I have to confess, my initial reaction to finding out about ANiUTa – a new ‘global’ streaming service which will allow fans outside of Japan to stream anime music from shows like Love Live and Macross – was one of joy. Finally – the solution to a problem I had been hammering on about for ages. ‘Why oh why could us fans in the West have incredible, legal streaming access to pretty much every anime as it aired in Japan, but not legally stream the songs from those very same shows?’
As something of a fanatic about both the music industry and anime – I’ve always felt the question of anime music and soundtracks is one that has been largely overlooked compared to wider discourse on anime as a whole. Whether through lack of interest, understanding or the worry that this kind of analysis might veer wildly into the frame of musicology (which can be something of a snoozefest when handled densely), there is comparatively little delving into the real ins and outs of anime music.
But as I pondered ANiUTa some more – the more it started to feel like only half a solution. Firstly, it stands as another example of the classic ‘new contender’ syndrome, which has become an inescapable part of the streaming wars – as new companies try to muscle in to an already crowded market. Each demands their own monthly subscription – and as we have already seen in the TV and anime streaming markets, there have already been many casualties.
Secondly, in many ways ANiUTa represents what the global ‘big three’ record labels (Sony, Warner, Universal) wish they did themselves before Spotify/Apple dominated the game – ie. a distribution platform owned by themselves. As a joint venture between countless AniSong labels, ANiUTa is smart thinking – taking ownership of the distribution instead of relying on a third party who will take their own cut of the earnings.
But therein lies the trouble – the benefit is on the companies themselves, with the consumer losing out. While the prospect of ANiUTa is arguably an improvement over a forlorn ‘ground zero’ in which legal streaming of AniSong is practically non-existent, it also means that the dream of having all these songs in one logical place (ie. Spotify) where listeners can consume at their leisure alongside their existing music collections seems unlikely.
Thus, the consumers are forced into a fractured listening experience, wherein some of their music is located one one service, and some is located on another. This is something we have already see in the TV streaming sphere – how many times have you wanted to watch a show that is ‘Exclusive’ to Netflix, only to find you’re screwed because you happen to subscribe to Amazon Prime instead.
I remain optimistic about ANiUTa – after all, it’s an improvement over the existing situation where Western AniSong fans had pretty much zero legal access to this material. But still – I feel it remans very much a half-measure, an avoidance of clear consumer habits, which – when it comes to the music industry – have arguably already picked their service of choice: Spotify.