Are you a desi otaku?
From Dragon Ball Z to Naruto, Indian viewers are no strangers to classic anime in their local language. What new can Crunchyroll bring to the table in India?
Welcome to The Impression, your weekly primer on the business of media, entertainment, and content.
If someone shared this newsletter with you or if you’ve found the online version, hit the button below to subscribe now—it’s free! You can unsubscribe anytime.
Did you watch anime growing up?
Some of us may remember the Hindi version of the late-eighties hit Dragon Ball Z that Cartoon Network aired in India in the early 2000s. It was a hit with young boys who often recreated iconic moments from the series, such as Goku and Vegeta’s fights and when Goku turns Super Saiyan for the first time. Personally, I was a huge fan of Cardcaptor Sakura, a ‘90s anime series based on a shoujo manga (created for young girls) of the same name.
These and other shows like Pokémon, Naruto, and Beyblade became regular fixtures for a generation of urban Indian fans (or otaku: a person obsessed with anime) in the 2000s. They sparked school fights over Pokémon Tazos and Beyblade spinning tops. And it all worked because Indian kids were watching these shows on TV in Indian languages, particularly Hindi.
Now, the kids have grown up. There’s also much, much more content vying for their attention. Where does anime go from here?
Sony’s Crunchyroll is trying to nudge more Indian audiences to embrace anime: from the kids who are now discovering older titles on TV to their parents, once fans, who might find joy in adult shows.
Crunchyroll is leaning hard on localising its offerings. The question is: what will be its bigger priority in India—wooing existing anime fans, or converting new ones to the genre?
Crunchyroll’s Search for the Desi Anime Viewer
At its first fan event in India since its launch, anime streaming platform Crunchyroll screened the first two episodes of the hit series Jujutsu Kaisen in a Mumbai multiplex. The show is already available in India on Netflix in the original Japanese with English subtitles, but Crunchyroll has dubbed it in Hindi for Indian audiences.
Hindi dubs of anime aren’t new. They’ve been around on Indian television since the early 2000s. But a lot has changed since then in the way Indians watch anime.
Then, Dragon Ball Z and Cardcaptor Sakura used to air on Cartoon Network, and later on its anime-focused offshoot Toonami (which shut down in 2018). In 2004, Sony launched the TV channel Animax with English and Hindi feeds. But it shut down the Hindi feed in 2006 to focus on urban audiences. Then, it sold the business to KC Global Media in 2020 and moved all anime content to its streaming platform, SonyLIV.
Today, almost all major streaming platforms in India are offering some anime. Netflix has a large number of popular titles, while Amazon Prime Video introduced KC Global’s Animax + Gem as a separate channel for subscription in May. Animax was also launched on Jio TV this year. Disney+ Hotstar, too, has a modest anime library. And on linear TV, Sony’s successor to Animax, called Sony YAY!, began airing the 2000s anime classic Naruto last year in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Bangla.
So, why is Crunchyroll pushing its way in so late in the game? Until last year, the US-based platform didn’t even have subscription plans in Indian rupees. Platforms like Netflix already offer a number of anime titles it is marketing in India, along with evergreen hits like Beyblade and Pokémon.
It’s all about digging deeper into that local language market. Sony acquired Crunchyroll in 2021 for nearly $1.2 billion. Last year, the media conglomerate merged Crunchyroll with its main business. Now, it is betting India will help accelerate the anime platform’s growth.
“We really started to invest in the last 12 months, adding more content to the catalogue, adjusting to more locally relevant pricing, and expanding our dubs,” Crunchyroll’s chief operating officer Brady McCollum told The Impression in an interview. “We heard from fans that they’re looking for more dubs, so we started with Hindi dubs. We are actively working on Tamil and Telugu dubs, and you can expect them in the next few quarters.”
Apart from Jujutsu Kaisen, Crunchyroll is introducing Hindi dubbed versions of Dragon Ball Super, Masamune-kun’s Revenge, My Tiny Senpai, Rent-a-Girlfriend, and hot favourite Chainsaw Man.
Besides this, Crunchyroll also adjusted its subscription prices. In July last year, it slashed prices for its premium subscription from $7.99 a month to ₹79/month (just under $1/month). It now sells annual subscriptions for ₹999/year (~$12.20). Earlier this year, the platform introduced a Hindi user interface. It also signed up actors Tiger Shroff and Rashmika Mandanna to be the platform’s celebrity faces. Shroff, a hit with Hindi-speaking children, is also the face of Sony YAY!. Mandanna is popular among Telugu and Kannada audiences and has also worked in Tamil cinema.
While Crunchyroll has dubbed a relatively small number of shows in Hindi, it has more titles subtitled in Hindi. That shows how challenging it is to make local language dubs (and subs) your main differentiator.
Dubs aren’t easy
“There’s dubbing, and then there’s dubbing for anime,” Crunchryoll’s McCollum says. Getting an entire series dubbed in just one language takes considerable time and effort. First, a team must translate the script and prepare dialogues in the local language. A cast of voice actors need to be finalised. And actual recording, editing, mixing, and mastering can take a considerable period of time.
Then, there are things to consider for technical finesse. “Matching the dubs to the lip flaps is very important to fans,” McCollum explains. “For example, in Japanese, ‘Hello!’ is ‘Konnichiwa’, which has four syllables. So ideally, you’d have to translate that dialogue to something that matches the way the character’s mouth moves for those four syllables.” Besides, he says, fans of popular titles have strong opinions on who should be cast as the voice of their favourite characters. And many demand ‘simuldubs’ of their favourite shows—airing the dubbed version of a show on the same date as the original.
So far, all of Crunchyroll’s Hindi dubs are being released much after the originals. K-drama fans have been fuming at Netflix for releasing dubbed versions of the latest shows after an entire season has aired. But simuldubs are often not possible because a platform or distributor may not have local rights to get the show’s script in advance and prepare a dubbed version for simultaneous release.
Without simulcasts in Hindi and other Indian languages, Crunchyroll may not have enough to differentiate itself from other platforms also offering these titles (in English). Indian anime fans tend to be urban and may be comfortable watching their favourite show in English dubbing or even in the original Japanese with English subtitles. Their priority will be to watch the show the moment it is released.
But with local language dubs, Crunchyroll may be able to introduce anime to a wider audience, even if titles release weeks or months after the original. So, what’s Crunchyroll’s priority here? Wooing loyal, existing fans? Or acquiring new ones?
If the priority is to become the main destination for all existing anime fans in India, Crunchyroll has a steep hill to climb. It’s competing with mainstream platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for teenage and older audiences, while children even have access to shows in their own languages on widely distributed television networks. Existing loyalists of the anime genre may not even be looking for Hindi, Tamil, or Telugu dubs of the latest anime; they will pay for a platform with the widest, most updated catalogue. Therefore, simulcasts (airing a show on the same day globally) and simuldubs are going to be crucial for Crunchyroll’s success with this audience in India.
However, there is another market opportunity here: to introduce newer folks to the anime genre. Shows that became popular on Indian television in the 2000s were aimed at children and young teens, and were mostly devoid of violence or adult themes. But contrary to popular perception (in India), anime isn’t just for kids. Shows like Jujutsu Kaisen and Chainsaw Man are recommended for older teens or adults only. By introducing these shows in Indian languages, Crunchyroll has a chance to introduce anime to adults as well.
Anime platforms like Crunchyroll can look to successful K-dramas for inspiration. I wrote in this edition of The Impression about how K-dramas in local languages have become part of family TV time in India. One big reason is that these TV shows are mostly about family relations and the ‘tradition vs. modernity’ theme that Indian audiences are familiar with.
But many popular anime titles have enough violence or adult content to put off Indian families.
That said, Crunchyroll has had early success in wooing “family” audiences. This May, it partnered with parent Sony to distribute the Japanese anime Suzume in theatres (while PVR distributed the film in India). The coming-of-age story of a young girl who saves Japan from disasters earned ₹10 crore (~$1.22 million) at the box office in a lean month. It was enough to inspire Sanjeev Bijli, executive director of multiplex chain PVR-Inox, to look for more Asian language titles to release in cinemas.
Suzume’s success may be the start of something new for Crunchyroll’s ambition to go deep in India. But streaming is still a fledgling industry here, and anime is only one of its niches. To get another generation of Indians hooked to anime, so much so that they grow up watching it in a variety of local languages, is a difficult task. Crunchyroll has its work cut out.
Last Scroll Down📲
Oops-enheimer: India’s film certification body is so notorious for cutting ‘objectionable’ content even from A-rated films, that Universal Pictures reportedly sent a self-censored version of Oppenheimer to be certified. This version has actress Florence Pugh in a CGI-d black dress with sex scenes blurred out or zoomed in. Despite this, the film is now facing backlash from people offended by a sex scene where Oppenheimer quotes the famous “I am become Death…” from the Bhagavad Gita. A government official has written a “letter” to the makers of the film asking for it to be deleted. India’s minister for information & broadcasting has asked the board to explain how the film was approved with this scene.
Invading territory: Why on earth does Twitter have a giant ‘X’ on its website and official headquarters? Owner Elon Musk is rebranding the social media platform to become an AI-powered “marketplace of ideas, goods, services, and opportunities”. What does that mean? Musk has previously said he wants to create a super-app along the lines of China’s WeChat. But as Bloomberg’s Matt Levine puts it, Musk could have launched one without spending $44 billion buying Twitter.
Meanwhile, TikTok is getting into several territories at once. It has launched music streaming in Indonesia and Brazil. It has introduced text posts with music and stickers, much like Instagram Stories. And it is planning to launch e-commerce operations in the US to sell cheap, China-made goods to compete with shopping apps Shein and Temu, The Wall Street Journal reported.
No thanks, I’m good: Streaming platforms are passing up on dinner table scraps. They’re refusing to pay for ‘niche’ movies that haven’t done well in theatres or are marred by political controversy, Mint reports. Nandita Das’ Zwigato, starring late-night host Kapil Sharma, has had no takers for a digital release. Platforms are also steering clear of Vipul Shah’s hit film The Kerala Story after it was criticised (and taken to court) for misinformation and hate speech.
Local content is anyway not the big money-maker for international platforms. An analysis by Variety found that Netflix still relies on US originals to draw audiences globally. In India, of the total number of hours audiences spent watching originals on Netflix, only 15.5% were for shows made locally. Only South Koreans are watching more local content on the platform than Americans.
It’s giving… panic: Spotify reported its earnings this week, and the numbers reflect the fiasco at its podcast division. The company made a €302 million (~$334 million) loss in the June 2023 quarter, mostly because it spent €91 million (~$100 million) on “efficiency expenses” in the quarter. That includes severance paid to laid-off employees and other expenses associated with recent cost-cutting measures, such as scaling back the podcasts division. Last month, the company fired 200 people and merged its podcasting acquisitions, Gimlet Media and Parcast, into Spotify Studios. It also cancelled a number of celebrity-studded podcast shows.
However, Spotify also had its biggest jump in premium subscribers ever this quarter. It now has an all-time high of 551 million monthly active users (pdf). Yet, the company’s shares fell over 14% after it announced the results.
We hung up on their sales teams and walked swiftly away from their credit card kiosks at the mall. Now, it seems banks are all out of ideas on how to push their credit cards.
This week, ticketing platform BookMyShow began selling tickets for comedian Trevor Noah’s first ever India tour. But for now, only people with a Kotak Mahindra Bank credit card can buy tickets. Sounds like a straightforward sponsorship deal, right?
Not entirely. You can register to buy a ticket early, but registration means you agree to be contacted by a Kotak Mahindra Bank sales representative. The landing page for the event says the bank call will get you started on a credit card application, but it’s unclear if you need to have one before you can buy early tickets to the show. Ticket sales will open for regular folks only 48 hours later.
Are people actually signing up for a credit card just to get tickets to this show? If yes, Kotak Mahindra Bank may have stumbled onto a genius funnel for sales leads. How soon before we see mandatory credit card sign-ups for concerts, movies, or even local marathon events? PS: if you know someone who got a Kotak Mahindra card for this, write to me!
That’s all this week. If you enjoyed reading The Impression, please share it with your friends, family, and colleagues. And please write to me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org with thoughts, feedback, criticism or anything you’d like to see discussed in this space. I'd love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading, and see you again next Wednesday!