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Crunchyroll and Streaming – Where Watching Anime is Going

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"Letters from the New York Otaku"

By David Cabrera


#60 - Crunchyroll and Streaming – Where Watching Anime is Going

I don't know how it is in Japan, but here in the States, the whole idea of packaged video appears on the way out. Actually owning a film or TV show on home video is the domain of fans, and average folks don't need to see something more than once. A lot of my friends don't have cable or satellite television service at all. Rather, they have PCs, and everything they watch comes from the Internet. (If you don't care about sports, this is very feasible.) The shift is inevitable, and it's happening everywhere, not just in anime. But it started to happen in anime first.

It's hard to talk about this delicately on an industry site, being as it is the story of massive, widespread piracy... but you can't fully understand Crunchyroll without it. Anime fans on the Internet are a technically savvy lot. These are the same people who had subtitled anime tapes themselves, after all. In the early 2000s, as broadband speeds started to proliferate, people absolutely raced to distribute anime amongst themselves. The first breakout success was Love Hina, which ran through the online fan community on badly subtitled videos the size of perhaps three of your fingers. It wouldn't replace a DVD, or even a TV broadcast, but anime was scarce and expensive, fans desperate... and more importantly, Love Hina was now a hit.

Over the next few years this very quickly got to a bad place for the anime business, which had placed its hopes entirely on home video sales. You see, absolutely everybody would watch the new hit series, subtitled by fans (hence “fansub”) as it aired in Japan... and it would be two years until any legitimate option existed. By the time those DVDs came out, most of the audience didn't really care about that show anymore, and they were probably on to the next big hit already. This is how the anime DVD started to die off. To be quite frank, I believe a large portion of the online audience for anime was only ever there because it was free entertainment.

This is important, because Crunchyroll's service is directly targeted at that audience, with the hope that the viewer will finally become a paying customer. They know what people want: before it allied with the Japanese industry, CR had its start and built its foundations directly selling pirated material, after all. (Really! They were the worst of the worst!)

The reason Crunchyroll works is that it streams shows hours after the Japanese TV airing. Anime fans online don't have Japanese TV to watch, but they know damn well when the show they're following airs, and they know that fansubbing groups will race to distribute a subtitled product out within a day or two. We're in a global culture now. Releasing two years later won't work. Have the anime available legally the next day? That's underestimating how badly people want to see the show in English. There will still be fansubs. Having an English-language copy out in mere hours has effectively cut out fansubbers. What's the point of doing the work, after all?

In addition, most content on Crunchyroll is free with ad support: only the week's latest shows actually cost money to view. Subscribers also get HD video quality up to 1080p... so it's a little hard to complain about video quality.

(Of course, they do anyway, but...)

Aside from certain major shows (recent notables include Madoka and Mawaru Penguindrum), the vast majority of currently running anime is immediately translated either on Crunchyroll or at Funimation's video site. One of the major fansub groups recently posted on their blog that they might not be in operation much longer, as that long-standing problem of fast, legal online distribution of new titles had effectively been solved by CR... and mocked the freeloaders among its fans by saying “You all DO have Crunchyroll subscriptions, don't you?”
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