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Is consolidation the future of online media? 
15th-Jan-2009 11:30 pm
Google Trends is fascinating. Take, for example, the relative traffic volumes of two English-language, anime-related portal sites that always struck me as very similar (see Figure 1):

Figure 1: Hmm. They don't look so similar from this angle, do they?

Okay. As we know, AnimeonDVD merged with Mania.com mid-2008, but even consolidated with non-anime content, its traffic is significantly lower than that of AnimeNewsNetwork*. Note, however, that ANN's traffic seems to have fallen off by about a third in 2008, while Mania.com, after doubling its traffic volume upon the merger with AoDVD, has kept relatively steady. This naturally begs the question: What is causing this drop at ANN?

This is definitely not the place to talk about why anime doesn't seem to be as popular as it used to be, but one thing is clear--the downward trend on the graph above (Figure 1) is not ANN's fault. Other anime-centric sites, such as Crunchyroll, are charting similarly (see Figure 2):

Figure 2: The anime bubble...has burst?

Assuming that Google Trends has trended these sites correctly, the story here is really about AoDVD. Horizontal integration across multiple types/genres of media has, apparently, helped to protect Mania.com from across the board drops in popular interest in anime.

But why does traffic matter? It's not just about prestige. Large websites are not financially solvent, as a general rule, unless they are ad-supported. And since traffic volume translates into ad revenue, that site which attracts the most traffic--wins. With money, you can eat smaller, competing sites in order to add those sites' audiences to your own, which then brings in even more money, which allows you to eat even more competing sites, which then brings in yet more money, and so forth, in an unending, accelerating positive feedback loop that (barring anti-trust suits) only ends when there is no one else left in the pond but you.

(Please bear in mind: when we talk about "ad-supported content," it might be more accurate to talk instead about "content-supported ads." Once a medium starts to derive its revenue through advertisement, it is no longer selling its content to the audience (a.k.a. you and me); rather, it is selling the attention of its audience (a.k.a. you and me) to advertisers. In other words, you're not the customer anymore--now, you're for sale.)

Needless to say, these graphs scare me a lot. Consolidation of other media forms--i.e. radio and television--has occurred in the wake of unregulated, ad-driven revenue models. Could consolidation under just a handful of multinational corporations be the future of online media? Unless there is regulatory intervention, I don't think it's too early to predict that this will be the case...

And that's a big problem. That media consolidation has impoverished public discourse is indisputable, and the damage that will be done if the Internet starts looking like cable television would be beyond measure. Knowledge ought to be free, and your eyeballs should not be what's for sale. Anyway, I hope I'm wrong about where we're going...but I don't think I am.
*Yes, I work for ANN. No, that fact has nothing to do with anything.
16th-Jan-2009 05:47 am (UTC) - On Twitter:
MangaCast @Kethylia Great post! I was discussing this subject with a Japanese studio last week. Mind if I forward a link to them as a reference?
Kethylia @MangaCast Sure. I was serious when I put up the CC license. Just, please, attribute to me. (My real name, not my LJ name. ^^; )
MangaCast @Kethylia Got it!
16th-Jan-2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
Now, this may be a little off topic, but I for one, will be interested to see what happens Crunchy Rolls numbers now that they gone legit.

In a way, they've gone the opposite direction that you're talking about, into (as far as I can tell) exclusively anime related. They're now working with companies like Viz to bring anime through licensed sources. Unfortunately this means that at least for now, they've taken down all user generated content, which includes all live action dorama and movies.

I'm not optimistic in terms of getting this content back - I mean the dorama and movie watchers aren't really a fan base that anyone cares about, since they don't make money for anyone.

But I do wonder how this will effect the site's traffic. Personally, I barely even knew they had anime on there. I used it exclusively to watch dorama. And judging from all the outcry in the comments of the live action section, so did a lot of people - all people that have no more interest or use for in the site as it stands now.

16th-Jan-2009 04:48 pm (UTC)
Do you know if they're getting the legit anime content for free? Or somehow getting reimbursed by Viz et al for the bandwidth needed? I have trouble working up much energy caring about Crunchyroll one way or the other, but I would assume one or the other. Even if they lose the money they make off your eyeballs, as it were, they're eliminating the potential cost of a lawsuit (even though Japan is litigation-adverse, there was always concern that an exception would be made if they got big enough, natch), which may well be worth it to them. I don't know their exact numbers, obviously.

However, I see no reason why, in the future, live-action might not fall under their mandate. For what that's worth.

As for their numbers, I'm willing to bet they'll go into freefall, at least over the short-term. The long-term solution, of course, is to get bought by a corporation that can provide them with the legitimacy that they do not have, like when Google bought YouTube.
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