Why Are Sentai Titles Showing Up On Anime Strike?

by Justin Sevakis,

Austin asked:

Within the last few days/week, Sentai Filmworks has announced 4 new show licenses for the coming season (including the second season of Umaru-chan). They said in the press release that these shows will be made available through Anime Strike, amazon's Anime streaming platform. With HIDIVE having launched relatively recently, why would Sentai agree to letting Amazon hold the exclusive streaming rights to these shows when they could use them to promote HIDIVE?

As with most things in life, the answer comes down to money.

It's true that Sentai recently launched its new HIDIVE service, which the company clearly hopes will be a worthwhile stand-alone streaming service. But it JUST launched only a few months ago, and while it has some good catalog shows, it has yet to have anything that might resemble a must-have "killer app." That is, there isn't yet a simulcast that's so popular it would drive fans to the site en masse.

That doesn't mean it won't have one someday, possibly even soon. However, for now, the site probably doesn't make a ton of money, which means spending a ton of money for new simulcasts is... risky. It also has no smartphone or set-top box apps (yet). The service refers to itself currently as a "beta."

Competition for streaming rights is fierce. It's hard to justify paying through the nose for a new show that you're putting on a new, untested platform with a small user base. Even if you're reasonably sure it'll be popular, there's no way of knowing -- hotly anticipated anime end up being duds all the time.

But Amazon, with their obscene amount of money, has been buying up a ton of new shows. This hasn't been entirely smooth sailing, as what Amazon wants and what Japan wants out of these deals don't line up exactly. Japan would far rather sell streaming and physical media rights to North America in one smooth transaction, but Amazon doesn't want or need the latter, since they're not in the DVD/BD publishing business. Further, Japan would love to sell the streaming rights to all of North America (and possibly the UK and Australia) in one go, but Amazon's Anime Strike service only services the United States.

Sentai, meanwhile, is still MOSTLY a DVD/Blu-ray company. They also have the ability to stream to places outside of the United States. It makes perfect sense for them to work with Amazon, who, with their insane spending ability, was going to end up with a ton of great shows anyway. By working together, Amazon gets to assemble a deal that makes Japan happier, and Sentai can get shows they wouldn't have gotten otherwise by paying only a share of the overall license fee -- and probably less than half. Sure, they lose the ability to put those shows on HIDIVE in the US, but they can get all of the other rights they wanted.

It's worth noting that Sentai had a similar deal with Crunchyroll a few years ago, where Crunchyroll got streaming rights and Sentai got home video rights every season for a number of titles. Crunchyroll eventually walked away from the partnership for strategic reasons. Times have changed a little bit, as streaming is far more important now than it once was. I'm sure the terms of Sentai's partnership with Amazon have been adjusted to reflect this.

Will this partnership continue? It depends on how much you believe HIDIVE is ready to "go big" behind the scenes, and how much money Sentai can afford to throw at growing the service quickly. With no smartphone or set-top box apps available, I can say that the service is probably not ready. As for how much money Sentai can throw at it... I suppose we can only wait and see.

In the mean time, the gaping maw of fandom must be fed, and therefore anime must be licensed, by whatever means necessary. Anime licensing makes for strange bedfellows. Just ask Funimation.

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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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