Are Physical Anime Releases In Danger?

by Justin Sevakis,

RPGothic asks:

With streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon getting exclusive rights to series and anime programming blocks, plus the recent crunchyroll/kadokawa deal, what does this mean for the home video market? I know dvds and blurays sales are on the decline compared to the rise of streaming, but I still prefer to own series I really enjoy on physical media and would love to own series like seven deadly sins on bluray. Are these deals going to stop physical releases in the west from being made for fans?

I pretty much make my entire living making anime DVDs and Blu-rays. While this year has been quite chaotic so far, I'm not particularly worried. And if I'm not, you probably shouldn't be either. In fact, while DVD is in decline, Blu-ray is pretty much stable across the board. Last time I dug into this about a year ago, anime Blu-ray sales were up, actually.

Every time a new media consumption method comes out, people (journalists especially) love to call it "the death of" whatever came before. But the truth is, while new media formats sometimes take root, the old and truly established ones seldom go away. Vinyl never really died, and has come back so strong that last year it made more money than all streaming music services combined. CDs aren't doing great right now, but are still sold at every Target, Walmart and Best Buy in the country. Cassettes are experiencing a resurgence (that I personally find mystifying). VHS only died because it looks absolutely unacceptable on modern TVs, and even it still has a small cult following.

Streaming is a new and exciting thing for anime companies, and the industry is still figuring out just how valuable it is. The prospect of reaching millions of new fans who never would have blindly bought a disc on their own, AND making money off of their views is nothing short of epoch-making. It fulfills the decades-long dream of getting anime on broadcast television, without having to play ball with the entirely-uninterested TV networks. But like television, it's ephemeral. Shows get removed from streaming all the time. Even digital purchases can easily disappear if the service it's purchased on gets into trouble. Most people won't care by the time that happens, but for people who want to have that show forever, a disc is still irreplaceable.

DVD, and to an extent, physical media in general, is on the decline. It used to be that everybody had to have a huge collection of discs, just to have a nice home library of stuff to watch. Nowadays that seems ridiculous -- almost everything we want to watch is available online at any given time. But there are always a few things that aren't streaming anywhere, and a few special shows that we want to have on our shelves in the fanciest form possible. Once just a means of watching stuff, DVD and Blu-ray (which really should just be considered DVD 2.0, as it's backwards compatible) is transitioning to a collector's medium. Which may mean fewer units sold, and perhaps higher prices.

But the collector is the soul of the anime business, and everyone knows it. I can't think of many scenarios where a media company would turn down the chance to sell a physical copy of their show to a few thousand for a reasonable amount of money. And to wit, the anime releases are humming along steadily, and the average month has about 30-40 new releases. We just had successful Kickstarters for discs of Escaflowne, Riding Bean, Skip Beat, Otaku no Video and others. More anime is coming out on disc these days than ever before. Partially that's because there's more anime than there's ever been before, and partially because there's been a boom in catalog titles, many of which will probably never be cleared for streaming.

Netflix and Amazon are not in the DVD business, and their contracts do not include physical media rights, although for their big exclusive titles they often do insist on a certain amount of time passing before a release can happen (a "holdback period" as it's known). Given how long Western fans are used to waiting for many releases, I don't expect that delay to be all that noticeable. The Crunchyroll/Kadokawa deal doesn't make specific mention of DVD or Blu-ray, but any producer would have to be missing a chunk of their brains to turn away a significant part of the revenue anime brings in. But as the media landscape changes, anything can happen. Perhaps someday there will be another shift, or perhaps DVD will see a resurgence and become "the new vinyl." The only thing we know for sure is that none of these formats show any sign of going away.

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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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