Friday night's news of a partnership between North American distributor FUNimation and Niconico, the N. American version of ubiquitous Japanese streaming/video networking site Nico Nico Douga, is perhaps the biggest news in the region's anime industry in the last few years. With the new venture, dubbed "Funico", both will seek out major licenses together, with Niconico providing the streaming and FUNimation handling the disc and download-to-own (DTO) distribution. What makes this such a major deal is that you have the two biggest juggernauts in their respective fields joining forces in such a way that it compliments each other so handsomely.
On one side, you have Niconico, who is tied to one of the largest video networking site on the Web--which has a strong working relationship with a number of major anime content providers and producers. The most distinguishing feature of their service is giving the viewer the ability to superimpose their comments onto the videos they are watching--a major contribution to their success and one of the reasons they started an English version of the site earlier this year. On the other, you have FUNimation, North America's biggest anime distributor. They are well-ran, have substantial know-how of the region's market, and are well-connected with the fanbase.
Japanese companies are looking to increase the presence and profits of their works overseas, notably in North America and other English-speaking locales, and especially in regards to digital distribution (streaming, download-to-own). FUNimation wants to strengthen its relationships with Japanese companies, vie to be the first to get the biggest and most anticipated titles, and continue to grow their investment in the digital distro movement. But what they also strongly desire is establishing an anime-based social network, having already experimented with it in the past and even transforming their entire website to revolve around it.
With this new deal, you will have more big-time new shows showing up on Niconico with greater coverage in an important English-language market with greater social congregating (and with it, more attention and word-of-mouth)), translating into increased revenue intake and a better prospect with guaranteed physical disc releases, not just due to the increased exposure, but also with FUNimation's expertise, retail and media contacts, and market penetration. In short, Niconico has its own disc release & DTO venue--pulling in much more revenue than streaming-alone--and FUNimation has the path to the big titles virtually nailed down, plus the larger video social network they've desired for so long.
Of course, with something of this magnitude comes the eventual talk of a monopoly--something FUNimation has contended with over the last few years with the incredible number of licenses they have obtained. And in all honesty, it quite possibly is one, with a potentially greater concentration of titles being collected under FUNimation's banner--and it may not just be limited to North America, if any talks of going international come to fruition. Perception aside, the company tends to release shows half a year to a year after announcing them, due to the volume of works they must handle. There are also the smaller, but still perennial, issues of FUNimation's in-house dubbing, with the risk of overusing of the same pool of voice actors, and with the lessening, but at times present, problems with loose dub scripts. As for Niconico, they still have a lot to prove as a fledgling service, especially concerning the middling quality of their videos, slow video loading, and as-yet-to-be-disclosed premium membership (though there is a beta version already available at just 25 cents, which can also net you a dual login there and at Nico Nico Douga).
Most of those issues can, and most likely will be, remedied in the near future (and judging by Niconico's stream of GUILTY CROWN, the video quality issue has already been addressed), but the most important thing going into this new partnership is its execution. In short, for it to be truly and completely success, its potential must be fully exploited, combining the potency of its social networking, outreach, and each company's strengths and expertise, to their fullest extent. If achieved, Funico could have a major, major impact on how anime reaches you, the viewer, and how well you, the potential buyer, can get the shows you want. Anything short of that will not only make this just a nice little deal between a streaming site and a distributor willing to put their shows out on discs and via DTO, but also a waste of good resources and, most importantly, a great chance to make a real difference and be a major player in the anime industry on both sides of the Pacific. However, I seriously doubt either side will let the ball drop on this plan, as they appear to be more than aware of the importance and lucrativeness of it all.
In short, more big-named anime will be available to you via legal streaming and DTO, and later on on DVD and Blu-ray (more likely on the format than not, as is increasingly the case). Reservations about either FUNimation or Niconico aside, this should be a great time for anime fans to come, with things getting on a roll with the shows below:
C³ (Oct. 20)
The Future Diary (Mirai Nikki) (Oct. 20)
GUILTY CROWN (now available, also at FUNimation, who licensed it first)
Haganai (Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai) (Oct. 20)
Last Exile -Fam, the Silver Wing- (Today, Oct. 17, also to be available at FUNimation, who licensed it first)
Maken-ki! (Oct. 20)
Shakugan no Shana III (Final) (Oct. 20)
P.S.: Be sure to check out this great read at Anime News Network by its CEO, Christopher Macdonald, who puts the whole thing into perspective, including for the other streaming and distributing companies out there.