Viz extends streaming partnership with Tubi TV
Sailor Moon kind of spoiled things, but Tubi TV has officially announced a partnership with Viz Media to stream “some of VIZ Media’s most popular anime titles to audiences across North America, including to legions of viewers based in Canada,” for free.
The initial lineup includes the aforementioned Sailor Moon, the first two seasons of Sailor Moon Crystal, the original Naruto anime, HunterxHunter and Death Note. The press release notes that more episodes and series will be added regularly. All titles are being presented in Japanese with English subtitles. The latter is definitely going to be a bummer to those that want to hear the English versions of those shows, but Viz hinted on Twitter that might be possible if fans “support the subs and let Tubi know you wanna see it!”
While Viz’s home video releases can usually be easily found in Canada, their streaming choices haven’t been nearly as accessible. The company’s failure to serve our market probably began before this (Toonami Jetstream?), but I’m officially labeling their blackout as occurring with the launch of VizAnime.com on December 21, 2009. While their competitors in the anime industry run sites that host videos on their own servers, VizAnime.com was instead an aggregate of the company’s subtitled Hulu anime uploads. As Hulu is Hulu, that meant anyone outside the US was automatically blocked from accessing the content on the site. This became frustrating as Viz began to fill out their anime portfolio with exclusive titles like InuYasha: The Final Act, Sailor Moon, Tiger & Bunny, Hitman Reborn!, etc.
In October 2012, Viz tried extending an olive branch with the launch of Neon Alley. As it wasn’t reliant on a streaming backend exclusive to the US, Canadians could actively subscribe and watch Neon Alley. There was just one problem: it wasn’t a VizAnime.com replacement – it was a service aimed at a completely different audience. While VizAnime.com offered the latest content from Japan in a video-on-demand format, Neon Alley featured English dubbed shows presented linearly as a 24/7 TV channel accessible through your browser or PS3/360. While a video-on-demand component was eventually added, Neon Alley was on it way out. Viz shuttered the service on April 1, 2014. To save face, the company rebranded VizAnime.com to Neon Alley and added Hulu embeds of their English dubs. Until Viz officially retired the brand earlier this year in a site redesign (this is their current Hulu embed hub), Canadians were greeted with the following message:
It seems “soon” was two years later. So, what took so long? Well, Viz seemed kind of adamant on partnering up with a Canadian-equivalent to Hulu. They wanted their shows alongside mainstream TV, but the service needed to have a free option. The problem is that the Canadian media market has shunned the idea of an ad-based streaming service. Maybe our ad market is just too small to support that. In lieu of a Hulu-equivalent, our media companies (read: our cable/satellite providers, also read: our US media gatekeepers) have opted for subscription services like CraveTV and Shomi. No good. Enter Tubi: a San Francisco located (also where Viz is at) ad-based streaming startup that has signed deals with Paramount, Hasbro, Lionsgate, MGM, Starz and Sentai Filmworks, among many more; operates apps on a variety of platforms (though, only some are available in Canada – and they really need to launch some PlayStation ones); has representation in Canada via Blue Ant Media, and can handle simulcasts. There are some issues with Tubi. Their subtitle tracks are presented as closed captions leading to awkward formatting on some devices, and apparently they use the Crackle model of cycling content in and out, but all things considered, it sounds good. Let’s hope this partnership lasts longer than Viz’s last with an independent streaming platform.
If you’re curious, this is Tubi’s entire anime library (as of this writing):
- Angel Beats
- Death Note
- Duel Masters
- Flying Witch
- Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto
- Millennium Actress
- Persona 4: The Animation
- Sailor Moon
- Sailor Moon Crystal
- Tanaka-kun is Always Listless
- Transformers Armada
- Transformers Energon
- Transformers Cybertron
- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds
There’s even some tangentially related stuff like Zyuranger, Dairanger and western Transformers shows like the original, Beast Machines and Animated. Sure, a lot of it’s stuff you can watch through Crunchyroll, The Anime Network, ConTV or ShoutFactoryTV, but how many of you knew those non-CR services existed until now? It never hurts to have options either.
The US makes it out with a slightly better anime catalog on Tubi, though. Their deal with Starz has netted them the Manga Entertainment library, so things like Redline, the entirety of the pre-Arise Ghost in the Shell catalog, as well as some Nozomi releases like Utena, are up there. Between Shomi and Superchannel, I’m sure someone has the Canadian streaming rights to all of that, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Writing this post made me think about Neon Alley. When it was announced, a lot of detractors felt a linear service in 2012 was a terrible idea. Yet, four years later, a lot of the on-demand platforms those same people were using as examples of what to do, are now looking towards linear options. It seems you just can’t beat the power of accidental discovery or a hand curated lineup of content. Maybe the key here is options – these aren’t replacing the traditional VOD formats of those services, they’re acting as companions to them. Despite what I said earlier about Neon Alley eventually getting an on-demand service, it wasn’t on-demand in the truest sense. It was more of a catch-up service than anything else. I made the mistake of using Neon Alley mid-season, so when I wanted to watch Madoka Magica, I was lost. The linear run was already in the last quarter of the show and the catch-up service only had the past few weeks of episodes, not from episode 1. That’s horrible.
Maybe Viz’s biggest failure was that Neon Alley was an IPTV service and not an IPTV channel. It was in this no-man’s land of being aimed at the casual anime fan, but requiring an individual subscription and app launcher. You couldn’t channel surf with Neon Alley, and unless you knew what it was, you wouldn’t get the opportunity to watch it. That seemed anti-casual. The continued success of Toonami in the US proves there’s a market for something like Neon Alley, but maybe just as an IPTV channel alongside others on a service like Sling or PlayStation Vue, and not as its own full blown service. I think there’s a possibility that happens. Assuming this wasn’t just chest-thumping and it actually develops into something, it’s hard to think Funimation is going to launch another seldom carried cable channel in 2016. There’s also the faint possibility of Sony taking the opportunity to properly launch the Animax brand in North America through Vue. Aniplex is their anime production hub and they have a large catalog – one that Viz leveraged for Neon Alley, so it’s not entirely impossible.
While writing this article, it also dawned on me that this deal is really only good for Viz’s library content. Now that they don’t need to feed the beast that was Neon Alley, they don’t license a whole lot of anime anymore. Yeah, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Sailor Moon Crystal, One Punch Man and Terra Formas – but none of those were Viz exclusive simulcasts. You could watch them on Crunchyroll or Daisuki. The days of them hoarding new stuff on Hulu seemed to have ended long before this Tubi deal. Oh well, that’s only a good thing.