Many Canadians were likely upset this past Saturday to find that FUNimation’s online streaming presentation of Dragonball Z was not available to them. When region blocking like this occurs, it is common to assume that the company in question simply doesn’t own the Canadian rights to a given title. FUNimation can’t use that excuse: they already explicitly stated in their initial press release that they own the Canadian streaming rights to the series.
FUNimation has been long well-regarded for making content on their video portal available to audiences in both the United States and Canada, often going as far as to (rightfully) brag about this fact at conventions. This had previously been a major factor setting them apart from competitors such as Viz who stream the entirety of their catalogue on Hulu.com, which has quite infamously blocked nearly all Canadian access since its launch. This is no longer true, as FUNimation is hosting fewer and fewer full episodes locally. As of now, almost everything they stream on their own website is carried over from Hulu.
Viewers of the mega popular series, One Piece, underwent similar torment late last year. While those streams had long been advertised as being available to both US and Canadian viewers, nearly the entire series has now been moved over to Hulu exclusively. New simulcasted episodes of One Piece are still hosted locally on their site and thus made available to Canadians, but only for one week. Needless to say, any Canadians hoping to get caught up on the series’ massive catalogue through legal means are out of luck.
While many FUNimation titles can still be viewed from Canada on their YouTube channel, this fact is not communicated anywhere on their video portal. Needless to say, Canadians are much more likely to immediately head to a torrent aggregator or illegal streaming site than take the time to clumsily search through FUNi’s YouTube channel for their desired program. Dragonball and One Piece, two of their most popular programs, are not available on their YouTube channel at all.
One rational approach to addressing this issue would be contacting Hulu directly and requesting that they make an exception to their blanket region restrictions and allow Canadians to view streams of anime programing. After all, one of the main reasons these restrictions are in place is due to CTV and Global continually refusing to compromise streaming rights on the massive library of foreign television shows they own, which should not logically affect anime titles in any way.
This overall transition, as well as FUNimation’s incredible reluctance to make any change to their current media infrastructure, suggests that exclusivity deals with Hulu.com are far more lucrative than more varied and accessible approaches. This is unsurprising when one considers that Hulu was designed primarily by mega-corporations such as Vivendi, NewsCorp, and Disney in order to gradually condition the public to accept paying for online content through subscriptions. Becoming more open and accessible is most certainly not on their agenda, which should raise some questions about the viability and sustainability of current online streaming models.