Video is undergoing a massive shift as we speak. The video feed is about to supplant television channels. As a form of video, animation is obligated to go along with the direction that the industry eventually takes. So just what form will that be, and how can animation create a place for itself within it? An excellent article on REDEF suggests one particular model that may work well for the artform and the industry.
Video Feeds Are the Future
Written by Matthew Ball and Tal Sachar, ‘After TV: Video’s Future will be Bigger, more Diverse & Precarious than its Past’ is one thoroughly logical analysis of what form future video feeds will take. You should read the entire thing, but the gist is that motion picture entertainment will eventually fall into three feed types:
- Scale Feeds
- Social Feeds
- Identity Feeds
To be brief, a scale feed will attempt to gather as many eyeballs as it can (e.g. Netflix,) a social feed will attempt to build through social media exclusively (think Facebook Video,) and the third? Identity feeds will attempt to build an audience around a particular, niche theme.
Animation is an artform, and so will occupy places within all three of these types. Yet the concept of an identity feed aligns most closely with how the business has thrived in recent years. Especially so for independent animators and small studios.
They provide a rallying point for fans and people interested in their content. They even have their own unique strategies for getting their content out there. For them, animation is more than an artform and exploited for advantage as a result. The REDEF article explicitly highlights both Rooster Teeth and Crunchyroll as examples of contemporary companies that are prototypical identity feeds.
Animation as a Video Feed
So why will animation mostly fall into the identity feed type? I’ll let Ball and Sachar explain in their own words:
Niche video providers will not just be focused, smaller versions of the scale feeds; they will be fundamentally different in structure, content, and monetization. These services will focus less on delivering video entertainment and more on packaging (or “bundling”) together a variety of related multimedia experiences, including in-person events, merchandise, news, photos, podcasts, essays, and live commentaries.
Notice how Netflix doesn’t do this? They simply supply the content and the means to watch it. An identity feed does that and then some! The reasons why:
In doing so, these providers will build a community for those who see their “niche” content not as a passing interest, but as a core component of who they are and how they define themselves.
Does animation fall into this category a bit more than live-action? I definitely believe so. Animators and animation fans are, uh, noteworthy for being dedicated and considering the art to form a larger part of their lives and identities than live-action fans.
To be clear, not all animation will fit into the identity feed. Big-budget films from the likes of Disney and DreamWorks will in all likelihood appear on scale feeds. Produced with the intent of grabbing as many eyeballs as they can, their success is only possible through scale. Their audiences are also much less discriminating.
Yet plenty of animated properties thrive because of their fans and a sense of identity they embody. Even sub-types of animation cater to their own niches; anime being the best example. Crunchyroll and Viz Media both provide more than simple video feeds of content. The ancillary aspects of their business reflect and amplify the identity of their consumers in a reciprocal relationship that benefits both sides.
As Ball and Sachar note, building an identity feed is far from easy, and is by far the most difficult of the three types. However, they payoff is an ability to differentiate from other media feeds, and the option to build a diverse range of revenue sources; like Rooster Teeth’s self-contained convention RTX.
Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to identity feeds. Studios can create all the content themselves, they can outsource it, or they can mix-and-match in between. Tweaking the business model to suit their interests helps make the concept appealing.
Why Is Animation So Suited to Identity Feeds?
So why will identity feeds in particular work for animation? What it boils down to is the relative lack of animated programming on other feed types, and the fact that historically, animation has been under-served by live-action monetisation models.
That makes the artform ripe for innovation. A potential upstart could create a platform, create or acquire a few series and slowly build a brand around providing high-quality, interesting animated content. All the while supporting fans and viewers alike with more than just mere content.
Frederator somewhat follows this model already and is considered a successful YouTube MCN. Self-styled as the ‘cartoon central’ of the internet, the company creates original programming while also soliciting and acquiring content from 3rd parties. It’s vast network of independent creators provides another source of both viewers and revenue.
An Ideal Future
An animation-centric identity feed ought to provide a place for animation to truly shine. Instead of relegating it to being a ‘genre’ as so many other OTT and streaming services prefer to do, the ideal service should trumpet the broad creative range of animation. Viewers should gravitate towards it not necessarily because the content is animated, but because it’s excellent. They should hang around because they have a reason to, and they should come back again because they want to.
Animation is as capable as live-action of acquiring large audiences, but given its ugly-duckling treatment, a dedicated service would do wonders for the industry and fit right into the idiosyncratic nature of the artform and its fans.