American market, maybe.

But knowing the market and the fans. They don't like paying Japanese prices and I know that most wanted the dubs remove in thinking that it would lower the cost and in turn lower the prices some.
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Postby TheSubtleDoctor » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:31 am

Sucks.

I recall having a discussion here about some inflammatory remarks that Eric Sherman from Bang Zoom made that directly referenced Bandai Entertainment's issues (disclaimer: my own opinions on things have changed a lot since then). ANN had him on a podcast in May 2010, and he remarked that if the next two big releases from Bandai (he said "Gurren Lagann and Haruhi" but I think he was referring to the movies) didn't move well enough, then Bandai could pretty much be done. I guess it turns out that he wasn't exaggerating, though the issues surely are greater than that sort of band-aid could fix.
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Postby blkmage » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:45 am

Of course, that's the big question, but there are a few things that are different in the five or so years since Bandai Visual USA.

The problem with setting up a US branch that produces and licenses things is that it costs a ton. Even if we forget about the thing that costs the most, which is producing dubs, there's still discs to be authored, packaging to be produced, and materials to be shipped. All of this costs a ton. And then, North Americans want to buy these things at several times less than the Japanese prices.

The new strategy isn't to set up a US branch that licenses things to sell at the Japanese price point. Rather, it's to not license anything at all and just have savvy and hardcore fans buy the Japanese BDs that would include English subs from Amazon.co.jp or something. In this case, there's no cost to setting up anything outside of Japan and fans bear the entire cost of shipping so there's almost no additional cost to the Japanese companies.

The immediate reaction from us would be that there's not enough people that are dumb enough to do that. But you have to factor in the costs associated with producing all of this North American stuff and whether catering to a broad market at a low price point makes more money than scrapping the whole operation and adding sales at the Japanese price point.

There's definitely a large chunk of people who are willing to import things from Amazon.co.jp that didn't exist back in 2006. As small as it is relative to the broader North American fanbase, I think this chunk will continue to grow as foreign fans increase their engagement with the Japanese base through things like 2ch or Nico Nico Douga or pixiv.
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Postby Yamamaya » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:41 pm

Bandai seemed to release a few big releases from time to time such as Code Geass, Haruhi,and Gurren Lagann, but I don't remember them releasing that much. The tide seems to be turning against licensors in general.

The idea expressed in that interview is certainly interesting. Cutting the middlemen and allowing hardcore fans the option of buying straight from Japan is an excellent idea. The key word is "hardcore." Only hardcore fans are going to want to dish out that kind of cash to pay for Japanese prices. Unless there was some kind of discount for international buyers, which is unlikely. For people who don't have the money and/or are not hardcore fans, they would likely turn to online options such as netflix, hulu, crunchyroll, etc, if those options even remained open.

blkmage (post: 1525257) wrote:There's definitely a large chunk of people who are willing to import things from Amazon.co.jp that didn't exist back in 2006. As small as it is relative to the broader North American fanbase, I think this chunk will continue to grow as foreign fans increase their engagement with the Japanese base through things like 2ch or Nico Nico Douga or pixiv.


That is certainly true. I also appreciate the fact that the Japanese base is increasing their involvement with the foreign fanbases. It may increase profits, but in the long run it will suck to be the regular guy who can't afford lolJapan prices if most of the licensors went down the toilet.

Of course the biggest issue is a more broader cultural issue IMO. We prefer getting really good deals and tend to chafe at high prices. In Japan, the focus is more on quality than quantity. This is one reason why businesses like Wal-mart do poorly in Japan. People are suspicious of companies that advertise on the basis of having the lowest prices.
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Postby TheSubtleDoctor » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:57 pm

Cutting out the licensors is certainly an idea that makes immediate, short term financial sense; however, if eventually no domestic distributors are left and no dubs get made and no new stuff gets put on TV, then the potential for the growth of anime fandom is limited. Of course so much of fandom exists on the internet, and anime on TV may not be as important in 2012 as it was in 2006, but I still think that if the no-middleman model is implemented for the entire market, potential fans and/or casual fans will be all but frozen out. Think about how many of us got into this whole anime thing b/c of something that was on TV and dubbed, even if we don't prefer such fare now. Again, there is the caveat that times have changed. Still, limiting long-term growth might not be as successful of a long term financial move, trading possible growth-spikes for a steady state. Guess people can't really afford to take chances atm though.
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Postby Roy Mustang » Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:21 pm

I wonder if this keeps up. Then Macross can be release on BD in Japan with sub titles and stick to to HG. After all, they did release Macross F on BD in Japan with English subs.

Now with Gundam Unicorn having the dub and sub, would they do the same with other titles or just release it as a sub.

As long as they release the titles in Japan with English subs, then I'm all for it.
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Postby Mr. Hat'n'Clogs » Tue Jan 03, 2012 2:58 pm

[quote="TheSubtleDoctor (post: 1525286)"]Cutting out the licensors is certainly an idea that makes immediate, short term financial sense]Yeah, I'd pretty much entirely agree with this. I can think of three titles that maybe, MAYBE I would pay Japanese prices for, but I would still definitely want to own more than just Macross F 2, Summer Wars, and Baccano!, and I say that as someone is pretty hardcore into anime. While certainly I think LE releases are a good thing, and I would buy them for them for many more shows than the three I just mentioned, but I think restricting anime solely to a sliver of the current fanbase is kind of like sealing off growth. I think anime has much larger audience than it currently reaches, I mean, look at the progress made with Cowboy Bebop or Gundam Wing or Trigun. I think now there could easily be a fairly large group of people who would be very interested in anime if they just saw Xam'd or Eden of the East or Sword of the Stranger now, but most people aren't going to pay crazy Japanese prices for things regardless of how good it is. There are plenty of anime "normal" people could conceivably watch and be brought in by, but don't because they'd have to stumble upon it, and I doubt many non/casual fans are going to go looking through Crunchyroll to watch Usagi Drop.

I don't know a whole lot about business, and it certainly makes sense to do this for a fair number of shows. Like we saw with the Kara no Kyoukai boxsets, there's certainly a market for this, but I think just doing it for every show instead of just something like Bakemonogatari or Fate/Zero is kind of short-sighted.
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Postby blkmage » Tue Jan 03, 2012 3:37 pm

The problem with the idea of the potential large market is that it's never been properly harnessed and no one knows how to do it. That's been the great promise pretty much for the entirety of anime licensing in North America. After a decade or two, it still hasn't happened.

Cowboy Bebop, Gundam Wing, and Trigun are all great examples, but they were also all on TV. One question is whether licensors are doing anything similar to get their stuff out. The other question is whether there's as easy a way to reach these people, because as a media consumption option, anime has a lot more competition.

Lastly, remember that North America is not the sole consumer of English subbed anime. There's a lot of room for growth in places closer to Japan, where the fanbase there is much, much more similar to Japan's than ours. The proximity to Japan definitely helps with stuff like shipping costs. And look go through the guest list for AFA, which is held in Singapore. It blows pretty much every North American con out of the water.

If you look at non-Japan Asian anime markets, you'll find one that's really similar to Japan's, which focuses on goods rather than discs. In fact I'd guess that there's way more of an actual piracy problem (as in counterfeit discs and goods) there than here. Also, dubbing is a lot less prevalent. So everyone still watches fansubs. In fact, the Chinese scanlation ring is way bigger and faster than the English one is.
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Postby TheSubtleDoctor » Wed Jan 04, 2012 6:50 am

blkmage (post: 1525324) wrote:The problem with the idea of the potential large market is that it's never been properly harnessed and no one knows how to do it. That's been the great promise pretty much for the entirety of anime licensing in North America. After a decade or two, it still hasn't happened.
While this is factually correct, it is fallacious to draw the conclusion that no one ever will "figure it out" simply because no one has up until this point. Regardless, I want to be clear that I don't expect another bubble a la 2000-2004. This would be unrealistic. What I am thinking about is growth potential (of casual fans) on a smaller scale, but still growth potential. Of course, as I mentioned, this potential could be much less than it was in the earlier part of the last decade due to evolving media consumption habits.
Cowboy Bebop, Gundam Wing, and Trigun are all great examples, but they were also all on TV. One question is whether licensors are doing anything similar to get their stuff out. The other question is whether there's as easy a way to reach these people, because as a media consumption option, anime has a lot more competition.
To answer the first question: yes, but their opportunities are limited. I don't think anyone can afford what is being asked for the proven model: a run every weekday afternoon, but, as your second question suggests, there is a real question as to whether that model will still work today.
Lastly, remember that North America is not the sole consumer of English subbed anime. There's a lot of room for growth in places closer to Japan, where the fanbase there is much, much more similar to Japan's than ours. The proximity to Japan definitely helps with stuff like shipping costs. And look go through the guest list for AFA, which is held in Singapore. It blows pretty much every North American con out of the water.

If you look at non-Japan Asian anime markets, you'll find one that's really similar to Japan's, which focuses on goods rather than discs. In fact I'd guess that there's way more of an actual piracy problem (as in counterfeit discs and goods) there than here. Also, dubbing is a lot less prevalent. So everyone still watches fansubs. In fact, the Chinese scanlation ring is way bigger and faster than the English one is.
This is all well and good, but I am a tad confused on its relevance. Perhaps I'm a bit dense =). If you're saying that Japan isn't/shouldn't have special concern with the North American market, then I mad because I part of that market.

While you're bringing up conventions, it is worth noting that North America has the top two or three largest, most well-attended anime conventions in the world (and attendance is only growing), and surely that warrants Japan's attention. And also: surely this fact warrants at least some consideration that it is Japan's business model/business practices that might just be the reason that Japan isn't seeing the kind of revenue they want from the North American anime market. Based on con attendance, fandom, i.e. the potential market, is actually growing. If fandom is growing, but revenue is declining, then surely Japan shoulders some of the blame for not being able to exploit the increasing demand or potential demand. Perhaps.

/rambling
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Postby blkmage » Wed Jan 04, 2012 7:51 am

Well, I mean, I'm sure someone could figure out the market sometime before the heat death of the universe, the problem is whether it's worth it, in terms of time or resources. If we want to continue the cheap disc model, then growth potential can't be small, it has to be huge, otherwise you'll be selling reasonably priced items to a small group of people.

My point wasn't that Japan shouldn't care about us, but it was more like trying to retrace why they seem to want to drop us as fast as possible. A lot of the time, when we talk about the anime industry we forget that North America isn't the only stop. It might be useful to take a look at what's going on in those other places. Also I am jealous of AFA.

You're right that most of it has to do with the Japanese not being unable to unlock our crazy gaijin puzzle. It's always seemed to me that they got involved with western markets reluctantly and have always put in minimal effort to get stuff over here. I was about to say maybe they should take a look at their video game industry but I realized that Japanese games are dying over here as well.

I will note, and I didn't notice until someone pointed it out, that it was refreshing to see an exec come out and straight up say that they're shutting down because they want us to pay more instead of blaming it on fansubs and piracy.
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Postby TheSubtleDoctor » Wed Jan 04, 2012 8:14 am

blkmage (post: 1525506) wrote:If we want to continue the cheap disc model, then growth potential can't be small, it has to be huge, otherwise you'll be selling reasonably priced items to a small group of people.
I'm curious what you think of Funimation having success with this model. Summer Wars and both Eva Rebuild Blurays are under $16 and Eden of the East is less than $25 on Bluray. I'm sure the number of people buying are somewhere between bubble boom and a small group, though I'd guess closer to the latter than the former. According to their reps, though, these titles and others (Hetalia springs to mind) have been really successful this past year. I'm sure they've had a miss or two (and they also have certain premium priced titles), but Funi seems to do alright for itself selling reasonably priced discs.
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Postby blkmage » Wed Jan 04, 2012 8:39 am

I think Funimation is large enough that they can do that. I don't think smaller entrants can necessarily do the same thing without huge upfront costs. They've got all the stuff in place to be able to do it, so I guess it's more Funimation benefitting from not completely screwing up in the past like ADV or something. And they've also got the breadth as well, with a huge number of mainstream titles.
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Postby Mr. Hat'n'Clogs » Wed Jan 04, 2012 3:08 pm

blkmage (post: 1525324) wrote:The problem with the idea of the potential large market is that it's never been properly harnessed and no one knows how to do it. That's been the great promise pretty much for the entirety of anime licensing in North America. After a decade or two, it still hasn't happened.
I would actually argue that it was on the verge of happening, but then it was close to killed solely by the release of the show as singles. In 2000-2004, TV on DVD wasn't really that established of a thing, so buying 3-5 episodes for $25 didn't seem as ridiculous as it does now. Madoka Magica is the best selling TV anime, with about 50k per BD, right? Cowboy Bebop, with its original run of singles(before the release of any boxset or the singles with remastered sound), sold approx. 150k, though I am not sure if that's total discs or per singles.

However, once we hit maybe 2005-2006, the idea of buying the TV you watch on single discs becomes much more ridiculous, because why would I go buy a $200 Trigun boxset when I could just go pick up the first season of Lost for $30 and get twice the amount of running time? I think what really supports this is what the bestselling titles of like, 2005-2008 were. It was typically movies/short OVAs that were self-contained to one disc, which had much more reasonable pricing by American standards. Stuff like Blue Submarine No. 6, Karas, Afro Samurai, and the Ghibli movies all did well because it was much easier to consider buying.

On the other hand, you can see some more stability among anime companies now that it is the normal way to release things 13-26 episodes at a time. Sentai appears to be doing well, and Funimation is obviously doing really well. Bandai is closing doors, but I think that points to what I said before, because they are the only company I'm aware of still using singles to release new shows.

Cowboy Bebop, Gundam Wing, and Trigun are all great examples, but they were also all on TV. One question is whether licensors are doing anything similar to get their stuff out. The other question is whether there's as easy a way to reach these people, because as a media consumption option, anime has a lot more competition.
I'd think Netflix is probably the best solution for this, as I would assume it's much easier to come across something there by chance, as opposed to, say, Hulu, where you probably have a set goal in mind. Apparently High School of the Dead and Persona 4 are both bringing in (and keeping) a fair number of people who have a different interest in zombies/vidja games, who then proceed to see other stuff, possibly through Hulu or Netflix.
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Postby Atria35 » Wed Jan 04, 2012 7:55 pm

Sentai Filmworks has rescued the license for Someday's Dreamers. Now to see if I can find it for cheap...
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Postby Neane » Thu Jan 05, 2012 1:33 pm

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Postby MasterDias » Thu Jan 05, 2012 4:52 pm

Well, it looks like the Bandai situation is not just a US thing. Namco-Bandai's licensing/distribution arm in France, Beez Entertainment, is also pulling out.
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Postby A_Yellow_Dress » Thu Jan 05, 2012 5:19 pm

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Postby Neane » Fri Jan 06, 2012 3:08 pm

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Postby Mithrandir » Fri Jan 06, 2012 7:34 pm

TheSubtleDoctor (post: 1525286) wrote:...however, if eventually no domestic distributors are left and no dubs get made and no new stuff gets put on TV, then the potential for the growth of anime fandom is limited...


I disagree with the implicit assumption that how we used to be exposed to media will dictate how future generations will. There are several million Americans who don't watch TV at all anymore. We are the Cable Cutters and we get our media online and via netflix, etc. In my geographic area, virtually NONE of the college age and younger crowd watched traditional TV. They learn about stuff from their peers, etc. In the same way we get our news via twitter, FB, etc way before the news reports, we'll get tipped off to the coolest new stuff by our peers. It's all about the social now.

Of course, I run a website where hundred of very cool people tell me about teh awesums. And now, I think I'll watch some Usagi Drop. D'awwwww.
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Postby TheSubtleDoctor » Fri Jan 06, 2012 8:36 pm

Mithrandir (post: 1525892) wrote:I disagree with the implicit assumption that how we used to be exposed to media will dictate how future generations will. There are several million Americans who don't watch TV at all anymore. We are the Cable Cutters and we get our media online and via netflix, etc. In my geographic area, virtually NONE of the college age and younger crowd watched traditional TV. They learn about stuff from their peers, etc. In the same way we get our news via twitter, FB, etc way before the news reports, we'll get tipped off to the coolest new stuff by our peers. It's all about the social now.
Indeed. Note that I do point out as much in caveats to my initial worries:
Of course so much of fandom exists on the internet, and anime on TV may not be as important in 2012 as it was in 2006,
Of course, as I mentioned, this potential could be much less than it was in the earlier part of the last decade due to evolving media consumption habits.
You're very much correct about the changes you mention; however, I do think my core point about the no-middleman business model raising the barrier of access is a cogent one. Regardless of the platform people consume their media on, I think it is pretty clear that fewer people will consume it if it is not in their native tongue. It is harder to get non-fans or casual fans to read subtitles (re: some won't do it); ergo, fandom has a limiter placed upon it.
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Postby Yamamaya » Sat Jan 07, 2012 11:01 pm

Likely because anime has and always will be a niche interest. You can cater to a large audience with only a very small, select number of series and movies. You can draw in younger audiences with typical shoenen material, but it's far more difficult to get an older non anime fan to start watching anime.

Hats brings up a good point. Prior to wide use of torrents and streaming, paying a lot of money to watch TV shows on DVD anytime you wanted wasn't really considered all that bad. However, as the years passed and every single show started getting a box set DVD release, people weren't willing to pay high prices for only a few episodes anymore.

I'm not sure if Netflix will have the same effect as TV did. With TV, all you could do was record a show. With Netflix, people may not feel the need to buy the DVD for the shows they watch. After all, why would you want to pay for the DVD when you can just rewatch it on Netflix?
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Postby Mouse2010 » Sun Jan 08, 2012 8:51 am

Yamamaya (post: 1526139) wrote:I'm not sure if Netflix will have the same effect as TV did. With TV, all you could do was record a show. With Netflix, people may not feel the need to buy the DVD for the shows they watch. After all, why would you want to pay for the DVD when you can just rewatch it on Netflix?


Yeah, Netflix might be a mixed blessing. For one thing, it does make it easy for viewers new to anime to LEGALLY sample a wide variety of shows. This is actually how I got into the anime: not through television, but through Netflix and then legal online streaming at Hulu and Funimation.com. But I know that I, at least, am much less likely to buy something if it is available for instant view on Netflix. (As it is, I sometimes mentally kick myself for buying something on sale when it then appears on Netflix a couple of months later.) On the other hand, Netflix sometimes cycles stuff off instant view, so you can't always count on a favorite show being there. Something that one really loved would still be worth buying to make sure it's always available. And Netflix instant view typically has either the sub or the dub, but not both, so people who want to be able to choose which version they watch might still buy the disks. You also don't get the special features if you watch instantly; whether that makes a difference is going to depend on the viewer as well as the show. Most of the time the special features don't seem that special to me.

Right now, the major benefit I see to buying DVDs rather than just watching them online through Netflix and Hulu.plus is that you aren't dependent on someone else maintaining a license to show it online--if the license lapses, you still have the show.
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Postby blkmage » Sun Jan 08, 2012 9:38 pm

On releasing cheap 13 episode sets, I can believe that Funimation is doing well, but I don't see how Sentai can be doing well at all. Of course, this is absent any sales numbers and other hard data, but their titles and the rate at which they acquire and put out stuff doesn't seem sustainable to me.

Speaking from my own experience, I actually don't think cheap discs ever factored in to getting people into anime. For me and my friends, it went from 'hey watch this thing on TV' to 'download this fansub'. So I do think that streaming can be a viable option for getting people into anime, simply because of the low barrier to access.

Of course, this ruins the North American anime industry model. I've gone into this before, with the whole thing about how the NA market banks on selling access and the right to watch while the JP market, with low barriers to access through TV broadcasts, sells things by appealing to people's fanaticism.
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