Last night, Viz Media announced that Neon Alley would be available on PC & Mac. The service, which was formerly tethered to gaming consoles, would be available to an exponentially larger potential audience. As expected, there was the requisite cheering and excitement by the greater market, and a few cries for other platforms to be supported, such as mobile and Roku. Personally, I can’t help but be a bit surprised at the success the service has seen since its creation last year. However, if we take a step back, it’s not overly difficult to see where it did things right.
Neon Alley hit the market as a total dark horse in the anime market. Neon Alley came about in a time when services like Crunchyroll, Anime Network, and FUNimation Video were pushing for a more “buffet-style” experience. They offered smorgasbords of content, served à la carte, so that people can sample and taste to their delight, and move on when they grow bored, or when a new title attracts their fancy. As time went on, they began to expand, from web sites, to apps to Roku boxes and game consoles! They were hailed as paragons of new media by their devotees, as people no longer needed to schedule their lives around what they watch. Titles were hitting faster, and the selection expanded at a fever pitch.
It comes as little surprise that, when Neon Alley hit, there was a definite degree of skepticism early on. The network seemed to be the exact opposite of the trending market. The service, which was initially exclusive to Sony’s PlayStation 3, ran on a linear schedule. They showed only dubbed shows, many of which hit the service weeks after they filtered out to Crunchyroll, FUNimation, and the like. On top of this, their pricing structure was almost identical to that of their counterparts, with monthly rates starting at $6.99. Some decried them as crazy, others saw it as a doomed endeavor. Others saw potential in the fact that it bucked trends and offered a product that the greater market ignored. There were challenges to be faced, and a larger burden of proof to be shouldered.
Rather than see these as handicaps, though, Viz embraced them. Viz relished their dub-only status, and used this in conjunction with their catalog to offer a selection that would be tough to resist. The network quickly began to entice potential viewers with dub premieres of films like Berserk: The Golden Arc I and shows like Accel World. At the same time, they began to utilize the linear format as a tool for marketing their products. For example, this week, Viz held “K Day” as part of their Anime Expo festivities. This was a golden opportunity to market their product to a willing audience. However, with Neon Alley, the company expanded the impact of their decision further. They ran a preview of the K dub during the Anime Expo airing, which quickly filtered to social media and created immediate buzz for the show.
At the same time, the network made quick work of filling repeats and gaps in their schedule with a variety of content that expanded outside the typical 13-25 male demographic. Shows like Nana and Lagrange: Flower of Rinne were given equal footing to more mainstream male-centric titles, like One Piece and Tiger & Bunny. This allowed the network to avoid the pitfall of diving too deeply into the Red Ocean occupied by the bigger players.
By branching out to PC, Neon Alley have shown that they intend to continue their growth. There are still numerous challenges the service faces, which will become even more apparent as the wider market has its way with the product. Likewise, one can’t help but wonder just how a wider market will take to the strict schedules of the linear network in the PC context. Personally, I can’t help but be a bit curious as to how they will perform going forward. Whether they succeed or not in this market space will be grounds for a number of studies about the nature of various markets, and how they behave in regards to their entertainment.