Since its launch on Tuesday, a Kickstarter campaign has earned over US$110,000 in pledges for an anime streaming app called “Anime Tube.” The campaign promises to deliver “free” anime on demand, and claims it will fix the shortcomings of the existing official services, including their limited libraries. However, various industry professionals have criticized the Kickstarter, calling its promises unrealistic.
“Anyone intrigued or thinking of donating to AnimeTube’s Kickstarter should… not,” Media OCD’s Justin Sevakis tweeted. “They’re about a decade too late to that business model AND competing with Netflix, Warner Media, NBC Universal… hell, even Disney has been sniffing for anime streaming rights.”
At the time of launch, the Kickstarter included a link to a list of titles that Anime Tube claimed were currently “in discussion” for licenses. The list includes hundreds of titles that are already licensed by other distributors for the U.S. streaming market. Nozomi Entertainment CEO Shawne Kleckner publicly tweeted at Anime Tube: “Why do you have listings for my titles on your Kickstarter‘s ‘Anime Licensing Currently in Discussion’? We are not in discussion with you.”
The link to the list of titles has since been removed from the Kickstarter page. In a now deleted tweet, Anime Tube responded to Kleckner: “Hi Shawn [sic], we’ve contacted you on LinkedIn to discuss directly with you.”
Anime Tube founder George Weller explained the discrepancy to Anime News Network via e-mail.
“We are in discussions with Japanese anime production companies to license anime for streaming rights and in order to be transparent, our intent was to let our backers know which anime we are trying to license. We provided a list of titles we were in discussions with Japanese anime companies to license for streaming. We contacted the Japanese anime companies who produced the anime to determine what we can license and who to contact. We were informed by the AJA that the proper routes are to contact the Japanese anime production companies first and the confusion may lie with the fact that USA distributors expected us to contact them first,” Weller wrote.
Weller disputed Grady’s claim, stating he had never encountered Grady before, “I’ve never heard of this person nor have I ever had contact with him to my knowledge.” Grady declined to elaborate on his previous alleged dealing with Anime Tube, stating legal restrictions.
The campaign has also been criticized for using images of anime titles that it has not yet licensed for promotional purposes, including Sword Art Online, Fullmetal Alchemist, Attack on Titan, and Death Note. The images have since been removed from the Kickstarter page, although as of this article’s publication they are still visible on Anime Tube’s tweets and YouTube videos leading up to the Kickstarter‘s launch. Clips from the Boruto anime are displayed on Anime Tube’s home page with the disclaimer: “The depiction of products or images is for demonstration purposes only.”
“The very fact that they’ve used those IP to sell their service prior to a licensing agreement makes it unbelievably unlikely that the rights holders would be willing to work with them now, even if there had been a chance before,” Anime Limited marketing chief Miles Thomas (formerly from Crunchyroll) tweeted.
The Kickstarter included a reference to the Association of Japanese Animations (AJA), claiming that Anime Tube has been in discussions with the group. Sevakis commented: “My favorite thing about their Kickstarter is that they claim that they have a lead on licensing stuff because they had a meeting with AJA. AJA IS NOT A LICENSING ORGANIZATION, they’re a trade group!! They represent the contractor studios!” The reference to the Association (written incorrectly as “the Association of Japanese Animators”) has since been removed from the Kickstarter page. However, Weller expanded on Anime Tube’s interactions with AJA via e-mail to ANN.
“We were told that [AJA] were impressed, happy with everything we presented, especially with our concepts for Aimi-chan and they gave us their full support in regards to streaming licensing and getting into the industry. Anything else is business confidential, I hope you understand we cannot divulge everything about our business dealings,” Weller wrote.
Anime Tube held an earlier Kickstarter campaign in June. It raised approximately US$63,000 in pledges, but failed to reach its goal of US$285,000. Anime Tube relaunched the campaign with a new goal of US$50,000 and adjusted rewards. Weller stated the adjustment was considered on the first day of the original project’s launch.
“Our team agreed that $50k is the minimum we would need for fees and developing the app features listed (not including stretch goal features). Therefore, we decided to close the campaign and relaunch within one month. Both of the goals for each campaign are covered in our graphics which break down goal costs. In addition, we felt we needed an improved PR campaign.”
The campaign is being run by Game Face, LLC in Austin, Texas. The company describes itself as “a mobile applications development studio with over 10 years of mobile application development experience. We’ve produced over a dozen mobile applications on the Windows 10 and Xbox One platforms with an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.” Game Face’s official website lists “SoundHead” as one of its previous apps.
The app’s name is identical to an app which was pulled from the Microsoft Store last year, although the Kickstarter page makes no claim of association. However, the previous app, which pulled anime video from multiple sources including unauthorized YouTube uploads, was published by a company called Aeon Enterprises, LLC. Both GameFace and Aeon Enterprises share the same registered address. Weller confirmed that the team did previously publish the other app.
“Originally we were streaming anime from YouTube through the YouTube API that we understood were authorized or otherwise considered unobjectionable by the rightsholders (and there were dozens of apps on all the major marketplaces streaming from the same YouTube channels). We never hosted any content on our own servers at any point in time, nor did we upload any of the content to YouTube. We’ve since moved towards licensing content directly from the rightsholders in order to provide a more reliable service and ensure we aren’t inadvertently providing unauthorized content,” Weller said.
The Anime Tube team hopes to also help combat anime piracy.
“Lastly on this topic, we have a strategy for dealing with the current situation of apps and websites streaming content they may not have rights to stream. We’ve presented this to the AJA and to Japanese anime production companies since there seems to be a serious lack of enforcement action in the USA at this time.”
Thomas commented on the differences between the Anime Tube and Crunchyroll brands: “This company doesn’t acknowledge its background here, and there weren’t legal alternatives, certainly not free legal ones, when CR was a bootleg operation.”
On its FAQ page, Anime Tube claimed that anime streaming licenses do not cost “hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars,” insisting that “anyone who is giving you details on how much streaming licenses cost is either not telling the truth or breaking a NDA.”
Web comic creators Merryweather, which drew a sponsored comic for the Kickstarter, renounced their support for the project, tweeting that they have refunded the sponsor money and vowed to research clients thoroughly in the future.
“If you have donated money, you should be able to withdraw it before the funding period ends. If you have donated a substantial amount and are not able to withdraw it, please message me below this tweet and I will compensate you personally,” they wrote.
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