Insights

Data-driven prioritization of content acquisitions

31 May, 2021

Whether SVOD, AVOD or FAST (Free Ad-supported Streaming Television), a critical part of the long-term success of an on-demand platform is acquiring the right library content. While new original and exclusive content is excellent for acquiring new subscribers, engaging library content does the job of retaining them on the platform.

The problem all streaming businesses must contend with is that adding titles to expand a content library is a complicated balancing act between audience appeal and cost. How do you accurately assess the audience appeal of a title your platform has no viewer metrics for, that may not even have been released before in your market? Series that have already proven themselves to be hits come with a cost premium. Compounding this issue is the fact that the calculus of expansion never stops. Without continually adding new library content, existing subscribers will start to consider your service stale.

This necessitates an ongoing method of prioritizing titles, that provides market specific info for global titles, always up to date with audience appeal. With a data-driven method of prioritizing content acquisitions, you can ensure maximizing audience appeal for your content spend budget.

In this article, we will look at example data for the US catalog of the Crunchyroll streaming platform. Crunchyroll is a specialist SVOD, known to American audiences as one of the premier destinations for anime content. As such, Crunchyroll must make acquisition decisions primarily around Japanese imports. They must outmaneuver competitors who also want to tap into the strong US audience demand for anime, both within the anime niche like Funimation Now and from the general interest streamers like Netflix.

We will demonstrate three metrics that deliver an Acquisition Score, which Crunchyroll could use to make smart, data-driven acquisitions of anime series content.

Specifically, we will answer the question:

Which Japanese anime titles should Crunchyroll acquire to maintain a competitive edge in the anime niche into next year?

The first and most obvious metric to use to prioritize potential acquisitions is demand.

What is Demand?

US demand measures how much attention the American audience is giving to a series, relative to the entire market. This article contains an in-depth explanation of how demand is measured.

How does Demand help prioritize acquisitions?

Demand provides a ranking of the anime series that US audiences are paying the most attention to.

The demand ranking has several important qualities for the purpose of acquisitions:

  • It is relative to the entire market, contextualizing the exact extent of each series’ audience appeal.
  • It is available for series regardless of their platform, ownership or even availability within a market.
  • Demand ranking can be made for any relevant time period, from all-time rankings down to individual days.

Using demand, we can identify the anime titles from Japan that are attracting the most audience attention in the United States in the year to date. We will note here that anime does not necessarily have to originate from Japan, but for the purposes of this article we will focus on such titles.

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As mentioned, Crunchyroll is already a destination platform for anime fans in the United States. As a result, they already have many of these high-demand titles available on their platform.

To effectively answer the question of “Which anime titles should Crunchyroll acquire”, we will therefore narrow this down to potential acquisitions that are NOT already available on the US Crunchyroll platform.

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If Crunchyroll had an unlimited budget to capture the highest share of American audience attention for anime series right now, then these would be the titles to immediately acquire.

The list here favors long-running series and franchises that have built up a high audience awareness and fanbase in the United States. These include series like Pokemon (first premiered in Japan in 1997) and One Piece (1999), as well as several entries in the Dragon Ball franchise (1986).

Another common category of these high demand series is ‘evergreen classics’. An example of this is Neon Genesis Evangelion, a ground-breaking anime that originally aired between 1995 and 1996. Despite its age, the series is still the fifth most in-demand series in the United States.

Other titles that have high demand during the early months of 2021 are newer series that are capturing audience attention in their early seasons. Shows in this category include 2019’s Fruits Basket which premiered Season 3 in this period. Similarly, Season 3 of Netflix’s 2019 reinterpretation of the classic franchise Ultraman also premiered.

While demand is a fantastic place to begin prioritizing acquisitions, we will now bring in additional metrics to refine the recommendations further.

Travelability

What is it?

US travelability is a measure of how strong the demand from American audiences is against the strength of the demand in the series’ home market of Japan. It is calculated by comparing each market’s demand per capita. This article contains an explanation of how travelability is measured.

How does travelability help prioritize acquisitions?

In the context of acquisitions, travelability is essentially a measure that accounts for local tastes in content. An anime series that appeals to broad American tastes will have a higher travelability than a title that can only appeal to anime ‘superfans’. The broader appeal to the local audience translates into better retention power, as a larger proportion of your subscribers will want to engage with it than they would for the more niche title.

A high US travelability can be due to two underlying causes:

  • Demand in the home market is lower than normal. Compared to similar shows, the title is not performing well in its home market. However, the home market audience factors that caused this are not impacting demand in the US.
  • Demand in the USA is higher than normal. By design or accident, the title caters to US audience tastes and is accessible to a wider variety of US content consumers.

Both causes can happen in combination.

Conversely, a low travelability means that US audiences do not enjoy the show as much as Japanese audiences. While series in this category are not necessarily poor investments, rights holders may expect a higher price due to considering it a successful show, even if travelability shows that the Japanese success is unlikely to translate to similar levels of US success.

The next chart shows the anime series that currently have the highest travelability to the USA. To focus on our example, it only shows titles that are not currently available on Crunchyroll’s US platform.

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The anime genre is unusual in that series routinely have a travelability of over 100%. This means that their demand per capita is actually higher in the USA than it is in the home market of Japan.

As you would expect from how the travelability metric is calculated, there is some overlap of the highest travelability titles with the highest demand titles. Dragonball Z and Dragonball Super*, as well as Pokemon and Fruits Basket all reappear from that earlier chart.

However, because this metric also incorporates the Japanese audience demand for the same series there are series here that were not also in the highest demand chart.

Some of these are well-known anime title like Dragon Ball Kai, another entry in the Dragon Ball franchise, and Cowboy Bebop.

Cowboy Bebop is a classic anime that first premiered in 1998. Due to the show’s heavy Western themes, it has always been noted as an accessible anime for Americans. This fact has not been lost on Netflix, which is producing their upcoming live action Cowboy Bebop remake in the United States. Linked to this, the more recent Space Dandy series has been described as a comic take on Cowboy Bebop made by the same producers.

Another, perhaps surprising type of high US travelability titles is for gentle slice-of-life animes. In this chart, these types of series include Ouran High School Host Club and Fruits Basket. Titles like these showcase Japanese culture and everyday life and do not initially seem like a match for American tastes.

While Japanese audiences certainly enjoy the idealized world of wish-fulfillment these shows create, there is an extra appeal to American audiences. The ‘everyday life’ depicted is exotic and fresh to US eyes, yet familiar to a Japanese audience. The fascination of a glimpse into another culture could explain the relative differences in demand that lead to the high travelability.

The strong US appetite for this type of content is not limited to anime. During its original release, the Fruits Basket manga comic (the source material for the anime adaptation) held the record for highest ranked manga on the US bestseller lists.

Longevity

What is it?

Longevity is a measure of how consistent the demand for the title has been over time. It is calculated from the ratio of a title’s average demand to the title’s peak demand. This article contains an explanation of how longevity is measured.

How does Longevity help prioritize acquisitions?

Longevity highlights titles where the baseline audience demand stays high, as opposed to more ephemeral series where audience attention quickly fades after the season finale. This indicates series that subscribers will return to over and over, which are sometimes referred to as ‘evergreen’ titles. For a non-anime example of evergreen content, think of the enduring appeal of the 90's sitcom Friends.

Adding titles with high longevity to a platform’s library increases engagement on the platform and drives retention. This is a valuable outcome; WarnerMedia paid 425 million USD in 2019 to acquire Friends for the HBOMax streaming library.

The next chart shows the Japanese anime series that have the highest longevity with American audiences. As before, this chart only includes titles that are not currently available on Crunchyroll’s US platform.

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Note that unlike demand and travelability, longevity is an all-time metric, not a date-specific metric. Longevity has the further requirement that titles must be at least 8 months post-release to have a longevity score.

By far the most effective way to keep the attention of audiences on your content - and thus a high longevity - is to release new seasons. Releasing new seasons causes a strong boost in demand, ensuring that baseline demand can never drop too far. Long-running series therefore naturally lend themselves to high longevity. This means there are some expected results in this chart, such as titles in the Dragon Ball franchise and the pirate anime One Piece, which has been running continuously from 1999 to the present day.

Other series attain high longevity by being highly regarded in their subgenre. For example, Black Butler ran from 2008 to 2014 and is critically acclaimed as one of the best dark horror anime series. Note that this is the same genre as Attack On Titan, which over the time period analyzed is not just the most in-demand anime in the United States, but the second most in-demand title across all series. It is likely that people who consume Attack On Titan are searching for similar titles and being directed to Black Butler – and thus the platform Black Butler is available to stream on.

Refining the acquisition recommendations

We now have three separate lists of Japanese anime series that, for different reasons, would be good acquisition targets. High demand means the series currently has the attention of US audiences, high travelability means the series appeals to a wider audience and high longevity means it is ‘stickier’.

To give the most comprehensive acquisition prioritization possible, we now combine these three measurements into a single Acquisition Score.

To do this, we simply index each of the 3 metrics on a 100-point scale. The highest-ranked series of each metric is scored 100 and all other series are converted to a score based on how their performance in the metric measures up to the top-scoring title.

Here are the results of that indexing for some of the series from the high demand chart.

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Note that the top titles in each metric - that scored 100 - are not present. In this case, these titles are already on the US Crunchyroll platform and so are not valid acquisition targets. However, we typically index to the entire market segment being analysed, which in this case is all Japanese anime series. While we will not cover it in this article, a frequent concurrent exercise with acquisition prioritization is assessing which library titles should not be renewed. For these tasks it is helpful to be able to easily cross-compare between potential acquisitions, existing catalog titles and the wider market.

This next chart shows the Japanese anime series with the highest Acquisition Scores for the US Crunchyroll platform.

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The applications of the Acquisition Score are immediately obvious.

Let us assume we have a scenario where for the same cost, Crunchyroll could acquire the US rights to either Fullmetal Alchemist or Neon Genesis Evangelion. Both shows have broadly similar properties: an evergreen, classic anime series that ended more than a decade ago.

By purely looking at US demand as shown at the start of this article, Neon Genesis Evangelion would be the clear choice as it has 11.5x average US series demand, compared to Fullmetal Alchemist‘s 6.6x. However, once the other metrics are factored in, the recommendations reverse. Neon Genesis Evangelion has an Acquisition Score of 23.9, while Neon Genesis Evangelion has only 18.6.

The reason is we are now accounting for Fullmetal Alchemist’s higher longevity and travelability with US audiences. Despite Neon Genesis Evangelion’s higher demand, when it comes to the full picture - including subscriber retention - then Neon Genesis Evangelion will return more value for the investment.

The results above are when each of the three contributing metrics are considered equally important. However, the Acquisition Score can be adjusted to reflect specific business goals. For example, if Crunchyroll wanted every acquisition to improve subscriber retention above all, then longevity would be given a higher weighting during the calculation of Acquisitions Score. This will give different scores and potentially different recommendations.

We close this study by answering the initial question posed:

Which titles should Crunchyroll acquire to maintain this competitive edge into next year?

We have shown here how three different metrics combine into an Acquisition Score, which enables smart, data-driven acquisitions of anime series content. For the specific example, we aimed to help Crunchyroll maintain their competitive edge in the US anime market. To keep the edge, they have to identify the new titles that will perform best in the US market, ideally while these titles still need a US distribution platform.

We will now use the method described to rank new anime series by their US Acquisition Score. Here, we define ‘new anime series’ as those series that had a recent Japan debut, where Season 1 premiered in 2019 or later.

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This is our answer, the series shown here are the best potential acquisitions for a US-based platform that wants to achieve the highest catalog appeal to anime fans. As mentioned earlier, this analysis is market-specific and so the recommendations for a Brazilian, French or Korean platform may well be different.

For this chart, we have once again included series that are available on the US Crunchyroll platform. Demonstrating their knowledge of the anime niche, Crunchyroll have already acquired three of the recent anime series which the data highlighted: Isekai Quartet, The Rising Of The Shield Hero and Tower of God.

The data shows three other recent series would be comparably good acquisitions.

Fruits Basket was discussed already when it appeared in the travelability chart. The high travelability makes it more accessible to US audiences, combined with the high demand means that if acquired, it would be a suitable title to feature in advertising aimed at attracting new subscribers to the platform.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War appeared on the highest demand chart, but it has solid values in all three metrics. This series is a romantic comedy with a passionate fanbase who are attached to the characters and based on its high longevity score will retain subscribers well.

Interspecies Reviewers also appeared on the high travelability chart. It also has good longevity, but has lower US demand than the previous two recommendations. This combination of demand and longevity indicates a smaller but more dedicated fandom. This title is a fantasy sex-comedy, which is a differentiating factor as this is a niche largely unaddressed by US animations. As well as considering if the individual metrics and the cost of licensing are desirable, platform reputation should also be considered here.

This study has shown how the demand, longevity and travelability metrics combine to create powerful, actionable recommendations. The Acquisition Score is a powerful and flexible tool to maximize audience appeal for a fixed content spend budget.

*Correction: Dragon Ball Super has been available on the US Crunchyroll platform since October 2016.

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