Why Aren't More Anime Movies Available For Streaming?

by Justin Sevakis,

Robert asks:

Why there are so few movies in legal anime streaming services (unlike Netflix which specializes in movies)? I think at the very least they should have movies that came from popular tv series in their catalog. IMO it is easier to attract new users with a good movie than to make them watch a 10+ epsiodes series. This question also applies to stand alone ovas like "Hori-san to Miyamura-kun".

Both in Japan and around the world, movies work entirely different from TV series from a business point of view. Nearly all anime TV series are represented by the same 10 or so companies, who deal with the usual overseas release partners on a daily basis. TV anime is meant to be seen for free on television, and so online streaming is an extension of that. They're used to delivering new shows and series on a timely basis, and then going back and micromanaging everything for the eventual DVD/BD release.

Movies don't work like this, and never have. While the creative staff of a movie incarnation of an anime might be the same, the company acting as licensor is often different. Toei Pictures (different company from Toei Animation), TOHO, Shochiku, Warner Bros. Japan, and occasionally Nikkatsu are the major Japanese movie distributors, along with a smattering of indies and TV networks that also have their hands in the film business, like NTV or TBS. Then you have Kadokawa Pictures, which does pretty much everything from manga publishing to producing TV and film to licensing.

Motion pictures are often handled by a separate office within those companies, and the whole legal structure of the production is far different from a TV production. Movies are meant to be subtitled, trucked around to film festivals for a year or so, put on home video eventually, and sold to airlines for in-flight viewing. The process behind this procedure is not built for speed.

When it comes to licensing these shows internationally, this does make some things significantly easier. Movie deals with talent agencies give the licensor much more freedom and autonomy to sign off on deals, so expensive high-level talent, like the Johnny's Entertainment boy band members (SMAP, Tokio, Kat-tun, NEWS, Arashi, etc.) usually can't hold up a deal. Music is also typically cleared internationally, and much more carefully than with a TV anime series.

But the process is a slow one, because it's not made with the instant gratification of a TV audience in mind. It's meant to be seen at a theater, and then -- eventually -- on other outlets like home video, paid downloads, and then eventually free streaming. This process works (to varying degrees) for almost everything.

And really, only anime fans are the ones clamoring for things to be any different. Occasionally, when a more typical anime company -- like Aniplex, for example -- is a major part of a film's production committee can the needle be moved and the show be brought to American shores faster. But even then, it'll likely be a while before it goes up for streaming on Crunchyroll or Hulu.

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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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