In a dramatic acceleration of its release schedule, Viz Media is moving up both its Naruto Shippuden anime and manga releases, much closer to the release in Japan.  Anime episodes will begin streaming in the U.S. on the Website within days of broadcast in Japan; manga releases will appear in the U.S. within months of the Japanese volume’s release.


The acceleration of release is most aggressive on the anime streaming front, where 24 episodes of the uncut, subtitled Naruto Shippuden anime will be made available on in the first two weeks of January.  The new anime streaming initiative kicks off on January 2nd, when eight episodes will be made available, with eight more added each Friday until the catch-up is complete.  Beginning on January 15th and every Thursday thereafter, a new episode will be added, only days after its broadcast in Japan.  As a teaser, a sneak peak of a Naruto Shippuden episode will be made available free on the Website this week.   


On the manga front, Viz is carrying out a reprise of its Naruto Nation program (see “Interview with Viz’s Gonzalo Ferreyra 2007”), releasing 11 volumes of the Naruto manga, volumes 34 to 44, between February and April.  At the end of that catch-up process, the American manga volumes will be released once a quarter, roughly six months after their release in Japan.  Naruto Volume 44, to be released in the U.S. in April, is being released in Japan this month. 


The anime move is not only a big change in the timing of making new episodes available, it’s also a change in how they’re distributed.  Viz currently distributes its anime episodes free through third party streaming sites such as Hulu (see “Anime on”) and Joost (see “Online Anime Options Proliferate”), and for sale via Download to Own venues such as iTunes (see “Top Viz Media Titles on iTunes”) and Xbox (see “Viz Anime DTO on Xbox 360”).   Viz plans to continue to use those third party sites, but will use as a way of launching the more aggressive distribution of new episodes of its flagship series. 


The acceleration of Naruto manga releases in late 2007 worked well for Viz; per volume sales did not drop as some expected.  Viz Vice President Sales and Marketing Gonzalo Ferreyra described the results in an ICv2 interview this fall, saying that the publishing surge worked “as beautifully as we could have hoped, beyond our expectations” (see “Interview with Gonzalo Ferreyra 2008, Part 1”).    


But while the release of three years worth of Naruto volumes in late 2007 worked well for Viz, results on the sales of manga from other publishers were not as positive; the rapid releases of so many volumes from the #1 manga series seems to have accelerated the trend toward a sharp divide between manga bestsellers and the rest of the pack, with weaker titles now not garnering the same kind of sales they would have a couple of years ago.  Naruto was the #1 U.S. manga property (see “Top 20 Q3 Manga Properties”), and the #3 U.S. anime property (see “Top 10 Q3 Anime Properties”) in the third quarter. 


Simultaneous global release of new anime episodes has become the holy grail for anime producers as the most important way to combat illegal downloading on BitTorrent sites, which generate no revenue for the producers.  By releasing new episodes on a nearly simultaneous basis in North America on, Viz will be able to garner the promotional and advertising benefit of distributing new episodes on its own site, rather than ceding it to pirate third party sites.  And while the impact of scanlations of manga is not yet having the same impact on sales of manga volumes as illegal downloads have had on the sales of anime DVDs, it’s a growing trend that getting U.S. release much closer to the Japanese release will help to combat. 


As the largest U.S. manga producer and one of its largest anime companies, Viz is now taking a leadership role by developing a new business model for its top property across media and distribution channels.