Amazon looks to edge out niche anime streaming services by offering offline playback (update)

Amazon has been trying to make a name for itself within the anime community for the past couple of months, but the company may have found the one edge it’s needed to compete with niche services like Crunchyroll.

Amazon’s Anime Strike, a streaming hub dedicated to anime, allows subscribers to download and view their shows offline — something Crunchyroll still doesn’t allow its users to do. (Update: Crunchyroll has decided to implement this feature. More information can be read at the bottom of this article.) It shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise to those who already subscribe to Amazon Prime for the company’s other live-action series. Amazon first started allowing Prime and Video — the company’s dedicated movies and TV streaming service — subscribers the ability to download series for offline viewing in September 2015.

Netflix introduced the same feature earlier this year, giving subscribers to both services the chance to pick and choose the content they wanted to carry with them. Now, both Amazon and Netflix are making a push for the audience flocking to Crunchyroll and Funimation’s own streaming service. Neither Crunchyroll or Funimation allow subscribers to download series and, while their series are recognizably more niche than what Netflix and Amazon offer, there is a collective of people that are looking to stream series on the go.

Back in January, a number of Crunchyroll subscribers were complaining about data usage while streaming on the go and the question about whether or not offline viewing would ever become a thing at the company came up again.

“This has been suggested for a long while, but it won't happen,” one subscriber wrote. “CR won't let people download episodes within the foreseeable future because of additional costs in license.

“If you want to download anime to watch on the go, you'll have to try other services like Netflix or Amazon.”

Where Amazon and Netflix can’t compete with Crunchyroll is licensing; Crunchyroll is arguably the biggest niche streaming service; it has exclusive partnerships with a number of studios and publishers. Netflix and Amazon can, however, offer series like Death Note, Bleach, Naruto and other popular, mainstream series.

Michael Paull, the former vice president of digital programming at Amazon, told The Hollywood Reporter in February that along with certain licensed shows, the company was interested in pursuing its own exclusive, original anime series. Those will, naturally, be available offline. Paull said Amazon was interested in making the push as a way to cater to its subscribers needs, which weren’t being met at the time.

“"There wasn't an offering that's been made available in other platforms that would meet our customers' needs,” Pall said, referencing Crunchyroll.

Paull’s remarks on Amazon mirror Netflix’s own plans for its expansive anime coverage. The streaming giant is also trying to compete with Crunchyroll by offering offline viewing and exclusive series that come with a Netflix subscription.

“In an era where the Internet knows no bounds, we are proud to deliver high-quality original anime to fans all over the world, at the exact same time, no matter where they live, whether it be Japan, France, Mexico, the U.S. and beyond,” Netflix’s original content acquisition vice president, Erik Barmack, told The Hollywood Reporter last year.

In 2015, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told Wired he wanted to make one great anime series, and was going to use a portion of the service’s spending money to invest heavily in anime series.

“We're hopeful that we'll, over time, make a great Bollywood show, make a great anime show,” Hastings said, as reported by Wired.”

With offline viewing, Amazon and Netflix are starting to focus heavily on anime and its audience. Whether or not Crunchyroll begins to offer offline viewing in the coming months is yet to be seen. Polygon has reached out to Crunchyroll for comment.

Update: A Crunchyroll representative told Polygon it plans to bring offline streaming to its service sometime in 2017.

““Our breadth of titles and relationships within the anime industry can’t be beat,” the rep said. “We know offline streaming is important to our viewers, and we're working to bring this feature to the platform in 2017 so that fans can keep up with their favorite shows wherever they are.”

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