Answerman Why Are OVA Episodes Seldom Licensed?
by Justin Sevakis,
Why is it so hard for companies to license OVA's? There are any number of series with plot moving events that happen between series in OVA form, and most of the time we have to end up looking at Quasi legal sites to watch or hoping an episode list on Wikipedia will let us know what the heck happened.
OVAs for broader franchises generally come in two flavors these days. The first are bonus, home video exclusive episodes that are made to encourage fans to buy the expensive DVDs and Blu-rays, or are sold as separate stand-alone episodes. Sometimes these will bridge a story gap between seasons. The other are manga pack-in OVAs that you can only buy through acquiring a manga.
Generally, when anime are licensed these days, it's done whole TV seasons at a time, with negotiations starting well in advance of their airing. This is entirely due to simulcasting, the importance of which cannot be overstated. And so, with great effort, these contracts are completed around the time the first episode is broadcast, and the show gets streamed like normal.
But at this point, there are no plans for an OVA, beyond perhaps a twinkle in the show producer's eye. An OVA wouldn't get green-lit for production until it became clear whether the show had found an audience, and that wouldn't be for at least a few weeks into the show's airing. But by that point the contract is signed, and it's a done deal. Any new productions would not be covered by it.
What's more, these OVA episodes sometimes have entirely different licensors. For example, while a TV network may be the point of contact for licensing a TV series, they'd have nothing to do with the home video release. Usually, anything made directly for the home video release has to be licensed from the original Japanese disc publisher, even if it's a continuation of the same series, made by the same people, for the same studio. Same goes for manga pack-in OVAs: those are usually controlled entirely by the manga publisher.
So, in order to get an OVA episode, any overseas publisher would have to negotiate an entirely new contract with a completely different company. Assuming that company even WANTS to do a deal (and it's their prerogative to say no), the royalties for that contract would need to be tracked separately. Which means that anything covered by that separate license can't be put on the same disc with what's covered by another contract. That means that ONE EPISODE has to be sold entirely separately.
Do YOU want to be the anime company that announces that they're selling a disc in 2017 with a single episode on it? That wouldn't fly with fans 15 years ago! How would you even price that?
There are series where the OVA is an essential part of a story, and that really sucks for Western fans, to not get that episode. This is definitely a problem that the industry is going to have to solve at some point. I have a feeling that's going to take years of the overseas publishers complaining to the production committee, who will bring up that problem during production committee meetings for future shows.
Yeah, this can be a frustrating business sometimes.
Also, those sites are not "quasi-legal," they're illegal. Just sayin'.
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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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