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The ‘Case Closed’ (non) digital revolution

Digital streaming was all a lie.
Digital streaming was all a lie.
Copyright Funimation

It’s been about a year since I wrote about “Case Closed” and America because after Funimation announced that they had renewed the license for the show and even negotiated getting the streaming rights to the show I held my breath and paused. Though the franchise had been dormant for almost seven years in America I was hoping that this would be a sign that Funimation maybe – just maybe – was going to start releasing new episodes or movies. From all accounts the “Case Closed” license is really expensive to obtain and keep, and there are only two reasons you would put forward a sizable chunk of money to keep it. We’ll only discuss the first reason for this editorial first; that reason would be if Funimation was still making money from the property and it was worth their while to continue it.

For a little while it looked like this was the case (no pun intended), as Funimation went to great lengths to advertise the fact that “Case Closed” would be streaming digitally in one month and that new S.A.V.E. Edition DVD sets would be released later in the year. Funimation.com even had a “Case Closed” skin that made not knowing this nearly impossible. The push was to be so great that fans gathered together to show that this could potentially be their last chance to show Funimation that they wanted the show. Some even claimed if we didn’t get any more it would be our fault this time because there was no excuse not to support it (after all, if the show is available for legal streaming and you were still downloading it off torrent sites then you pretty much proved why there was no market for this show here).

Nothing happened though. The show went online and promptly fizzled out, probably killing the last chance we had of getting more of the show over here. So that’s it? We failed? No dedicated fans, don’t cry. You didn’t fail: Funimation failed. Big time. And despite what they tell you, the way they handled the digital rights to the series showed they had no intention of continuing with the series and probably wanted it to fail. Yeah, yeah, I know the last thing the world needs is another wacky conspiracy, but looking at the lapse of logic when it came to handling this it points to a company that had no intention of making money from their property (or, at least, too much more). Oh, don’t get me wrong, they can easily make money off this show. Chances are they’ve been making more money off it then they want to admit. But make no mistake: making the show available digitally was a smoke and mirrors trick to suggest they were going to do something with this franchise.

They weren’t. They aren’t. They have money practically being thrown at them for “Case Closed” and they stubbornly refuse to capitalize on it. For starters while decorating Funimation.com with “Case Closed” skins certainly showed dedication, it struck me as odd that the skins went down one week before the series launched on Funimation.com. If you clicked on this skin while it was up (and I bet most of you did) it announced that the show would be streamed on Funimation.com first before making its way to other services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, and all those game systems that have their own video service. This is all well and good, but why pull the advertising a week before the show went up? Oh well, maybe they would get back around to it when the show launched. That didn’t happen though. In fact, there were only a handful of episodes available for streaming when launch day arrived.

To make matters worse the episodes that were available were only available to subscribers of Funimation.com. Lots of people (including yours truly) subscribed to the service to show our support of the show though, and there was a schedule that listed when episodes would go up on the site and when they would be available to view without the subscription. Alright, so if a small period of exclusivity was the price we had to pay before the show could go global then most of us were willing to pay. And yet…over a year has gone by and Funimation has failed to live up to that big digital revolution promise. The show has not appeared on Netflix. Only the first four episodes are available on Hulu. These were the key sites to make the show available on because people could discover the show for free and the fan base could have been built up a little to make room for more demand.

The show did appear in full on iTunes with the first episode for free, but I suspect Apple TV doesn’t have much of a grip on the set top box market anymore (although I give Apple credit for at least giving away the first episode for free, which made it one of the most downloaded videos on the store for three weeks). The first three seasons of the show are available for Amazon Instant Video, but have never been made available to the crucial Prime members. From all of this you can get the sense that Funimation is still trying to get blood from a turnip when they should really be giving most of it away at this point to build demand. Heck, even just letting Netflix and Hulu have one stinking season for free would go a long way to building demand for the rest of the show.

That’s not to say there’s no market for people who will buy the show digitally. In fact, the one place the series did get complete digital releases were the game consoles (PlayStation Network and Xbox Video). How did the show fair on those services? They did well. In fact, they did VERY well! They did so well in fact that for several months “Case Closed” was the second bestselling anime on those services. Only “Dragon Ball Z” was selling more. And here Funimation is telling us that they can’t release more of this show because it doesn’t sell well. Oh, except on those two video game services where the show was only the second bestselling anime on the sites for three to five months being beaten only by anime juggernaut “Dragon Ball Z.” No Funimation, you’re right; clearly there is no market for this show in America (but don’t tell that to the manga which continually enters the New York Times best sellers list).

So what does all this mean? What’s the conspiracy? Easy: Funimation is just selling fans of “Case Closed” the same product over and over again because they know that we’ll rebuy this show multiple times so long as they use the “if sales pick up we’ll consider releasing more.” Now we pretty much have a clear picture that Funimation wasn’t putting the show online to build the audience of the show, they were putting it up because they know us fans want more “Case Closed” so badly we would at least buy a few episodes digitally. If the show was a runaway success on PSN and Xbox Video though wouldn’t that suggest that maybe – just MAYBE – there was a market for this show?! Why make the show available on digital services that don’t have the biggest reach but keep it off the services that might actually get people to notice the show?

On a side note all of the S.A.V.E. Edition DVD’s of the show were released on the same day last year, which pretty much guaranteed that only the first season would sell in big numbers right out of the gate. Also, I hate to mention this, but if the show is underperforming digitally (which we know it’s not…to a point) it’s because we are getting the same 130 episodes we’ve had for ten years now. Why aren’t recent episodes of the show being simulcast to see if people would still turn up for new episodes? It makes no sense why you wouldn’t do this when you spend so much time and money taking down sites that are giving the show away for free (a show that would sell if it was just available).

Even “Star Trek” fans will only buy the show so many times before they have to stop and buy something else with their money. The fans will buy new episodes though. Shows that have this much of a cult following always do. And really, if people wouldn’t buy it, why would so many people bug you about it at conventions? Lance Haskell admitted that when Funimation goes to Comic Con it’s hard for him to go ten minutes without someone asking him about the sixth season. Heck, if upfront costs are a problem, why don’t you Kickstart the damn thing? You’re contemporaries are doing this, so why not you too? Set a goal for what it would cost to release a subtitled only DVD of the sixth season and then make a stretch goal to provide the English dub. Or partner with Microsoft or Netflix to have them share the costs of dubbing more shows. I bet it would cost less to dub ten seasons of “Case Closed” than what is spent on one episode of “House of Cards.”

So fans, don’t blame yourselves. If you’re buying this show three times and making it one of the biggest hits on Xbox wasn’t enough to get you another season of the show then nothing will. Funimation had no intention of ever releasing more of the show, but as long as we’re desperate for it they know they can nudge us to keeping buying it…even if we’ve already bought the whole thing twice. Oh, and the second reason Funimation would spend a lot of money licensing the show would be to keep their competition from getting it. How do you like that? The property sells enough to make it worthwhile for Funimation to keep it out of the competitions hands, but it’s not valuable enough to continue? I know Funimation reps say not to ask them questions about “Case Closed” at their convention panels, but this is one that begs to be asked anyway.