Netflix is Doubling-Down On Anime – Will They Attract New Viewers?
The Twitterverse has been constantly aflame over the past few weeks following the slew of announcements from the streaming giant Netflix regarding their planned re-boots and remakes of Japanese anime classics.
Some of the most well-known and critically acclaimed anime classics in history, from the 1998 anime classic COWBOY BEBOP to the action series NEON GENESIS EVANGELION, have all been slated for remakes by Netflix, who have reportedly recruited many of the shows’ original producers to help consult on the projects.
While many people in the west associate Netflix more with documentaries and the hoarding of classic sitcoms such as FRIENDS, their major push into the anime market is clearly intended to produce big results. The global anime industry is worth an astonishing $17 billion a year, according to the Hollywood Reporter, with the content in question being produced almost exclusively in Japan and consumed by an increasingly global audience.
The rising popularity of anime worldwide, coupled with Netflix’s recent stride into the domestic Japanese market, having launched in the country in 2015, means that the number of new subscribers and revenues at stake is massive.
Netflix already faces intense competition from other streaming services within Japan, and their social media announcements make it clear that their new anime strategy is strongly aimed at courting fans in western countries.
Let’s take a look at the current state of play and assess whether this leap of faith from Netflix will actually pay off in the long run.
How Anime Traveled West
Anime has, understandably, been consumed by a sizeable western audience since at least the mid-90s. This audience has, however, been restricted to a fringe following until relatively recently. While shows such as DRAGON BALL Z and GHOST IN THE SHELL enjoyed widespread fame, the number of people in the west who could reliably be described as regular consumers of anime was limited.
The first ever anime convention in the US was launched in 2002, with a little under 2000 people attending for the first few years. Things have changed quickly since then; the latest Anime Expo in Los Angeles had well over 100,000 people in attendance, with tickets selling out almost immediately.
So what has changed? Most importantly, the rise of online streaming platforms, coupled with better subtitling and relaxed content sharing regulations has exposed anime to a much wider audience than was previously possible.
Conventional streaming has played a large part; Netflix has been a key player, buying the rights to dozens of anime titles over the past five years and marketing them heavily to their US and European subscribers. Early game-changers such as Crunchyroll, launched in 2012 with the specific mission to provide anime to western audiences, quickly amassed 100,000 subscribers, climbing to over 1 million as of 2019. Meanwhile, Yahoo View has been quietly amassing thousands of viewers with their completely free, subtitled anime content.
Beyond this, live-streaming technology has also played a roll in cultivating a western anime community. The aforementioned Crunchyroll has been live-streaming their own “anime conventions” to rapidly growing US audiences for several years now, providing access to detailed information about the canon to new fans.
Meanwhile, the global streaming platform Twitch has had a profound role in spreading anime culture, with users such as thaButtress live-streaming their creation of anime characters to hundreds of thousands of people. Live-streaming gaming platforms, such as Betway, whose live casino page features live card games, roulette, and blackjack for audiences all over the world, demonstrates how such technology has developed to the point where virtually any kind of content can be broadcast to a global audience. Platforms such as Funimation have taken this technology to host live-stream anime flash talks and presentations, often with a competitive edge.
All of this shows just how crucial recent technological developments have been in broadening the scope and reach of anime and why Netflix is trying to ride this rising wave.
What the Future Might Hold
So we’ve established that anime is booming in the west and that Netflix understands the role streaming has played in that, but will they be able to cultivate new audiences with their anime investment? Their first challenge will be to keep existing anime fans on board and prevent them from fleeing to other platforms.
Netflix’s recent anime remakes over the years have been met with a pretty mixed reception, with the platform’s supposedly heavy-handed and under-researched adaptations actually becoming a meme due to their poor reception. Likewise, their announcements regarding upcoming remakes have also be met with a lukewarm response, with the Cowboy Rebop remake actually spawning think pieces in Forbes detailing why fans are bound to be unimpressed.
If Netflix can’t do more to stop turning off existing fans, then they have little chance of attracting the kind of numbers they’re clearly hoping for. Anime will continue to grow in popularity throughout the world, but it remains far from certain that Netflix will see any benefit from it.