A few days ago the leading legal English anime streaming website Crunchyroll decided to run a so-called “AMA” on Reddit:
This stands for “Ask Me Anything” and can be used by anyone from your everyday person to the largest of companies. Its purpose is exactly as the name implies – to let users ask relevant questions and learn something about the host – although when it comes to companies, or famous persons, its use begin to muddle. On one hand it can be used as a fantastic way of reaching out to your potential customers and showcase transparency, on another it can be an embarrassing case of advertisement.
While my own experiences with AMAs is relatively low – I’ve only followed around 20 or so in total, with the majority being related to video games – I can say the following: the AMAs used for advertising are the ones which usually end up badly. After all, heading into an AMA with the mindset of advertising only goes against the very purpose of the format, which can more or less end up backfiring if the host only provides canned replies.
My personal thoughts on the matter are rather simple: try to be as open as possible if you’re a host and never retort to stiff wordings in an attempt to put you in a better light. After all, if you’re open about your AMA, aren’t chances high it actually increases your popularity? The advertising therefore comes as a well-rewarded bonus for doing a good job. The readers gain insight while the host in question has its share of the cake; everybody wins.
With all of this in mind, I was initially skeptical regarding Crunchyroll holding an AMA. For starters, what would their mindset be: to provide insight or to advertise? And secondly, how would they present themselves?
The anime community has long been relegated to illegal fansubs as the legal alternatives were sparse and often very limited. As such, fansubs is what many are used to as it has been the only way to watch anime. This has led to an obvious difference in standards; those who are used to fansubs are generally used to a higher standard in certain areas such as encoding or typesetting.
Crunchyroll, while having grown over time and today streams the majority of the currently airing anime in Japan, is still behind on a lot of these things. In addition to having a subscription fee, along with many years with no sorts of improvements, it is not difficult to see why this would create a clash with parts of the anime community. Naturally, the issue is much larger than this – far too large to fit into this text alone – so do not take this as anything but a mere oversimplification.
So would Crunchyroll talk about these issues and tell us what the future held in store or do something else? In my own opinion, Crunchyroll is a company begging for more transparency. There are countless of rumors constantly floating around, such as their translators not getting paid, questions about where the subscription fee actually goes and so on. Not to mention customers having constant problems with their apps, being met by a bad support team, the video stream crashing and more.
To solve this, Crunchyroll needs to address these issues multiple times and provide insight – tell us how the company runs. Because today I personally neither have no clue about how its run, nor do I know if they will ever address the issues people complain about. The few times I see anyone from their support team on the forums it’s nothing more than a canned reply and a promise to become better. This does not help to strengthen Crunchyroll’s value as a customer.
The most recent example of insight would be an interview on the blog Otaku Journalist called “Where your Crunchyroll dollars really go: An interview with the CEO” written by Lauren Orsini. This interview was actually a response to an article called “Crunchyroll: Is It Worth Subscribing?” published on the website SeventhStyle and written by Primus de Pedos and Seven.
This interview was a fascinating read as I learned something I had never known before. Now I knew where Crunchyroll’s subscription fee went! This is exactly the type of thing Crunchyroll needs to repeat all the time to stop possibly fake rumors from taking over. The truth has to take over and become known to the public. Otherwise, their reputation will only continue to spiral downwards.
As such, I had slight hope that Crunchyroll would address these issues and much more in their Reddit AMA despite my initial skepticism. This would be the perfect opportunity to show us why they are worth supporting. All Crunchyroll had to do was to reply to questions and be open about it.
However, that is not what happened. In fact, of all possible outcomes the worst one ended up happening. At the time the AMA was finished the thread had over 1000 comments (today it has over 2000) with only 33 being from Kun Gao, the CEO of Crunchyroll. In addition, of these there are arguably five replies not even answering any actual questions; instead making jokes. Add the fact that Kun Gao replied in lower-case letters and sometimes had odd sentence structuring and you’re not met with a good first expression.
Regarding the commentators on the AMA, on the other hand, it must be said there was a lot. It was quickly spread over the Internet and soon ended up nothing but crowded with opinions from everywhere: fansubbers, 4chan, Crunchyroll users or just curious passersby. It became difficult to follow the AMA as a result.
This is not to say the commentators were without merit, however. Many had legitimate questions about Crunchyroll as a service, in particular Daiz – who has the top-rated comment – which can be read HERE. Daiz is, to put it shortly, an infamous person in the anime fansubbing community. You may argue whether or not he does more harm than good, but he knows his stuff.
Yet, he was never actually replied to. Kun Gao completely sidestepped his questions and replied with a canned reply stating that Crunchyroll aims to be the best and that they are always improving. Not to mention how Kun Gao threw out the following comment in another reply:
Is this supposed to be a joke? A tongue-in-cheek? At this point the seriousness of Crunchyroll’s AMA came into question. In one reply Kun Gao denied Crunchyroll’s illegal background, in another he replied “Over 9000!” when asked about the amount of paid subscribers only to later on properly reply it was last publicly reported being over 300,000. Furthermore, Kun Gao replied vaguely to a joke comment nested in a set of serious questions. Add in a lot of vague canned replies, never quite giving anyone the full picture, and you have a mess. This goes on and on, with essentially all of Kun Gao’s comments only damaging Crunchyroll rather than helping.
The Crunchyroll AMA seems like a failed and miscalculated attempt at advertising. Every critical question was either avoided or replied to as vague in detail as possible. We never learned if Crunchyroll planned to fix their current problems and we never learned about any future plans. Nothing was ever properly addressed in this AMA – there was no insight or transparency. Instead, it treated as a joke.
In Sweden we have a proverb that goes as follows: “Många bäckar små gör en stor å” (literally “Many small brooks form a big river”). This means that many small parts eventually end up creating a big one. This is a very apt proverb for describing Crunchyroll at the moment. There are a lot of smaller problems that are slowly building up and will eventually haunt them.
Am I, as a subscribing customer, supposed to accept this sort of behavior? Am I supposed to accept being treated like a fool? If anything, Crunchyroll’s AMA has only hurt my impression of the company and makes me question if they’re worth supporting as they act today.