Those who follow the marketing of Japanese Animation in America -- or even just those who buy that animation -- have probably noticed that the industry is reaching or has reached a state of crisis. That crisis is the result of several factors, including the worsening economy, and the general slowdown in DVD sales generally, based on saturation and ease in rentals through Netflix and similar services. But perhaps the most pernicious factor is the fandom that is literally loving the anime to death. Anime fans steeped in instant gratification who want their anime RIGHT NOW are tired of waiting a year or two for series to be licensed and sold in the U.S.; and often don't want to pay $25 to $30 for a DVD of four TV episodes. So a network of fansubbers has sprung up. They take raw digital video uploaded by Japanese fans; translate the episodes; and put subtitled versions on YouTube, Crunchyroll, and similar services.
Fansubs have been a mixed phenomenon for American licensors of anime. On the positive side, they can build fan buzz for a project, so that by the time it reaches U.S. shelves it has a built in market. It can also provide free market research for licensors; they can judge which anime will be most popular by observing the most popular fansubs.
But the downside is more serious. Fansubs are, naturally, copyright violations. The owners of the rights get no money from them. When American licensors bring out U.S. versions, fans who have already downloaded the entire series for free are often reluctant to buy what they already have. And with Japanese anime studios increasingly dependent on funding from U.S. licensors, that directly impacts the production of anime.
Now Japanese animation studio Gonzo has taken what may be the next logical step for anime licensing. They have cut direct deals with YouTube, Crunchyroll, and BOST TV to screen episodes of two Gonzo TV shows -- in Japanese, with English subtitles -- the same day the episodes screen in Japan. They will obtain revenue through either advertising (for the free streaming versions of the episodes) or subscription fees (for higher quality downloadable episodes).
That would seem to cut out any threat of fansubbing those episodes (unless some fans feel the Japanese supplied subtitles are somehow lacking). It also, of course, cuts out the American licensors. (I imagine that they might still reach deals to distribute DVDs of the episodes through Funimation or another of the licensing companies.) Further, this is the type of "new media" that was at the heart of the recent WGA strike.
Whether this experiment succeeds is another story. But if it does, it may save the marketing of anime in the U.S.
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