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Why Don't Publishers Announce License Renewals?

by Justin Sevakis,

Taylor asked:

I noticed a variety of Section23's (Sentai Filmworks, Maiden Japan and AEsir Holdings) licensed anime came from its predecessor, ADV Films, which is technically a renewal of a previous license. Believe me, there are never any news about licensors renewing any license of any kind, at least in terms of Viz Media, Funimation, Discotek Media, and Nozomi Entertainment. Is it cause that once you license an anime, you may NEVER renew a license, no matter what?

Anime publishers renew their licenses all the time. You just never notice. With the average anime license period lasting only 5-7 years, any show that's been in print or available streaming for longer than that will have been renewed at some point. That's a lot of shows.

You'd never know that, though, because nobody makes a big deal about them. There's no real point in announcing a renewed license, because it literally means that, for fans, nothing changes at all. There's nothing to get excited about.

A renewed license is a very unexciting thing. It doesn't mean that the show will get a new edition on DVD or Blu-ray, it doesn't mean the show will suddenly be made available on different streaming platforms, or get a remastering of any kind. All of those things may happen, but they're independent of anything to do with the license. The renewal just means that the show will continue to be made available. If Right Stuf or Amazon run out of discs, the publisher can make more. The show will stay on Hulu or Netflix or Crunchyroll or whatever streaming platforms they're already on.

Renewing a license is usually pretty easy compared to licensing it in the first place. There's no new materials to obtain from the licensor, and most contracts lay out provisions for renewing the agreement pretty clearly. Usually there's another round of license fees to pay, and a short addendum contract for both parties to sign. For streaming-only licenses, those often just renew automatically until one of the parties decides to end it.

Of course, either side may opt out of renewing the agreement. The publisher may decide that the show was a bomb, and is not worth keeping in print. The Japanese rights holder may decide that the deal no longer works for them for whatever reason. (Aniplex, for example, has infamously started letting all of their licensing deals lapse so that they can retain all the rights to their own shows.)

But in the vast majority of cases, the publisher sends the licensor an email. "The license for Saliva Princess is about to expire, and we'd like to renew. The contract specifies a renewal fee of $1,000 per episode. I can send a wire transfer next week. Does that work for you guys?" The licensor will usually say yes, the money gets sent, and then -- yay -- nothing at all happens. The show stays available, just as it was before.

If the license doesn't get renewed, the publisher has to pull the show from streaming services when the contract runs out. They typically get six months to sell off their remaining physical inventory. Several of the anime publishers have gotten good at giving fans a heads-up when this happens, but often they manage to sell off enough discs to retailers that the show still ends up remaining available for months or years after it goes "out of print." Fans often don't notice until the show starts becoming hard to find.

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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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