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Why Doesn't Netflix Simulcast?

by Justin Sevakis,

Alexandre asks:

Lately, people are upset at streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix and their lack of weekly streams. This causes people to pirate their "exclusive shows" as opposed to waiting to watch them later in one sitting. Why exactly do these services hold shows back despite it hurting their profit? Do these streaming services not realize how frequently new releases, especially those with a foreign country of origin, are imported and pirated?

American anime fans have gotten pretty spoiled by having nearly every show available day-and-date (or close to it) with Japanese premiere. When a high-profile, hotly anticipated show doesn't make it to one of the simulcast-friendly services, it's now a pretty big bummer, and some fans will go out of their way to watch the show via fansubs anyway. Even if the show will make it to another service like Netflix within a few months, that's simply too long for them to wait. (While Amazon did originally hold back series, they've since switched to a simulcast model.)

For most shows, simulcasting is essential for just this reason. The hardcore fans, the ones willing to find a torrent or an illicit streaming site, are THE market for the majority of anime titles being made. By releasing them day-and-date via streaming, the market has met consumer demand and allowed for a functioning legal ecosystem to bloom, feeding a lot of money back into the anime business.

But Netflix is different. To Netflix, it doesn't make much sense to "simulcast" anime, or much of anything else. They buy properties that they think have at least a little bit of mainstream crossover potential, similar to how Cartoon Network/Adult Swim operates. This means that when a new series comes out, they want to drum up as much interest before release as possible. They'll have preview episodes available for TV critics. They'll have lots of news releases go out. Depending on how "big" the show is, they may have advertising. All of that takes time, and access to materials that, historically, Japan has been really bad about providing ahead of time. Netflix also requires that the show be both subtitled and dubbed in multiple languages (for whatever territories they have the rights to), and while that CAN be done simultaneously, doing so is often an expensive and chaotic mess -- it's far more efficient to do it after the entire show is done being made.

And really, is the few thousand eyeballs lost to piracy worth giving up the far higher number of people Netflix will be able to introduce to the show by marketing it properly? Most of the attention that new shows get only happens if the show is a "premiere" -- meaning, it's never been released in any form in that territory before. That means that if they simulcast it week-to-week, once Japan has it together to deliver all of the pieces needed for a proper marketing campaign (typically at least 5 or 6 episodes into the series premiere), it's too late. Moreover, the entire Netflix experience is carefully constructed to encourage binge viewing, which they have determined adds substantially to shows' popularity, particularly with serialized stories.

Netflix does take piracy very seriously, and has an insane number of resources to fight it. They're not like a typical anime publisher, that way. In my opinion, the people engaging in fansubbing or distributing these episodes are really running a much higher risk of getting into legal trouble than with other anime titles. While they haven't yet had any public run-ins with piracy of their exclusive content, Amazon also has the legal and financial resources to smite just about anyone they think is illegally putting their business at risk. Just last month, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu joined with the major studios to announce a major new anti-piracy initiative called ACE ("Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment"), and with both Netflix and Amazon owning exclusive rights to several anime titles, that means anime will fall under the purview of a major Hollywood-backed anti-piracy initiative for the first time. Just something to think about.

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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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