Why Are UK Releases Slower Than North American Releases?

by Justin Sevakis,

Christopher asks:

I live in the UK and one thing that has been bugging me for a while now is why there is such a big gap in releases of anime Blu-rays/DVDs between US and UK of the same series? One prime example of this is "One Piece". If a series is been released only in the US and not in the UK, that's different. But when the discs is been sold in both countries, why is the UK so far behind our US counterpart in these releases? I'm sure all us UK anime fans would like an answer to this.

The UK anime market is much smaller than that of the US. Where an average US disc release might sell 10-15,000 units, a UK release might have trouble clearing 2,000. As a result, the UK market has long ago become reliant on the American anime publishers to do a lot of the work of making an anime release.

How it usually works is this: an American publisher like FUNimation will license the rights to a show. Quite often, they will end up with rights not just to North America, but to all "English speaking territories" (which usually includes the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand). Since the US is by far the bigger market, the Japanese licensors usually prioritize selling to North America first. At this point, a UK and an Australian publisher will come in and sub-license the rights from the American publisher (with the licensor's blessing). This happens with so many shows that it's pretty common for UK publishers to have an "output deal" with the US publishers, to simply release everything that the US publisher gets the English Speaking Territories rights to.

Since making a dub, and then a DVD and Blu-ray is an expensive and laborious task, and the UK companies have far less ability to make up those costs, they'll instead wait for the US publisher to do all of that. They'll pay the publisher to author a second version of their disc with the opening logos, warnings and region codes changed. However, this will obviously be lower priority for the American production team, and they'll likely be doing it after their own disc has already gone out to replication.

In the event where the US publisher doesn't want to share, the UK publisher will have to wait until they make their dubs and subtitles, and send them to the licensor, and the licensor gives it to them. That can take a very long time. There have been UK releases that were delayed well over a year simply due to delays in acquiring English dub materials.

The UK anime publishers are also very small companies, who are often extremely busy trying to keep up with the insane amount of anime being released. For a long running show like One Piece, which might sell OK but doesn't really burn up the charts, it's simply a lower priority than shorter shows that might sell more. Which doesn't mean they're abandoning the show. It just means they don't have the manpower to release everything they need to, and more promising shows take immediate priority.

Not every disc released in the UK is a modified version of the US release. There are plenty of shows that come out in the UK first, and sometimes they only come out in the UK! The two countries' anime markets are tied at the hip, but still have some noteworthy differences. But being a smaller market serviced by a handful of small companies, it's an unfortunate truth that sometimes things are just not going to move as fast over there.

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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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