This week sees the highly anticipated Sailor Moon Crystal series begin broadcast. Besides being an entirely new version of the original manga (and not a remake of the original anime), it’s also notable for eschewing traditional licensing-based release models, but interestingly, is not embracing the ‘all you can eat’ type that has defined web-based media. Why might that actually be a good thing, and could it be a model for others to follow?
Sailor Moon Crystal makes for an interesting ongoing case study in regards to the blend of traits it embodies as a manga and anime series. Besides a renowned level of quality, it also has a large, worldwide legion of devoted fans; mainly the result of how many markets the original anime series was licensed in. Combined together, the quality, the fans and their dispersed nature (along with a dose of nostalgia) means that the new series is greatly anticipated in a way that many animated series’ are not.
Nonetheless, it came as a surprise when it was originally announced that it would not follow the traditional route of being licensed to individual television markets and rather, would be available on Japanese streaming site Niconico with subtitles in mutliple languages. It has since been licensed by Viz Media in America who will offer both subtitled and dubbed versions to American fans through their own Neon Alley service in addition to Hulu.
What makes the series interesting besides all that is the actual release schedule. For while the series will be released instantaneously around the world, new episodes will only appear every other week. This stands in contrast to the Netflix model where all episodes are released at once; inviting binge watching and marathon viewing, or the YouTube model where shows are released on an ongoing weekly schedule but retain some semblance of a traditional TV ‘season’.
The reason for the unusual schedule ought to be obvious, animation requires a relatively lengthy production schedule and if all the episodes were to be released at once, that would only be exasperated. Netflix has attempted to mitigate this by releasing episodes in batches for the Dreamworks series Turbo FAST. That’s more of a compromise than a true attempt to find an alternative though.
What Sailor Moon Crystal has that Turbo FAST does not, is a large fanbase. Economies of scale mean that the new series can rely on a certain degree of social media exposure to help drive viewership, and in this regard, the bi-weekly release schedule may help, rather than hinder, the show’s long-term prospects.
Comparing Release Types
Consider the chart above, it shows the popularity of two popular shows: House of Cards in blue and Game of Thrones in red. Disregarding the actual popularity (what we’re looking at is the shape of each show’s line;) you can tell which show is which. Now, if we look at House of Cards a bit closer, we get this chart:
And if we look at Game of Thrones chart a bit closer, we see this:
If you were a producer, which chart would be more appealing to you? The one with the very large peak, or the one with a potentially smaller peak but with sustained interest over a longer time? Or to ask it another way, do you want the show to benefit the service it’s released on, or the producing studio?
How so? Well with an all-you-can-eat schedule, viewers will be attracted to the service, but will only hang around if it offers content and benefits other than the series itself. Netflix did not produce House of Cards because it was a great idea, they did it to attract consumers to their streaming service with the aim of getting them to give up (expensive) DVDs. That plan worked, because no viewer would continue to pay for Netflix for the remaining 12 months until the next series is released unless they had a good incentive to do so; such as a wide library of old and new titles.
Contrast that with a producer or studio that has a show, but unlike Netflix, is dependent on a broader stream of revenue for survival, Things like merchandise, DVD sales (still important), and even licensing in markets where TV continues to dominate entertainment. Such revenue streams work better when interest in a series is spread out over a period of time (particularly if that extends into the Christmas shopping season.)
It’s deceptively simple really, once a viewer has completed a show, their interest starts to wane; being pulled in other directions by outside interests or indeed competing content. If a show has a regular schedule, the viewer is regularly reminded of the show and it remains in their consciousness for longer and on a higher level.
In the case of Sailor Moon Crystal, the initial series will require a whole year to be fully released, but once the initial burst of interest dies down, it will not recede to background levels. In all likelihood, it will slowly build towards the inevitable climax. All the while, fans will be discussing the show, creating fanart and generally promoting interest in the series and hopefully attracting non-fans to check it out for themselves.
Another potential benefit is that these viewers will already be engaged; meaning they will be much more receptive to other shows. You can’t help but think about the potential savings in marketing to be had from having an audience already primed and ready to go.
As I said at the beginning, this show is an ongoing case study, and it will be curious to check back in a year’s time to see if there are any lessons to be learned. Right now though, it appears that Sailor Moon Crystal could be setting a precedent for others to follow.