Why Isn't More Anime Shown On American TV?

by Justin Sevakis,

Kyle asks:

How come some English dubbed anime only get released straight to DVD here in the US and never air on American TV? I know that a handful of them do air on Anime-only channels, such as the FUNimation Channel and Neon Alley, and also on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim and Toonami programming blocks. However, there are some, such as Sgt. Frog, Di Gi Charat, Squid Girl, and Doki Doki School Hours, that have never aired on American TV at all. Why is that? I find it weird how some English anime dubbing companies drop a series due to "low DVD sales" when they could have just aired it on American TV first, then that way their dub could reach a wider audience and have better DVD sales.

Well, that's the problem -- no, they couldn't air it on TV first. In order to air something on TV, you have to find a network that will take it. And that's always been the issue: most of them won't.

Back in the days of the 2000s anime bubble, the American anime publishers spent a lot of money chasing television exposure. The biggest anime of the day -- your Cowboy Bebops, your Escaflownes, your Cardcaptor Sakuras -- all had some sort of TV exposure that brought in the non-otaku, so of course the logic was that to make an anime a hit, you needed to get it broadcast. Geneon and ADV hired TV salespeople to try and get the networks to pay attention, and while Bandai forged a strong relationship with Cartoon Network. But of all the major cable channels, Cartoon Network was ultimately the only one that would regularly take a chance on anime programming. A few other channels experimented with a couple of series, but found that the audience never came.

American TV network executives never really "got" anime. The ones I spoke to understood that the fan base was out there, but they didn't understand the appeal. American TV networks are big enough that they're used to calling the shots with new programming. Anime was unappealing for two business reasons: first, that they couldn't control the content of a show that's already been made. They couldn't focus-test new characters, they couldn't avoid topics that were controversial in the US -- they might be able to make small alterations with editing, but anime series are already made, and largely have to be taken as-is. Secondly, if they dedicated a decent time-slot and an expensive marketing campaign to an anime, and that anime became huge, the network wouldn't get a piece of the action. Sure, they might seem some nice ratings, but without any ownership stake in the show, they wouldn't get any extra revenue from home video sales or sale into international markets. And so, the endeavor pretty much never went anywhere.

As it turned out, the market for anime on television really never was all that prominent. Toonami brought in a ton of new fans, and while it was a hit for a while, it never set the world on fire. Adult Swim pulls in respectable ratings, and is still a good place to get broader exposure for a show, but most anime fans with internet access have already seen the shows that air there. And now, with online streaming (and the new simul-dubs initiative) it seems like there's less need for TV broadcast than ever. Hulu and Netflix are bringing in new fans. The already-addicted know where to go. TV is less and less of a thing, particularly for the teenage and young adult audiences that anime counts as its base. They live on laptops and tablets and smartphones, not in front of a television. The internet is a much better place for anime, in that way.

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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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