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Mmm, Crunchy!

by Justin Sevakis,

It has come to my attention that a few readers are a little intimidated sending in questions. I can understand not wanting to put yourself out there, but it's really not that scary. You send an e-mail (and ONLY an e-mail -- no tweets, no forum PMs) to me at [email protected], and forget about it. I very seldom reply directly. Don't take that as a judgement on your character.

Concerned whether you'll make the cut for the column? Well, first of all, you don't have a lot of competition. I get about 20-40 emails in the Answerman inbox every week, but almost all of it is spam, press releases from people who don't understand that I don't run the newsroom, and licensing inquiries from professionals who don't understand their own jobs. After I delete all of those, I get only about 3-6 ACTUAL questions every week.

I don't answer all of those. Any question that's easily answered with a Google or ANN search ("Is there ever gonna be more ____/when is ____ coming out/is ____ licensed?") is something I won't bother with. But anything that requires explaining or a backstory is something I can really sink my teeth into, and that's when good things happen. (In this column, anyway.)

So no need to hold back. Anything you've ever wondered about, no matter how technical or weird or specific is fair game. And I won't always know (or be able to find) the answers, so even if I don't use your question, keep trying!

Actually, in the wake of Crunchyroll's big news this week, I put out a very un-subtle hint on Twitter so I could dispel a few rumors and inform some speculation. You guys rose to the challenge! Here are the two best questions that resulted.

Meg asks:

First, who are/is the Chrernin Group? I've gotten out of the loop on this sort of things over the last number of years but if they were covered in Variety for just thinking about buying CR a few months ago, I would assume they aren't minor league in the industry. Next question, how do you think this will effect the current subscribers and what they're getting on CR? I guess what I'm asking here really is I just re-subbed to CR for another year and I'm wondering if this is going to be so messy I won't even be interested next year in continuing on. Third - how does this tie back into CR's relationship with Sentai/neo ADV? It's been clear to me that something has been going on with these two entities for years and I've gotten the feeling those in the industry/know have a idea what's going on but can't really say much about it publicly.

Jason adds:

Considering TCG previously tried to buy Hulu and failed, my guess is that they saw a similar streaming platform in Crunchyroll. It does make sense from a business standpoint to expand a company's offerings using a proven platform, but do you think TCG will stand behind the service or just take said service and sell off the remains?

It's always a little worrying when new companies come in and buy a controlling share of the anime companies we know and love/tolerate. We worry about what might change, and whether it'll affect our ability to keep enjoying the stuff we love. And Crunchyroll has done an amazing job -- epoch-making, in many ways -- of making anime available the way we consume it today. It's instructive, in this case, to think about why Chernin Group wanted to buy them. I doubt it's because they were big anime fans.

Who is Chernin Group? Peter Chernin is best known as the former President and COO of News Corporation, where for 13 years he presided over the explosive growth of Fox Television (including Fox News, FX, Fox Sports, Fox Movie Channel, National Geographic Channel and SPEED) and some very good years at Twentieth Century Fox (which included Titanic and Avatar). He left when his contract ran out in 2009 to focus on start-ups, and founded Chernin Group. They've invested in several prominent tech start-ups, including Pandora, Tumblr and Flipboard. (They also have a production company, which produces a small number of mainstream film and TV shows.) In Asia, the company has a separate division (CA Media) that has invested in Legend Fighting Championship, the Indian branch of TV production powerhouse Endemol, and Indian music and events company Only Much Louder.

But Chernin Group didn't have much going on in streaming media, and it's no secret that streaming video is the future of media consumption worldwide. When you think about it, the entire market is controlled by only a small handful of players, and most are just restricted to just one or two countries. Netflix (US/Canada/some of Europe) specializes in movies and scripted, serialized American television. Hulu (US/Japan) specializes in simulcast American television. YouTube (world) specializes in user-generated video, having dropped the ball on licensed content. But Crunchyroll specializes in anime and Korean dramas, and their reach is, to varying degrees, worldwide.

If you step back from being a fan and really examine Crunchyroll as a company, you could say they are better than anyone else at licensing international professional TV content, quickly adding translations, and making it available worldwide for a cult audience. Licensing costs are comparatively low, so they are able to pay the bills using ads and an optional monthly subscription fee. They've found their way onto game consoles and devices like AppleTV and Roku, and are accessible to a mass audience. Nobody else has done this on the scale they have. And they appear to be profitable! So with that in mind, what would Chernin Group want to do with this company? Where is the growth potential? What can be done with additional money?

First and foremost, I think they will reinforce their position in the anime community. They've said as much in their press release. There are still a handful of licensors who aren't playing ball with Crunchyroll, or sometimes streaming in general, but a bigger company with deeper pockets could change some minds. (Their recent acquisition of One Piece and Toriko likely had something to do with this.) Their recently launched manga service is also likely to get a big boost in terms of both licensing funds and promotion. Crunchyroll's reach beyond North America and into non-English speaking markets will also likely get a boost. Less likely, though still possible, is dipping their toes into dubbed anime (although I'd be really shocked if they went to the cost of producing a dub themselves).

The otaku market is only so big, however, and Chernin Group likely has dreams beyond that. Competition is too fierce for "mainstream" American content (Hulu has a lock on most of it, being owned by 3 of the biggest American media companies), but there are lots of other interesting pockets of media from around the world that could find a much wider audience if only there was a place to find them. Japanese dramas are too hard to license, but Chinese dramas seem like an obvious example. But what about Spanish-language telenovelas? Many European and South American countries also make some very good scripted television, all of which has no obvious way to an outside audience. Those could really benefit from having a new "unit" on Crunchyroll.

There's a lot of possibilities for growth. It would be pretty dumb at this stage to forget about anime fans -- they're the ones who have sustained them, and the model for all obvious new markets from here on out. TV Tokyo and the original founders are still part-owners of the company, and I'm sure they'd agree. This buyout could mean very good things for anime fans and existing subscribers. Or it could also mean every smart person leaves and the new owners burn the place to the ground. You never know.

Lonnie asks:

I was wondering what with the weird way Sony releases their anime TV show, specifically on the expensive and limited print run of the Blood+ boxsets and the lack of Blu Ray releases of their Marvel Anime titles?

Anime is not Sony Home Entertainment's bread and butter, obviously. They are not tuned in to the anime community, they do not read ANN, and they do not attend anime conventions in any real capacity. In the heyday of the DVD boom, they once moved the needle of what sort of things might be released, but now, with home media sales a shadow of their former selves, the division gets new content on conveyor belt from Sony Pictures feature film and television divisions. They then run the numbers and try to decide what to do with it.

Their goal is to try to get their product on as many retail shelves across the country as possible. They want placement at Walmart, Target, and wholesalers that'll put their discs on end-caps at supermarkets. They look up market demographics and sales numbers for similar titles. Marvel anime gets compared to other American comic book cartoons. Those sell mostly to kids and teens, so a cheap DVD only release seems preferable. Blood+? Well, they made a big push with the first boxed set, but it probably sold "normal anime numbers" (i.e. a few thousand units, mostly to collectors), so keeping the print run low and making it collectable makes sense.

The problem, of course, with all of this is that it ignores the wishes of anime fans, who are used to smaller boutique publishers jumping through all sorts of hoops trying to wring every last penny out of each property. Those publishers have largely given up on getting their product into Walmart (and even Best Buy), and are now trying to move the bulk of their units via online retailers. While a smaller publisher might consider a Blu-ray release that'll sell a thousand units to be barely worth the print run, Sony probably wouldn't want to get out of bed for that. The scale of their operation just isn't streamlined for that -- it's possible they wouldn't make a profit from it anyway.

Michelle asks:

The other day, I found something odd: The American release of Blood+ is made by Sony and is rated "Not rated". But the Canadian release is made by Columbia/Tristar and is rated "PG". I guess the first part of the question would be: Is the American version and Canadian version of Blood+ different as far as content goes (Extras, censored scenes...). And why were 2 versions necessary? I was also wondering if it was a common practice to have different versions of anime releases between Canada and the US or if we usually get the same releases?

99% of anime DVD and Blu-ray releases are exactly the same discs from the same print runs in both the United States and Canada. Columbia/Tristar is a label of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and the Canadian copy we found was just the American disc with a ratings sticker for Quebec and a note that it has French subtitles. I can't find any evidence of a different release for Canadian audiences, and I doubt that's the case.

So what's up with the rating? It's not the same rating as movies get. Americans are used to "PG" being the rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and their Classification and Rating Administration (CARA). This is the nebulous industry funded organization that tasks a bunch of anonymous groups of parents with applying sometimes arbitrary ratings decisions on new movies. Some major chains like Blockbuster Video used to insist on having ratings on most things, but CARA is expensive and a pain to deal with -- they have to "approve" every piece of marketing material you release! Nowadays most independently released films don't bother.

The MPAA also doesn't deal with TV or OAV series at all. The American TV industry came up with its own ratings system in the late 90s for use with the V-chip, a then-new addition to televisions that allowed for parental controls, and uses the TV-PG (or TV-14) rating for stuff like Blood+. This rating is completely up to the broadcast network or distributor, and can be used freely without anyone's permission, which is why you see it sometimes being used on anime packaging. There is no unified system for use on home video in the United States, and most publishers just use the MPAA or TV age rating.

Canada, however, is special. And by "special" I mean a GIANT PAIN IN THE ASS. First, there's a TV age rating system similar to America's. Then, there's a separate movie ratings board for EACH PROVINCE! Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, the Maritimes (New Brunswick/Nova Scotia/Prince Edward Island) and Quebec all have separate ratings boards, and in many provinces it's mandatory that you go through their system. I've only attempted to deal with this system once, years ago, and found that many of these offices were horribly understaffed and wouldn't even return phone calls. This is why many smaller films never see theaters in the less populated provinces.

Then, for home video, all of the scores EXCEPT Quebec's are averaged together to get the Canadian Home Video Ratings System rating. That rating is used voluntarily on home video packaging, although some stores may insist upon it before stocking it. Since Quebec always has to be special, their rating from the Régie du Cinéma is maintained and labeled separately, and participation is mandatory, even on TV anime discs imported from other countries. If there's no local distributor, the stores selling it have to apply for the rating (or at least find out what it is and add the stickers).

Most anime publishers don't deal directly with Canada, since customs is a pain and directly shipping to customers is expensive and difficult. Instead, they go through local distributors, who often take care of the ratings requisite in each area. I do not envy them that job. At any rate, Quebec's rating system, doesn't have a PG rating (theirs is G/13+/16+/18+). The Canadian Home Video Ratings System does have a PG, so maybe the other sticker was added later.

And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.

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