Since the dawn of the internet a little over 20 years ago, it has undoubtedly earned the reputation of being known as the “Wild West of the modern world”. As the physical world seemingly shrinks in this age of interconnectedness, people pack up and move their lives to the internet in some sort of Conestoga wagon-shaped computer.
Opening up a search browser today is like walking into the dusty saloon of the Old West – anything goes and there are no real authority figures. By-in-large and in-part by these hands-free kinds of environments both the American West and the internet have grown and developed in leaps and bounds. Many of the Forbes 500 companies today are companies that were either founded online or are so successful due to their internet presence.
It is no secret that the rise of the internet is one of the factors that has lead to why so many animes and other properties being disseminated to wider markets. However, the downside to having a totally free internet is that the larger companies are much more able to easily come in and shoulder out smaller ones.
Streaming companies like Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix are so much more easily able to outmaneuver others like Crunchyroll, Funimation, or Viz Media in everything from audience reach to funding to general presence.
In a 2017 LA Times article, Christopher MacDonald, CEO of Anime News Network, was quoted saying, “Normally, competition is good for the consumer,” but he goes on to talk about the fact that either viewers are forced to pay higher fees for services like Crunchyroll ($6.95/month) or Funimation ($5.99/month) or larger companies like Netflix ($8 – $14/month) or Hulu ($7.99 – $11.99) will use their considerable resources to go capture as many rights for titles as possible.
As the golden age of television continues, the struggle for profitable titles for production and distribution is the biggest fight in the industry. Smaller entities have a harder time, that is just a fact. Under 2015 rulings, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declared that they would provide tighter oversight and consumer protection in regards to all things related to online presence. The idea behind it being that a more stringent oversight board would be able to more thoroughly prevent monopoly style internet entities to form.
Many people hailed these actions as groundbreaking in protecting an individual’s access to the internet – this concept of Net Neutrality meant companies could not rigmarole users with potentially slower internet for people who didn’t pay up. This might have made more restrictions on internet providers, but it did nothing to curb the real-world dealings of property rights and financial growth that fueled the online presence of these companies. Online presence increases real world presence, cyclically etc.
Last year, when the previous laws were overturned, there was a lot of apocalyptic rhetoric about how the internet not being protected and regulated will lead to the end of everything we love about the internet. However, looking at the track record of the world wide web, it has done pretty well for itself, and the people who access it, for years as it was.
Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, was always opposed to the measures in the first place, and here’s him happily explaining what the reversal will mean for everyone.
The reason that American trade policy is important in the distribution and profitability of Japanese titles is that most streaming services go through American IP addresses at some point. Other than direct broadcasting, like it or not, the American’s wishy-washy legislature greatly impacts anime distribution.
So what does this ultimately mean for the average viewer? Nothing, yet. However companies are still vying fast and hard for new content. For instance, Netflix has stated that they aim to spend $8 billion in production of original material in 2018. This upscaling in funding includes plans for roughly 30 new TV series and 80 new films.
The above graph represents the number of originally produced anime programs in the past two programming seasons, Winter and Spring of 2018. Unfortunately, Netflix is a bit conservative with their data and does not release statistics for a season until it is through, this still being Spring of 2018. With the data above, it is clear that the race for new anime titles is heating up.
Another example of the race is apparent in Crunchyroll’s new anime line up. It’s Spring catalogue has about 80 new titles being added to its lineup. There is still a profitable market for smaller companies, but as I discussed at length in my previous article, once these companies become lucrative enough, the buyouts begin rolling in.
It seems that, so far, with the cut back of regulations, companies are not as afraid to make big moves. People are getting the ball rolling all around the world. With the internet as the free-range business opportunity it once was, companies are continuing to consolidate to produce more content.
However, fear not because this is not an “end of an era” kind of story, this is a “beginning of an age” one. The real big debate here is over the right to easily accessible content versus more highly priced content. Sure, with less restrictions in place, groups with more cash are more easily able to acquire properties and beat the little guy to the punch.
Going back to the 2017 LA Times article, Lisa Holme, the vice president of content acquisition at Hulu stated that, “It’s gotten more competitive… There are more folks at the table in terms of licensing the best anime series.”
So, it is quite stunningly clear that there is more demand and the supply is rapidly increasing to fill that demand which in turn creates more supply and etc. It’s cyclical. Net Neutrality is a hot button issue, but for no reason in particular. As the great sci-fi author Douglas Adams would say, “Don’t Panic!”