When VIZ Media announced Neon Alley, a 24/7 linear streaming service, at San Diego Comic-Con in 2012 I thought it was the stupidest shit ever. In the era of on-demand media, why the fuck would a company that deals primarily in episodic content launch a service where I don’t have a say in what episode I’m watching? Compounded by the fact that it was $7/month and only available on consoles — it was clear they were out of their minds.
But still, when the service launched on Xbox Live six months later, I couldn’t help myself. I expected the worst, and I needed to see the train-wreck with my own eyes. I told myself that I was subscribing as a goof; paying a monthly service fee to own Big Anime.
The joke was on me. Neon Alley was great.
In 2013, I was the busiest I had ever been. Between college and work, I didn’t have time to watch anything, anime or otherwise. And when I did have time I struggled with decision paralysis. The last thing I wanted to do with my limited time off was worry about what to watch. In the end, it was easier to watch nothing.
Neon Alley cured my indecisiveness. It was easy to turn on the TV and watch whatever was airing. It became my background noise of choice when I was waking up for class or getting ready for work. Most of the time I was only listening, but occasionally shows like Tiger and Bunny would compel me enough to pay attention.
During that time I relearned something about anime that I had forgotten. You don’t need to watch a show from the beginning to enjoy it. With little exception, all of my favorite shows are things that I stumbled upon midway through their TV run. I’m pretty sure I had seen a hundred episodes of Dragon Ball before I saw the first episode.
Anime fans will say that you can’t enjoy a show unless you watch it The Right Way. And that isn’t true. TV is designed to allow the viewer to jump in at any point and still get what’s going on.
I started watching Breaking Bad halfway through season three. By the end of the episode, I understood enough about Walt and Jesse to follow the story. And because on-demand content is so prevalent, catching up on back episodes was trivial.
Neon Alley wasn’t without its flaws. The biggest problem was the limited programming. The same episode of Naruto might air 15 times a week. Even with my scattered viewing schedule it still felt like there was never enough new content.
The commercials were also pretty bad. And I don’t mean the frequency or length of the breaks. I have nothing wrong with watching relevant spots on a reasonable schedule. Adult Swim is an excellent example of this. What I don’t want to do is watch an ad for an out-of-state convention shot on a broken iPhone by Greg Ayres’ cousin.
Even with its problems, Neon Alley didn’t have to fail. It just needed restructuring. There’s still a place in the anime world for curated content. The popularity of Toonami is proof of that. Neon Alley had the potential to be a 24/7 Toonami, but it lacked personality.
Running a TV channel isn’t as simple as throwing a bunch of shows into a randomizer and playing an ad every 10 minutes. Think about Cartoon Network’s usual programming and think about Adult Swim. It’s the same channel, but most people consider them different things.
What draws a person to Adult Swim the first time? Maybe it was a specific show or the time of day. Maybe another reason. But they kept coming back because they trust the block to deliver similar content.
Neon Alley is difficult to describe as a brand. It was Nonstop Anime Machine 2000. There was no heart and seemingly no thought process behind what I was watching. If it were as simple as throwing anime into a blender and pushing play the service would still be around
I understand why Viz shut down Neon Alley. Either the money wasn’t coming in, or they realized how much work it was running a TV channel. It must have also been a nightmare getting approval to add shows to their lineup.
For a multitude of reasons, no one has ever gotten the 24/7 anime channel right. Neon Alley barely existed a year before they gave up. I wasn’t subscribed for very long, but I’ll always remember them fondly. Maybe someday some wealthy lunatic will try something like it again. Probably not.