March 9, 2010
The Changing Culture of Online Television:

Today, the popular Japanese animation streaming portal, Crunchyroll, announced:

As Crunchyroll continues to evolve, we add new features and remove ones that don't perform well. Recently we've made a decision to discontinue our Download-to-Own service, which lets users purchase DRM-free, downloadable videos of our popular shows. We believe online streaming video is the future will continue to focus on those efforts. Starting March 31, 2010, no new purchases of video downloads will be allowed. However, your existing downloads will continue to work until May 1, 2010. Please download and save your video files by May 1, 2010.

As an alternative, we offer high quality, ad-free streams through our Premium Membership service. It offers over 50% of currently airing Anime titles in Japan and thousands of catalog episodes for as little as $5/month.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact

As a major portal for the community around Japanese animation, Crunchyroll has made a decision that reflects the current trends and behaviors of online television.

The community around Japanese animation has provided an interesting story outside of Japan in the past ten years, as the industry particularly in America exploded with success, only to have its bubble pop midway through the decade. To account for evolving traits in the anime fandom, many American distributors have attempted to create online video portals to cater to fans while bringing in as much as possible financially. has a strange history: it began as a host for fansubbed episodes of Japanese animation and Korean dramas, then in early 2009 the website partnered with Japanese companies to stream anime online in a timely manner from the initial Japanese release on TV. Over the past year, they're accumulated a strong community and developed business models around a subscription service for high-quality streaming video and exclusive content. Most of the video, however, is offered in standard-quality, free of charge, spanning most of their series, which tended to include every episode. The success of the unlimited, free business model seems unclear, as the portal recently began to take down certain videos after a stated period (but most likely spurred by the Japanese producers).

Crunchyroll had implemented a download-to-own service into its three-part business model (ad-supported free streaming, subscription, and DTO). However, after today's announcement, it seems that Crunchyroll will be eliminating the DTO service in favor of a pure streaming model.

Two interesting issues arise from this announcement. First, how will this influence other portals' DTO models? Currently, sites like offer DTO service with Windows DRM; Crunchyroll, though, had offered DRM-free videos for its customers. The move is especially crucial because the audience for Japanese animation tends to be composed of media collectors. And since most of Crunchyroll's videos are not available in the American market on DVD or another physical media, the ability to "own" these videos has now disappeared. The streaming model has been supported particularly as a deterrent for media pirating, but now that downloads are unavailable from Crunchyroll, there may be an increase in the illegal downloading of the site's files.

Second, the faith that Crunchyroll is putting in the ultimate success of online streaming seems a bit risky. The site has been criticized for its retention of many television series without removing any of the episodes over a set period of time (akin to Hulu's model). But if Crunchyroll's predictions are true -- that "online streaming video is the future" -- I wonder how much of this reflects the cultural practices of watching television to which anime fans have become acclimated, especially now that a subset of younger fans have grown up watching anime primarily via online platforms. Perhaps the move toward online streaming represents a shift in the anime fandom, in which fans no longer want to own media, but merely consume online (with potential negative effect to an industry that has relied on sales of physical media for the past few decades).