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Life Is Just A Game

by Justin Sevakis,

Tough week here at Answerman. I got a few questions about the new Funimation broadcast dubs, but then they came out and answered most of the questions people were posing. Then we had our server issues last weekend, which meant that nobody remembered to send me questions. So I was kind of scraping bottom this week, question-wise. So, as the pile is empty, if you've been sitting on your burning question, now's the time to send it in!

Here's what we have to answer this week...

David asks:

Why is it that Viz Media wants to continue being the only major anime distributor in North America that refuses to stream anything to Canada? Despite the fact that several other anime distributors like Funimation and Aniplex stream on Hulu and to Canada at the same time, why does Viz Media still refuse to do so? What little information that has come out of Viz on this issue has failed to make any sense.

Ah yes, the "why isn't this anime streaming to Canada" question. I get this one a lot. Canadians are quite used to getting pretty much everything the American fans get, and now that most anime companies found a way to serve them, it's definitely more than a little unnerving when it doesn't happen. Especially when streaming is pretty much THE way people consume anime these days.

Hulu does not stream to Canada. Their bread and butter is mainstream, network TV shows from ABC, NBC, Fox, Viacom and several others (although certain anime does really really well for them too). Two big things are holding them back from launching in Canada. First, the much smaller Canadian market doesn't have much of a developed market for online video advertising -- and ad revenue makes up the lion's share of Hulu's income. Secondly, the Canadian TV networks -- CBC, CTV, Global and City -- have been working with the American networks to bring current shows to Canadian viewers for decades, and they have a lock on all of the good content. They're not willing to play ball with Hulu. (And frankly, had ABC, NBC and Fox not all owned a chunk of them, it's doubtful they would have either.) And so, without much of a strategy, Hulu is not bothering to launch in Canada.

Anime companies basically have two choices when it comes to streaming stuff in Canada: do it at a loss, or don't do it at all. Anime Network uses Hulu embeds in the USA, but streams to Canada themselves, at a loss. Crunchyroll can also do it at a loss, because they make their real money with subscriptions. Funimation is chasing the same model. Aniplex USA has their shows on Crunchyroll, so they're taken care of.

After mothballing their Neon Alley initiative, Viz doesn't have a streaming platform of their own anymore. Running a streaming website is an insane amount of work, and requires a ton of technical expertise and ongoing expenses, and they've already decided it just wasn't working out for them. That rules out streaming it at a loss (which is generally bad business anyway). They also don't work with Crunchyroll directly. Maybe there have been discussions, but there's certainly no deal in place for whatever reason (although Viz will provide them materials when licensors want to stream their shows there, obviously). That leaves them with a gaping, Canada-sized hole in their ability to monetize their anime online.

People pester Viz about this constantly, so they know people want it. What they don't have is an ability to make it work. They don't want to build their own platform, they have no way to directly make money with such a site, so until the day a secure, fast-turnaround content streaming site opens in Canada, one that pays real money, they really don't have any good options. And it's not just Viz -- the same goes for Bandai Visual and TMS, who mostly just put their shows on Hulu (although some do end up on Crunchyroll).

And so Canadialand gets ignored. Again. Sorry guys.

Thanks to Jesse, Ian and Stardust for their help. And also, disclosure: I do some authoring for Viz through Bang Zoom, Hulu prep for TMS, and have done Hulu prep for Bandai Visual in the past.

John asks:

Discotek is known for licensing older and more obscure anime titles. These series normally have a cheaper licensing fee then newer series. With their recent announcement of titles of more recent anime such as Strike the Blood and Galilei Donna. My question is do you think they will continue licensing more newer anime series and be successful in this strategy? And will we see less releases of classic series that has made them famous?

Have you seen Discotek's release slate? They've announced a boatload of classic shows lately. I don't think you need to worry about that slowing down at all, if recent events are any indication. If that were to happen, it'd be more likely because there's been such competition for old shows that the easy-to-get ones are running out. But for now, the flow continues unabated.

Discotek has, however, been in a unique situation. You see, these days most anime publishers demand that they get online rights in addition to DVD/BD publishing rights. Many anime licensors would much rather put these shows on Hulu and Crunchyroll themselves, and not share the revenues with an American middleman. Discotek doesn't ask for any online rights at all, so by selling DVD rights to them, a licensor can get a lot more streaming revenue. Also, when Crunchyroll gets all-rights for a show occasionally, Discotek has been able to sub-license those publishing rights from them.

It's a good deal for a tiny company. Suddenly they're getting current shows nobody else could get, all because they didn't ask for streaming rights. They'd be pretty dumb to turn that down!

Full disclosure: I do BD authoring and other video work for Discotek.

Bill asks:

How come there aren't many dubs made in New York anymore?

There's still an occasional dub made in New York. NYAV Post record their dubs in both New York and Los Angeles. DuArt records Pokémon every week out of New York. But there's really not much else.

Central Park Media and Media Blasters liked using local studios to record their dubs, and Right Stuf formed relationships in the area because their producer, the late Jeff Thompson, was based in New York. But then the crash happened, and the local dub work simply dried up.

This happened on the West coast too, of course, but there was always just a little more production going on in Los Angeles, and that kept the fires going. Also, companies like Bang Zoom and NYAV Post are run by anime fans, and have gone to great lengths to keep chasing anime dub work, even when it wasn't particularly lucrative or easy to get. The New York studios (NYAV notwithstanding) were not. Anime paid the bills, but there were other, better paying jobs to chase. It was just a job for them.

What became of most of the New York dub studios? Taj Productions (Slayers, Irresponsible Captain Tyler) closed its doors entirely. Mercury Productions now specializes in documentary work for the healthcare industry. Headline Studios (His and Her Circumstances, Genshiken) mostly does indie film, as did Matlin Recording (Patlabor TV, Darkside Blues), though according to their website, they now seem to mostly tune pianos. Production work in New York City declined greatly during the economic crisis, and the post-production business in general is in a state of decline, due to the enormous amount of work that can now be done by filmmakers and publishers on normal computers. Many, many companies have closed their doors. It's no shock that the bulk of the remaining work has clustered around Los Angeles, the official headquarters of the entertainment business. Many actors and other professionals have moved here too.

It's kind of sad that the era of New York City dubs is over. But so too, is the era of Wilmington, NC dubs, and possibly even the era of Canadian dubs. Sign of the times, I guess. At least there's always Texas.

Ida asks:

Now that there appears to be reawakening when it comes to sports anime (since both Haikyuu!! and Free! have been licensed), do you think there might be a chance that some of the older series might actually finally get released? In particular, I really want to add Hikaru no Go to my anime library, and I am starting to get desperate enough to consider importing a French copy... ($500 for Japanese blu rays is a bit too hefty for me, unfortunately.) Since it is already all translated, and even, for what it's worth, dubbed back in the day, why does Viz Media keep sitting on it?

I am a huge fan of Hikaru no Go and would love for nothing more than for it to get a nice, cheap, complete release on discs that I can horde and fondle. I would totally buy multiple boxed sets, build a fort out of them, and sit in it. Unfortunately, I'm not holding my breath for that to happen.

Hikaru no Go was a huge bomb for Viz. Not only was it a slow-moving sports anime, but it was also one of the last long shows to be released as single-volume discs. As the series was a huge hit in Japan, that failure was felt both at Viz and by Shueisha in Japan. They may not have tried cheap, low-priced re-releases (that's not Viz's style, and most Japanese companies really chafe at the idea of blowing out their lovely, amazing shows for cheap), but they did try other things. They did put the whole series online, repeatedly. It was on Toonami Jetstream, and later Hulu. They gave it years. It never attracted much of an audience.

Now, if you were Viz, and you had tried all that, would YOU put the time and energy into getting Japan to agree to a bargain basement DVD release? The odds that you'll sell many are pretty darn low. The licensor is unlikely to be pleased. You are likely to lose money. It's just a bad idea. Much as I love Hikaru no Go, if I owned an anime publisher, I wouldn't touch it. It's just not meant to be.

In the mean time, the whole show is still up on Hulu. Watch it there, while you still can. And count your blessings. (By the way, it's an old digipaint show, so I can't imagine those Japanese Blu-rays look very good, if it makes you feel any better.)

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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