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Proud To Be Downloading: The Financial Conundrum For FUNimation and the DragonBall Franchise

I’m not here to attempt to sway your thoughts any which way on whether it’s OK to download licensed stuff. We all have our own well-formed opinions by this point, and whether or not they have the basis in any sort of professional experience or simply life experience, they can be hard to change once we get set in our ways. Instead, I’d like to share just a small dose of what kind of sentiments are out there, and what “the man” needs to do (has to do? should do? maybe should consider doing?) if they want to cement that sticky audience that will stand by their side, support their products, and make sure they actually have a business model going forward.

I suppose it’s kinda funny that the example I’m going with is the DragonBall franchise, and specifically that in North America as distributed by FUNimation.

Let’s ignore any and all thoughts I have about FUNimation as a company from my fan perspective. That is entirely irrelevant to this discussion. This is a business conversation, a new media conversation, and a marketing conversation… all things I have knowledge of and expertise in completely independent of my hobby/fandom.

I ran a quick search on Twitter this morning for “dbz” just to see what was out there. In addition to the pain of seeing such a huge audience and struggling with getting our site and podcast into their consciousness (insert Cartman “HOW do I REACH these KIDS…?!” quote here), I could clearly see the business side being discussed… without these kids even knowing they’re talking a little inside baseball. Here are just a few examples of what I saw:

@Ryan_Toro_69 DBZ season nine. Thirty bucks. 39 episodes. Final season…..WAT DO I DO?!?

@FHD210 Downloading Dragonball. Never saw that one, only DBZ and GT. And Cities of the Underworld: fascinating documentaries

@OnslaughtSix I am now awake! Dragonball finished, which is an amazing feat after how long I’ve been trying to download it. On to DBZ!

@iEgg Just got a sudden urge to watch the Android Saga in DBZ… <3 DBZ! LOL! Anyone know where I can watch it online free?

While it may be a small sample size that does not statistically speak of the entire population, I felt from a quick looksie-through that it was representative enough for the purposes of this discussion. Note how only one of the four was considering paying for the privilege of watching the series. The sense of entitlement is overwhelming, and is completely accurate to the overall aura you get browsing around the internet.

That’s not to say that FUNimation isn’t catering to those people. With announcements like the recent agreement with Toei Animation to stream new episodes of One Piece for free, and near-simultaneous with their Japanese broadcast (subtitled in English)… FUNimation has certainly been a leader in this field, and is throwing their weight around as one of the few remaining domestic anime juggernauts (which essentially equates to them and Viz) to get the times a-changin’.

FUNimation is certainly offering up a decent chunk of anime for free viewing via locations like their YouTube channel, but I’d argue that the DragonBall franchise is one series that they are not taking seriously. Perhaps CEO Gen Fukunaga’s age-old quote about making so much “Poke-money” off the series remains true, and they don’t need to address it. Perhaps Toei’s involvement makes it impossible to explore every avenue that needs exploration. Regardless, if the above Twitter quotes are any indication, fans want to watch the series, they want to watch it now, and if FUNimation isn’t there to provide this service, then the pirating will continue.

I’m not naive. I may not have any desire to get into the scene and find it thoroughly disgusting from top to bottom, but I know what’s out there. I know how many groups are subbing DragonBall Kai. I know that groups have taken Dragon Box masters and have released dual-audio MKVs with the original Japanese track and FUNimation’s English dub. I know about the custom subbing projects on the invite-only torrent trackers. Again, if FUNimation isn’t going to step in… the fans are going to take control of the property. It’s already near that point, and there will come a concrete point in time when FUNimation won’t be able to regain control.

At the end of the day, I have one main suggestion for FUNimation: give your fans more incentive to support you. Your Twitter account is a great start, but the responses I see are half-hearted pandering and senseless corporate-talk. Look at companies like United Airlines — they have even created their own (albeit silly) new phrase, “Twares” (think of them as something like “discount fares distributed via Twitter”), to provide an amazing incentive for that “sticky audience” to… well… stick around.

FUNimation is losing as much control over the DragonBall franchise as they are making money off the DBZ season boxsets. Their 15-year-old licensing nightmare with KidMark (now Lionsgate) is destroying their ability to capitalize on people wanting to go back and explore the rest of the series. Their lack of online, streaming episodes is driving people to go to inordinate lengths to sack away terabytes of digital pack-rat-ery.

We all know that the domestic anime industry needs an overhaul, and one that might not come in time to save it. I may be incredibly biased in my perception, but it seems to me like DragonBall goes above and beyond the “anime industry” and is simply a cartoon that people remember watching as kids, and want to re-experience. As much as the fandom side of me finds incredibly disgust with the DBZ season boxsets, they were exactly what the doctor ordered on the brick-and-mortar side. Unfortunately for FUNimation, brick-and-mortar grows increasingly irrelevant with each passing day.

I’d love to help ya’. Hit me up at @vegettoex. I’ll probably end up making baseless and impossible demands like re-calling all currently-existing DVD sets and replacing them with Dragon Box masters in an equally-appropriate price-per-episode ratio that the old sets used, not to mention hiring our own community to localize future English dub and video game scripts just so we can stop some of the information nightmare nonsense we live with every day… but hey… that’s a hardcore fan for ya’.

7 Comments

  1. Danny Robertson

    May 27, 2009 at 6:43 am

    A good point but your twitter arguement is biased in that twitter is an international site, while funimation only have distributing rights in the US.

  2. I don’t think that “biased” is quite the right word to use in your response… maybe just a plain ol’ “inaccurate” would work. I fully acknowledge that, just like it’s true that I could have used any other social networking or messaging site (YouTube, Facebook, etc.) to pull the quotes.

    In the four examples I used, I at least went after English-speakers, which would have a higher probability of being served either by FUNimation themselves, or by someone distributing FUNimation properties (for example, Madman down in Australia). If you click through on the four people, one lives in Amsterdam, one lives in Wisconsin, and the other two don’t list where they live. The likelihood of the argument being dead-on is still relatively high. I stand by my assessment of the sense of entitlement being rather universal and the immediacy of FUNimation needing to take back control of their property’s distribution.

  3. Frankie Shaker (SSJ4Furanki)

    May 27, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Wow, really? DBZ Season 9: $39.00… IT’S TOO MUCH OH NOEZ…

    Really, that’s actually a bargain considering DBZ’s a 291 episode series. Plus, at most places it’s usually 29-35 dollars.

    Oh, my god. People who actually pay for anime? Blasphemy!

    I hate when people are like that…

    I don’t see anything wrong with downloading/watching online… IF you have the product you’re going online for.

    Unless, I misread the post, that’s what I think about it.

  4. Yeahhhh, FUNimation absolutely needs to get dragonball out there. I got lucky, when the old DB sets began disappearing I pooled roberts anime corner store and zstore.com to fill in my DB series collection.

    I have VHS tapes (which I have copied into 2 DVDs for easier storing and watching) for the first 13 eps, but I would love to have the redub. Really…really like to have the show back on the shelves. You probably knew that though, cnsidering half my questions to the podcast ask about it >.>

    As for entitlement, its a serious problem with the anime industry as a whole, but outside of making available I dont really know what you can do with it, since as you say – everyones already made their minds up on this.

  5. I think that the best thing FUNi could do, besides stream the episodes online, would be to through them up on a digital cable streaming program, such as On Demand. I know they did this for a short period toward the end of DBZ’s run on Cartoon Network, but no one really knew about that. I’m sure On Demand has a much larger audience than FUNi’s YouTube, twitter and homepage combined, and if they actually advertised it (if it were on On Demand) once in a while, and threw it up on On Demand’s running loop of advertisements, I could see it being a much bigger hit than they seem to expect it would be.

    Great article, VegettoEX! It’s really well put together, and I hope FUNimation sees it, because it’s something they really need to consider.

  6. Most kids these days don’t believe in paying for anything.

  7. Looking at this post on July 19, 2009, a lot of significant stuff has happened in the Dragon Ball world in the U.S.

    As Video Ops director for Katsucon, I stay pretty tight (more or less) with Adam at FUNi among other studio/company reps, keeping tabs on when new titles will be ready to show, what titles are being announced, and such. I can pretty much say — even if he doesn’t say it outright — but I’m willing to put money that he DOES read this blog, he DOES visit Daizex.com (and its forum), and he DOES know you’re out there. As any good businessman knows, it’s important for a company to listen to its customers and do what’s necessary to meet the customers’ demands. I’m not sure when FUNi’s license extension (for DB/Z/GT) was made, but I’m pretty sure that the license extension caused the turn of events since May 26. It has allowed FUNi to clear up a lot of Dragon Ball related issues that the hardcores have complained about, such as Dragon Ball DVD’s being out of print for years (and of course those elusive first 13 episodes not seeing the light of day in the States).

    One might say, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” However, I say, “Sometimes, the difference between success and failure is just one more try.” Maybe this time, after all these years, FUNi will finally get it right in releasing Dragon Ball / DBZ in the States again. Here’s hoping.

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