Funimation and NicoNico strike joint licensing/streaming venture in FuniNico

Okay, I was planning to get my October analysis out, but I’m not quite done yet. Furthermore, big news has come out in the last 12 hours about a major streaming deal.  NicoNico and Funimation have launched a joint licensing venture

This is potentially a good thing – and potentially a very bad thing.

The positives are that if Funimation can be held to their word about NicoNico streaming most of the airing series in a season, then it’s a good outcome in terms of people being able to see a proper variety of titles. But if they don’t stick to their word, it’ll be a monopoly of the streaming but with a fraction of the titles out there. Funimation are licensers while NicoNico picks up what didn’t go to release. Essentially, NicoNico are allying with the big dog of the yard. Ultimately, one would think it would allow them to stream more titles that what doesn’t get licensed for release.

25 cents to watch an episode of anime is quite a fair price. What concerns me is whether the streaming quality will be adequate. Because if you are actually going to pay for it versus some companies who are legally streaming titles they licensed in advance (such as Siren Visual do in Australia), then you’d better hope the picture quality is up to scratch and that the subtitling is accurate. I’d be hoping for 720p quality but I’m not sure if they’d be offering better than 480p if they’re planning for significant traffic on this new service. Funimation’s motives aren’t crystal clear, but one would assume they don’t want to have to setup the streaming service themselves anymore when there is someone else doing it already. NicoNico assure customers HD video services will be available. Video encoding has been an issue in the past, but with this deal, one would assume NicoNico would do everything possible to make it a non-issue from here on in.

My major concern is for other licensing companies. If Funimation get a monopoly of the industry streaming rights for the US, it could mean the death of competition in the US market. Sentai Filmworks and Studio 23 seem to have the infrastructure and advertising streams to stay afloat. But Viz, Bandai Entertainment and Media Blasters are at the lower end for anime and don’t have any streaming deals or the like set up. Furthermore, if Funimation’s service is aiming to be top dog and the one to watch, then Japanese studios aiming to get interest to drive sales in the US are more inclined to side with the FuniNico option. Which doesn’t bode well for other companies. Particularly Crunchyroll – one would assume their streaming power will significantly decrease with the FuniNico deal, unless they find another licensing company to ally with.

The Japanese know that US anime sales peaked in 2002 and that the decline in the last couple of years has been rapid. Part of that is due to content – which they won’t be apologetic for since Japan’s domestic sales are going upwards and the number of hit series in the last few years has well exceeded the numbers in the years the US sales peaked. But when you see the online talk about the big titles in Japan that people like yet doesn’t translate into sales, they know something has to be done. Japan started initiatives earlier in the year with the aim to double revenue from anime sales in the US by 2020. I guess this is one of their methods to do so. Certainly the ability to ‘try before you buy’ has always been one of the biggest hurdles for the overseas market. Acknowledging the importance of computers as a viewing medium is well overdue – it’s been a long time since TV was the primary weapon of choice for the anime viewer. Initiatives to get into mobile and iPad markets could also be worthwhile. Hopefully something similar can happen for other markets, too. As for Australia, Siren Visual are already providing streaming to match the airing of titles from a given season they licensed in advance. Madman Entertainment also have viewing rooms set up. Whether they will strike a more direct deal with streaming companie is yet to be seen.

This deal has potential. If FuniNico does pick up the majority of titles each season, offers good quality streaming and doesn’t monopolise the market, I’ll give it the thumbs up. But if they don’t backup their words, they could destroy a lot of consumer faith/loyalty. Consider this the litmus test for what the rest of the pack will do. Gen Fukunaga and James Spahn are undertaking a risky venture indeed – but potentially a stroke of genius. It’s up to FuniNico to prove to the consumers that their services are up to a standard worth paying for.

 

Update – From the current October season, FuniNico will stream the following:

– Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing

– Mirai Nikki

– Guilty Crown

– Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai

– Shana S3

– C3

– Maken-Ki

 

The first four on that list have my approval. Let’s hope FuniNico can provide appropriate quality.

For the record, CrunchyRoll is streaming Chihayafuru, UN-GO and Hunter x Hunter. Siren Visual are streaming UN-GO in Australia.

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