Bandai has begun free distribution of Pizza Hut anime Code Geass, with Gundam 00 set to follow, via YouTube, in both subbed and dubbed versions, but unfortunately it has escaped their attention that there are anime fans and potential viewers outside the US, for the time being at least.
The service is likely funded by advertising revenue sharing with YouTube, as we have seen being practiced by Kadokawa with some success, and represents their belated attempt to embrace the Internet as a distribution medium for their products.
According to Bandai, this is a trial program so the rest of the world can safely be ignored, but it is not clear just which territories they intend to add to the service as it expands. Certainly, they will not be adding Japan…
You can view the videos (or more probably not) on the Bandai Channel.
Many Japanese consumers of anime are in fact becoming increasingly sceptical of the huge differential in pricing between versions intended for overseas consumption and the domestic editions; the lack of Internet distribution for many shows also grates, especially in the many cases where regional stations broadcast next to no anime.
It remains to be seen whether the publishers will be able to address this without impacting their cosy TV/DVD distribution system or driving more fans into the arms of illicit downloads or even DVD re-imports (recently there was something of an upset when it transpired the Japanese Haruhi boxset was retailing for $600 via Amazon.co.jp versus $50 via Amazon.co.uk – naturally many took offence or opted to import from the UK).
For international users, this is not an entirely auspicious start for a mode of distribution which must compete directly with fansubs, P2P, and innumerable video sharing services which fall under the copyright radar, which of course do not respect borders.
Fans will doubtless hope they begin lifting territorial restrictions, which have very little place on the Internet, sooner rather than later.
With no information forthcoming from Bandai, if we are to speculate as to the reasoning we would likely start by looking at the very US-centric Internet advertising industry (they may have difficulty monetising non-US viewers).
Also, the notion that geographical discrimination in the Internet anime market might still be viable (that is to say, they still have not adjusted the terms of their licensing to allow for global distribution rights) may yet linger.
Given that the majority of anime never even reaches most national markets in legitimate form, it would appear it will still take some time for major publishers to disavow themselves of the notion that they can compete with fansubs with anything less than a globally accessible offering, provided simultaneous to Japanese broadcasts…
By retaining the rights and organising the marketing and translation on an international basis they might also cut out the middlemen of anime localisers, who lately seem more a hindrance to wide distribution than a help, to say nothing of the drain on profits they represent. Thus a new distribution looks set to be born…