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Where Is All The Anime On Hulu Going?

by Justin Sevakis,

Michael asks:

I noticed quite a few anime titles on Hulu expiring in the coming days. From what I can tell, it's more than usual. Do you think this is a sign of Hulu losing interest in anime as a whole and only want to focus on their American television, or is it something else, like just being more choosy as to what they stream? With Amazon and Netflix getting more involved in streaming anime (especially simulcasts and exclusives), I would think Hulu would want to compete with them on terms of streaming anime.

It's true, a huge number of anime are coming down off of Hulu. Almost all of their anime, in fact. On June 1, hundreds of titles are coming down off of the site, including shows from literally every publisher. Aniplex (Bakemonogatari, Meikakucity Actors, Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend, etc.), Bandai Visual (Alien Nine, Galaxy Angel, Saber Marionette J, etc.), Toei Animation (Fist of the North Star, Pretty Cure) and TMS Entertainment (Actually, I Am…, Brave 10, Rose of Versailles, Lupin the Third, etc.). Once the dust settles, most of these publishers will only be left with a handful of titles on the site.

Funimation seems to have the most titles left on the site after that date, but a huge number of their titles are coming down too, including Hetalia, Last Exile, Chobits and a ton of others. A good 2/3 or more of the titles from Sentai Filmworks and Anime Network are also coming down. Every NIS America title except for Kimi ni Todoke seems to be headed for the big recycling bin in the sky. And while most of the high profile Viz titles are staying, shows like K, Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne and Coppellion are not. (See updates below.) There are stray titles here and there from third party aggregators and publishers, and some of those are marked for deletion too.

If you rely on Hulu for your anime, and you watch anything other than the most popular or recent shows, this is the apocalypse. The site's vast back catalog of anime will be left a shadow of its former self in just 4 days after this article goes up. From this point forward, it seems like Hulu will only be carrying the top shows from each publisher, and not maintain a huge back catalog like they have been doing.

Hulu hasn't announced any initiative to purge itself of anime. However, to those who've been closely watching the company, this is a shock but not a surprise. The site had stopped taking back catalog shows, and was slowly deleting the least popular ones from the site for months. The company itself is in an odd place right now. Soon (when has not been announced), it will launch a huge new live TV streaming initiative, basically positioning itself as an alternative to cable TV service. This is a huge engineering and managerial undertaking, possibly the biggest thing Hulu has ever done. It's all-hands-on-deck.

It's also something of an open secret that less than 20% of anime titles bring in 80% of the views. This is speculation, but Hulu's management was likely looking to streamline things in anticipation of their big launch. Somebody upstairs almost certainly looked at all the man hours spent cataloging, quality-checking, ingesting, encoding, reporting viewership numbers, reporting to music rights organizations, paying royalties and all of the other stuff that comes with hosting shows. And they said, "sure, Naruto and a handful of other shows are popular, but holy crap, look at all this stuff nobody is watching!! We're wasting all of these resources on all this anime and it's just SITTING there!"

Mind you, this is Hulu. They have most current major network TV shows. They have Seinfeld reruns. They are comparing very mainstream shows to anime, most of which serves a small niche of fans at best. And they have decided that they are not in the niche media business, they are in the mainstream content business. And so, this purge.

In years past, Hulu would take nearly any professionally made piece of entertainment content that wasn't extremely short-lived, like news or sports. But while anime played an important role for them, they eventually found themselves buried under every new show and every old show that the anime publishers could possibly rustle up. And as a lot of it underperformed, they slowly got pickier and pickier in what they took. This is merely an extension of that.

That's the thing about Hulu, and indeed most streaming services: the placement of shows on the site is a temporary affair that lasts exactly as long as having it there works for both Hulu and the company that licensed it to them. For as long as the show is up, a decent percentage of the revenues from each viewing (be it from advertising or subscription fees) get paid out to the licensor. But that spigot can turn off at any time. And for many titles, it now has.

This is definitely bad news for all of the American anime publishers, to varying degrees. Even if not many people were watching these shows, viewership was good enough that Hulu played a very important role in most anime publishers' revenues. Depending on the publisher, this could hurt them just a little bit, or it could be a very serious crushing blow. It will be very interesting to see how some of them react to this. Some have started migrating their content to YouTube.

I see no indication that Hulu is looking to get out of anime entirely. They just want the hits. Unfortunately, fans depending on Hulu to watch any of the less popular shows will now have to look elsewhere. If the show you were looking for isn't on either Crunchyroll or Funimation.com or YouTube or AnimeNetwork.com or Netflix, then you may just be out of luck.

And THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is why people still buy discs. It was only a matter of time before something like this happened.

UPDATE: Hulu contacted ANN to inform us that despite our observation that they were flagged for removal, Chobits and Last Exile will remain on the site. Separately, Viz has informed me that some of their titles have been flagged for removal in error, and that they have confirmed with Hulu that their catalog will not be affected.

UPDATE 2: As of very early on Saturday morning, a good number of expiring titles from Funimation, Sentai, Anime Network and TMS, as well as all titles from Viz and Toei Animation are now no longer set to expire on June 1. I doubt we'll ever know for sure what happened, but it appears that the purge is now not quite as extreme as it was feared to be. There are still many shows that will be removed on that date, however.

Full disclosure: I do Hulu prep work for TMS Entertainment, and have done Hulu prep work for Bandai Visual in the past.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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