By David Cabrera
#73 – My Suspicions on Viz's Neon Alley
I'm suspicious. Forgive me for saying that straight out of the gate on a new US anime effort, but I'm suspicious. I am suspicious of Viz's new streaming anime channel, Neon Alley.
Here is what we know. This will be a subscription service ($7 a month, the price point Netflix established) that will run through “a major videogame console”. This assumes Xbox 360 (alive and well in the States) or Playstation 3, probably not Wii. Rather than being on-demand, Neon Alley will run live like a TV station, and will feature dubbed anime.
Here's what I like about this: it's on the videogame consoles. That's definitely where anime fans are. People my age and younger are cutting cable TV out in favor of the Internet-- the older generation would consider this unthinkable-- but a videogame console is much more essential for many of us. I don't like that it's only on one of the consoles, but Microsoft and Sony are very particular. If I had money to bet, I would bet that the console will be the Playstation 3. In my informal research, I've noticed it's the preferred box of many American Japanophiles.
I like that it's dubbed, even though that guarantees that I will personally never have need of the service. All the simulcasting efforts have been for shows running subtitled as they air in Japan. That's great, but there are a lot of people who want English dubs too, and they need to be served. There's no room on cable television for dubbed anime (it's Cartoon Network at midnight, or nothing), so why not make one's own channel online? That said, I don't see why Japanese audio and subtitles can't be used as well...
I don't like that it's a subscription-only service. There is an abundance of online video services on the Xbox and the PS3, all run by different people with different programming. With the exception of Hulu-- which offers nearly everything the major US TV networks run and much more, including several classic anime series in their entirety-- these niche channels are free with advertising. It is going to be a very hard sell to the average geek that watching four or five recent (not brand new!) anime series dubbed is really worth $7 a month.
Furthermore, like Hulu, it's going to run ads even for paying subscribers. I don't like this at all. A hundred dollars a year is a lot of money, and it should at the very least buy me freedom from obtrusive advertising. Hulu runs an unbearable amount of ads, and it doesn't get any better if you pay for their premium service... so I'll never pay them. Crunchyroll and Netflix leave me alone, so I give them both $8 a month.
I don't like that it only provides a live feed like TV does. With the Internet and DVR units in everybody's TV, for many of us TV is something we choose on our own time. I can't see myself paying a cost close to what Crunchyroll charges for access to its gigantic anime library if I can't even choose what show I want to watch and when. Here's my irresponsible speculation: I suspect the reason they're going with the live feed is that Viz is trying to force fans of Naruto and Bleach, who have a reputation for never, ever watching anime beyond those two titles, to try new things.
So, in conclusion, I am suspicious. I'm extremely surprised that Tiger and Bunny is going to premiere on this service (frankly, a bit too long after Tiger and Bunny fever hit the Internet fandom), as everybody figured the show was destined for mainstream cable TV. Will anybody see it there? Sentai Filmworks (formerly ADV Films) has been trying something similar for years with the very small Anime Network, which has never really gone big. I'm not too sure.