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Concordia lab releases report on the impact of platform wars on Japanese animation

As streaming giants like Netflix or Crunchyroll attracts bigger audiences, a Platform Lab report says their influence is profoundly changing the business and culture of anime.
February 16, 2022

Still from Japanese animation series Yasuke. Still from Japanese animation series Yasuke.

Aurélie Petit, a PhD candidate in the Film and Moving Image Studies program at Concordia, has cosigned and directed a report published by the Mel Hoppenhiem School of Cinema’s Platform Lab.

Entitled Anime Streaming Platform Wars, the report investigates how North American streaming giants have integrated and monopolized the distribution of Japanese animation series, going as far as directly influencing how anime is produced. Petit and her colleagues focused on six streaming platforms: Crunchyroll, Funimation, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HIDive, and RetroCrush.

The report was covered by the popular online magazine Cartoon Brew, one of the most read English-language media dedicated to animation cinema in the world.

Jonathan Clements, a well-known expert in the field of anime, also praised the report in an article on the blog All The Anime. Clements described it as a ‘fantastic academic resource on the modern anime business’ that captures the growing importance of Japanese animation for North American streaming platforms and the impact of the business on fan culture.

Aurélie Petit took a moment to speak with us about the report.

Announcement image for RetroCrush, a transnational anime streaming platform. Announcement image for RetroCrush, a transnational anime streaming platform.
Q: How did you develop this research and end up directing the report?

A: One of our main concerns at the Platform Lab has been to build bridges between our academic research and understandable issues that affect people. Jake Pitre, who co-coordinates the lab with me, suggested that we publish a kind of white paper guide that could democratize what we had been working on. Since one of the Lab’s missions is to reflect on the platformization of Asian video production and its impact on culture, we wanted to develop this topic further. Many people on our team were already working on Japanese animation. Marc Steinberg, the director of the lab, is recognized worldwide as a specialist in the field. Since I am one of the Lab’s coordinators and I’m working with Marc for my PhD on Japanese animation, I took on the direction of the report.

Q: One of the objectives of the report is to “rethink who actually benefits from the unpaid labor that has traditionally been intertwined with anime distribution outside of Japan.” Can you explain how unpaid work has traditionally been related to the distribution of these films?

A: Historically, Japanese animation has always been supported and distributed by fans. The reason why it has become so popular here in North America is because fans, as early as the 1970s, started organizing viewing parties, conventions, and anime clubs in universities, to get together and develop resources to have access to content. Without them, there wouldn’t be as diverse a range of Japanese animation available here today. Fans have always felt a sort of responsibility toward their work of democratizing Japanese animation – putting films online to view for free, distributed merchandise, and so forth.

Today, however, the large streaming platforms we studied monopolize, and especially monetize, the actions formerly attributed to fans, drastically altering their roles. Our report highlights the various strategies ­– content exclusivity, enhanced user-experience, fan service – mobilized by these transnational streaming companies, who are at war with each other over the lucrative anime market.

Announcement image for Crunchyroll, a transnational anime streaming platform. Announcement image for Crunchyroll, a transnational anime streaming platform.
Q: What are some examples of the impact of a platform on fans and national fan cultures?

A: Some fans consider that the streaming platforms we studied undertake a form of "cultural fracking" by the nature of their economic roles, claiming copyrights and removing content from the internet that was once made available online for free by fans. On the other hand, platformatization of anime has also allowed many new viewers to have access to content.

Another example would be some North American platforms’ influence on foreign markets. The US-based platform Crunchyroll, for instance, has a monopoly on the French anime market. The approach to animation is very different between France and the United States. In France, there is a market for pornographic animation, for instance, and Americans don’t want that on their platform, so the current economic structures have a real impact on the content that fans across various cultures end up having access to.

Q: How would you summarize the impact of the increasing influence of streaming platforms on the production of global animation?

A: Animation is something that is very expensive to produce most of the time. The investments of streaming platforms in productions can help finance new content and can distribute it to new markets. For example, as explained in our report by Colin Crawford and Elena Altheman, Netflix’s anime strategy relies partly on “Netflix Original Anime” productions. However, it also means that studios must make compromises over certain types of creative content because they don’t fit their distribution strategies.

Q: Is the Platform Lab preparing future reports on anime market research?

A: We are already working on a report that will be directed by Jake Pitre. It will focus on global super-apps, all-encompassing, self-contained, commerce and communication platforms, that are very popular in East Asia.

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