Weeks like this week are times when I’m glad I have a weekly series here. So many bloggers, reviewers, writers, and angry people around the internet rushed at the speed of light to get their mitts on this juicy story and I can take my time. Everyone trying to get out the big story: Crunchyroll cutting video bitrates to save money and dropping quality of their anime in the process! How scandalous! Let’s rush to California this instant to riot, I can’t believe they did something like this! Right? Well in today’s era where whoever gets the information out there the fastest and gives if the catchiest buzz, sure. Initially, I didn’t care. In fact, I cared so little that Nick had to explain what the issue was for me to even know what was going on. Should I care? I mean… I guess. Nonetheless, here we are so before we get into everything here’s how were going to play this game: I’m going to fact check everything stated about this issue; including the statements by Daiz and Crunchyroll themselves, and I’m going to try to replicate all of these claims myself in order to understand this as much as I can. As always, I’ll provide my opinion on the matter (after all, this is an opinion based series, not a news series), and I’ll ramble a bit what this means to the western community or whatever. Sound good? Well, I hope so because this post is already written out in it’s entirety, not much room for taksies backsies.
So how did this start and why is this something topic worthy? Well starting earlier this month (March 2017), people started seeing a noticeable difference in the video quality from Crunchyroll’s premium videos. While this was apparently an issue back in August of last year (something I was unaware of), it was later discovered that Crunchyroll had cut their bitrate of premium streams practically in half for all videos after 24 hours of them being on the site. Obviously that had a lot of people upset. I myself didn’t care since as of late I was watching things the day they aired and have only really been watching Kobayashi-san Chi no Maidaragon and Konosuba 2 as of now. Until Nick brought up that this was something worth talking about and as a premium customer. That, I feel, is an important way to look at the issue at hand. While I was lucky enough to not encounter it at all while I was watching shows, when I looked into it myself there was a clear problem.
Once I looked at other shows, namely AnoHana and Hai to Gensou no Grimgar, it was a very noticeable difference. Luckily, someone by the name of Daiz who has been the most useful person for looking at this mess did some digging, and luckily he wrote up a piece on Medium and helped make sense of everything. He worked with speed and deadly accuracy for how quickly he got things out, and honestly there needs to be props to him as he’s where a majority of the information (even after fact checking) for this post will be coming from. He even went so far as to compare the old video and the new video, which is a useful comparison for those like me who didn’t notice the problems right away. So people kept nagging Crunchyroll at their blatant drop in quality and then they immediately addressed the issue and explained what was happening, right?
Well… No. According to Daiz in his piece on Medium, the problem was noticeable as early as March 11th, and while I can’t say that for certain, I did see the fire begin to spread around March 13th. Crunchyroll didn’t release an official statement on their site until March 15th and didn’t post a proper blog post addressing the problem until March 16th. So a problem that I noticed happening was able to go on for at least three days before we got a full fledged response to the issues and this here lies my main problem with the whole issue. Not that the bitrate is “garbage”, not that pirates were getting better quality, (not to say those things didn’t bother me the more research I did, which they did) but that their transparency around the issue was practically non-existent.
A lot of what was said in Crunchyroll’s official statement was easily perceived as confusing and a lot of it was needless jargon but a line that caught through to me from this statement was “Please know that it will never be Crunchyroll’s intention to lessen the viewing experience.” At face value, this now looks like a blatant lie, and to a degree it is. While to me it was a reassuring statement which made sense amidst their claim that they were going to fix this issue as soon as possible, it’s easy to see how this could be taken as a lie. Even as Daiz stated in his piece on Medium, the first conclusion to draw was that Crunchyroll was dropping bitrate to save money. There’s no way a decision like that could be non-intentional.
That’s what will illustrate my issue the best, I believe. As of writing, stream quality has already improved (unfortunately I forgot to nab a screenshot before the blog post and the improvement of the stream quality) despite still being a lower bitrate than what HorribleSubs has (comparison), but that shows an actual effort to improve. The moment a company makes a move that will undoubtedly upset a portion of their customer base without the utmost transparency is the moment they make a bad decision. I personally have no problem with the explanation Crunchyroll gave as to why their quality dropped drastically, but what made so many people upset was that absolutely no one other than Crunchyroll themselves knew what was happening. Paying customers who were supporting the creators through a legal avenue were getting worse video than people who were stealing the same shows and the only reason that was possible to come to a conclusion about was to cut costs. As I mentioned in my post about Amazon’s Anime Strike, this is what gets people to become pirates.
Why should I be spending money when I can get more for free? While I personally had no issue with the drop in quality since it was unnoticeable for me until I went out of my way to find it, plenty of people watch more than just airing shows on Crunchyroll and why should they stick around if they’re only going to get lower quality? If it took me twenty minutes to re-download a bittorrent client and VLC Player to get the comparison images and it cost me nothing at all, what are other people who care much less than me about supporting creators doing using an inferior service? If anything this makes spreading a message of people supporting creators and refusing to pirate harder. Why would people listen to me saying that it’s wrong to pirate when pirates get better video than the legal avenue? Just like I’ve said before, there becomes a point where it’s no longer worth it just to support creators. While a dropped bitrate wasn’t that point for me, it was understandably the point for plenty other people. The thread where Crunchyroll made their official statement alone was filled with people extremely dissatisfied with what they were getting, and almost every single one was marked with the premium member star.
In today’s age, negative information travels at the speed of light while positive information crawls from person to person in comparison. No amount of PR backpedalling will save the money you wouldn’t have lost if you put out a statement explaining what was happening. No matter what your excuse is, it means nothing to the people who have already left and only makes those of us who haven’t and care about the issue wonder why you didn’t tell us earlier. We know VRV exists, we know Crunchyroll is a part of it, why didn’t you tell us there might be temporary quality dips? Even if it was a spur of the moment thing, this fault endlessly falls onto Crunchyroll and how they poorly handled the situation.
Should events like this sway your favour towards or away from a company. Absolutely. If this is something that bothers you, then you should absolutely demand that your voice be heard and yes, taking away your money is the absolute best way to do this. It didn’t bother me at all, and it still isn’t the biggest issue now that the quality difference is hardly noticeable, but if this is something make or break for you, like many other people, I wouldn’t settle for what Crunchyroll has to offer. I by no means am saying pirate, I’m saying show Crunchyroll that they need to change. There are standards these legal services need to reach, and if those standards aren’t being met in your eyes, don’t support the people making those decisions. This is coming not from a pirate, but from someone who uses Crunchyroll regularly. If your service doesn’t meet the standards you know very well that people have, you by no means deserve our support.
So that’s my opinion on the matter. Initially I was also going to dive into things HorribleSubs said but I couldn’t find enough ways to tie them in and I couldn’t say much on the topic that has yet to be said. Demanding standards be met is not the same thing as saying everyone should pirate and hopefully that’s something I got across in the post. I know this post was short and last week nothing came out, but I’m trying my best and hopefully this post was at the very least enjoyable. As always, you can follow me on Twitter if you want to see what I’m up to the other six days of the week. I’ll see you all next week.
The featured image for this post was drawn by the artist shari.