Funimation COO On The FunimationNow Mobile Launch And Building The Ultimate Anime Fan Experience

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(Photo: Funimation)

Funimation Entertainment today launched FunimationNow for mobile smartphones and tablets. FunimationNow subscribers can watch unlimited, ad-free HD streaming anime from Funimation's library television and film properties, both subbed and dubbed, including Dragon Ball Z, Attack on Titan, Fairy Tail, Cowboy Bebop, Assassination Classroom and more, on iOS, Android, Kindle, and Windows 10 devices.

FunimationNow is a big step into Funimation's next chapter. The industry leader in North American anime Blu-ray and DVD sales believes FunimationNow represents the next generation in subscription streaming services, unifying social engagement, e-commerce and video streaming into a single, fully immersive and seamless experience.

ComicBook.com spook to Funimation Chief Operating Officer Michael DuBoise about the new streaming service and how Funimation hopes to better serve new and existing anime fans.

For those who having been following the news about FunimationNow, can you give me kind of the CliffNotes basics of what the service is?

MD: The CliffNotes basics is we're launching a new streaming service for our fans, our anime fans, and we're replacing a service we've had in place for a little over the last year and a half. We've had a beta service out there in the past. What we did was, we're launching a new service that we feel like will be the first of its kind to integrate social, commerce and streaming into one integrated site.

So the first phase of our announcements was announcing that we'll be launching new mobile apps this month, and we'll be launching on iOS, Android, Windows 10. We'll also be coming out on Apple TV and on Kindle Fire. And then, in the upcoming months, we'll be replacing our console apps, and then in May we'll be replacing our website itself and ultimately, at that time, with that re-imagined website, that's when it will really power up the whole ecosystem to an all new experience.

What is the primary goal behind FunimationNow? What was the impetus this big upgrade from the previous version of your streaming service?

MD: I think the primary impetus was our fans and the kind of experience that we thought our fans deserve to have. We didn't feel like we were making that experience all that we want it to be and certainly not all that we hearing from them that they wanted it to be. So that was the drive of it. For us, we know our fans don't just watch anime. They live anime. And so really being able to make this more experiential and giving them more control of their experience was a driving force for us.

How will the transition to FunimationNow effect your content schedule? What will be the turnaround time for simulcast shows?

MD: That's not going to change dramatically for us. So, as you know, or I think you know, we simulcast with Japan, in the subtitled version. We're getting it up sometimes minutes, sometimes hours, from the time it's broadcasting in Japan, depending on material availability and how fast we can turn it around. So we're going to continue to do that.

And then, also, what we'll continue to focus on is, last year we launched an initiative called Broadcast Dubs. So, in the past, you really had to wait, from that simulcast to the subtitled viewing, until fifteen, eighteen months later, before the DVD or Blu-ray came out, to be able to experience your favorite anime show dubbed in English form. Now we're getting dubbed streaming product up within about four weeks of that initial simulcast, so you can see them subtitled initially with Japan and then, about four weeks later, get an English version, which our fans have responded really favorably to. It's given them a chance to not have to wait that long period of time to experience it in English. So they're viewing in the Broadcast Dub and then coming back and collecting their favorite shows back in the DVD and Blu-ray window.

To sort of further answer your question, that strategy of simulcast and Broadcast Dubs isn't changing at all. So the main thing we're focused on is continuing to try to buy the biggest and best shows for our fans so they can experience it the way they want it experienced, whether it be a subtitled version or a dubbed version.

You've talked already a bit about how you're trying to give your current fans the best experience you can with this new service. Have you considered how FunimationNow may reach out to fans who haven't given anime a try yet?

MD: Yeah. That's a great question. One of the things that's always driven us at Funimation is trying to make anime accessible to more people because we love the art form. We think if we can get people to try it they'll love it too. Our service that we're retiring, our mobile apps weren't as good as we'd like them to be and we weren't on other platforms. And so we really believe that now, being on iOS, Windows and Android mobile and tablet devices, being on Apple TV on Kindle Fire as well as all the consoles and a new website, we're really going to open up the availability and open up the doors so more people can have access to anime.

While we want to have a great experience for existing fans, we also want it to be a place to discover extraordinary anime for anybody, whether you're new to anime or a long-time fan. We want to make it easy to discover more anime. So that's a good driving factor behind what we're doing as well.

Do you view the service as being entirely supplemental to your DVDs and Blu-rays, or do you see this as an eventual replacement? I know from speaking to people who work in domestic television that streaming rights are becoming more and more important compared to DVD and Blu-ray sales.

MD: Yeah. That's a great question. I think from our standpoint, we take a little bit different strategy than some of our competitors in this space. We really try to meet the fans where they are. So we're not just a stream-only service, or subtitled or dubbed-only service. We're in lots of places, whether they're streaming, whether we're meeting them at conventions, whether we're broadcasting on TV at Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, if we're doing theatrical launches of anime, if we're selling Blu-rays, if we're selling DVDs. Any place the consumer can interact with anime, we're there for them.

And what we've experienced is a little different from the general Hollywood and television network experiences. There's still a large population of fans that want to watch the shows and then collect their favorite anime. And so we're not seeing the cannibalization of our physical business as a result of our streaming service. In fact, we're seeing some people that watch it earlier, that fall in love with the show, then decide to collect it later when it comes out. The last two years we've experienced growth in both our digital side of the business as well as our physical side of the business. And that's a counter-trend to what's going on in most of the entertainment industry.

We think that's strongly driven by the collector and the collector mentality of our fans. I used to work at Universal Pictures in Los Angeles, so having gone through that and more of mainstream movies, it's a little bit more casual fans, so it's easy to just give up buying and just watch it on streaming. In the anime space we have fans that really want to do both. They want to watch and collect.

So, as you mentioned, you have titles that air on Adult Swim, and some of your titles are available on other streaming services, What do you think it is about FunimationNow that will make it worth it to a fan to add it to whatever other streaming services they're already been subscribed to?

MD: We think there's a lot of great streaming services out there. Certainly, Crunchyroll does a great job in the space. Netflix and Hulu and Amazon are all great services. We think what's going to make ours different for a fan is it's really going to be designed with a fan in mind. Again, we want to make it a place to not only watch your favorite shows but discover extraordinary anime and experience it in a way that, we believe, only Funimation can design that experience for them and have them experience it.

We're really fan driven and designed it for the fan. We think that's one thing that will make our service different than, say, a Netflix or a Hulu or Amazon. All great services. But they're serving a lot of general entertainment categories as well as anime. We're really going to be focused on the fan and how to integrate that viewing, commerce and social into one place. So we really immerse into the lifestyle more than just the show.

Can you describe what that user experience is going to be like?

MD: There's a lot of things we're going to be introducing later in May. I can't go into all the details now. What we want to do is be able to not take you out of that show experience, but give you options to do other things, to engage with the show in a second-screen manner, or to engage in commerce without leaving the show itself. And so there's some things that we're trying to design in the service that make that a seamless experience and actually make the viewing experience more immersive than distracting.

Right now, if you want to do commerce, you have to leave a screening service and go to a commerce site and purchase something. If you want to comment or get into social use, you have to leave and go someplace else. We're trying to bring those worlds together, and FunimationNow is just kind of a link in the chain of how to link those worlds together.

So, going back to the collector mentality that you mentioned earlier, If someone's watching a show and decide it's one of their new favorites, they can, right from the app, pre-purchase the DVD or Blu-ray?

MD: You may want to purchase the show from your app. You may want to try to get the manga for the show. You may want to get merchandise for the show. You may want to take clips of the show and share it out on your social network and talk about the great show that you're watching right at the moment. We want to make it a seamless experience to do all of that in one place, at the same time.

One of the trends we've seen with streaming services is the eventual move into exclusive and original content. Has Funimation put any sort of thought into those areas?

MD: Yeah. We're actually starting to do our co-productions with our partners in Japan. So instead of just licensing the shows we're actually moving upstream and producing shows with them. So this season on our streaming service there's a show, Dimension W, and that's the first show that we've co-produced. So that's definitely part of our strategy going forward, is to not just license some of the biggest shows but also move upstream and co-produce and put those shows out and be part of the production staff itself.

Everyone is dying to know if and when Funimation is going to bring Dragon Ball Super to western audiences. Can they expect to it on FunimationNow?

MD: We're very hopeful that we'll have it on the service in the near future. We're still working with our partners in Japan. But I would say we have a long history with Dragon Ball and we're hopeful that that will continue and that we'll be able to give all our Dragon Ball Z fans what they want. We hear every day how much they want Super, so as soon as we can bring that to market, we're going to be bringing it to market.

Any last words for those who may be getting ready to try out FunimationNow?

MD: I just want to make sure all the fans have stuck with us during our original streaming service, let them know how much we appreciate that loyalty and that support and just let all the fans out there know that something really special's on its way with FunimationNow and we're looking forward to unveiling it for everyone over the next few months. It first starts with these new mobile apps. The real changes, big changes, really start taking place in May and June when that website gets changed out and we really unlock a lot of new features.

FunimationNow is available to subscribers in three-tiers:

1) BASIC – FREE:

  • limited anime library
  • video ads
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2) SUBPASS – $4.99/month:

  • All subtitled anime including simulcasts
  • Unlimited device streaming (subtitled only)
  • Ad-free in HD

3) ALL-ACCESSPASS – $7.99/month:

  • All subtitled anime including simulcasts
  • Unlimited device streaming (subbed and dubbed)
  • All English-dubbed anime
  • Funimation Broadcast Dubs - English-dubbed episodes of select shows that are available within weeks of the Japanese broadcast
  • Exclusive video extras
  • Ad-free in HD

The FunimationNow app is currently available to download for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows 10 devices. Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV apps are coming soon. Fully re-designed game console app updates for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Roku devices will debut in May 2016, along with a fully redesigned Funimation website for streaming on laptops and desktops.