Vertical Slice: Wherefore Art Thou Sonic Boom?

Vertical Slice: Wherefore Art Thou Sonic Boom?

by October 28, 2014

Sonic Boom is just around the corner, with Rise of Lyric and Shattered Crystal getting an almost simultaneous worldwide release next month. But Sega have made it clear that the two games are simply prequel tie-ins to the main focus of the Sonic franchise reboot – the Sonic Boom animated series. But that’s only the case for Sonic fans in the USA or France.

Fans outside the two unrelated territories will be left sitting on their hands, stacks of imported Archie comics and Sonic Boom merchandise surrounding them, the two prequel games thoroughly played, staring longingly at their official Sonic Boom wall calender, waiting for for the main event:

Sonic Boom, possibly coming to an unknown TV station near you, Autumn 2015 – maybe!

They say patience is a virtue, but I doubt “they” had a high speed internet connection.

It’s nearly the year 2015 – a.k.a. “The Future” – and every man and his dog has the capability to illegally download and view copyrighted video content. While I certainly don’t advocate internet piracy, it’s absolutely pointless to pretend it doesn’t happen. So when Sega Europe’s Sissel Henno announced Sega’s seemingly arbitrary decision to broadcast Sonic Boom in some countries a year after others, no one was surprised to see TSSZ commenters bring up piracy as a “solution”.

And will anyone be sympathetic towards Sega when it denounces the hordes of fans that did resort to piracy? Probably not. After all, the modern media junky needs little excuse to pirate, and asking someone to wait a year for a programme their foreign friends already have access to will be one hell of an excuse. And Sega should see it coming.

But what if they do? And what if they don’t care?

sega_japan_business_header

Now, I’ve been trying to figure out the situation that has lead to a year long gap in Sonic Boom’s worldwide broadcasting. Unfortunately, a lack of television broadcasting knowledge on my end, and a lack on communication on Sega’s part, has left me with only my own speculation to work with – speculation that points to Sega’s inability to negotiate worldwide network deals.

Again, this is speculation, but if television broadcasting is anything like book publishing then Sega, as Sonic Boom‘s primary producer, might have sold the First English Language rights to Cartoon Network, which might be exclusive for a year, hence why British Sonic fans have to wait so bloody long.

This “theory”, if you will, would also fit the case in France where the exclusive First French Language rights might have been sold to Canal J for six months, after which Gulli will get in on the action. More foreign language deals will follow, such as the recently announced Middle Eastern broadcast coming next Spring, but Sega are unable to give details on these deals until they’ve been locked in, hence the vagueness of Sega’s statements thus far.

But it’s all just speculation. In order to get a better idea of what’s going on behind closed doors, I’d need to ask someone in the know, and who better than TSSZ head honcho Tristan Oliver:

Sega is not a TV network and they’re not as well versed with content distribution as they used to be. So I imagine having video game people try to convince TV people to pick up their show is not as easy a process as we might imagine.

It also may have something to do with the idea that the core of the show rests within those two countries — US with writing it, France with developing the CGI. It’s also possible Sega pitched to other networks around the globe, and [those networks] simply were not interested, or thought the risk [of] allocating resources to localization outweighed the reward. TV is a fickle business — I’ve been part of it now for over 10 years.

Phew — complicated stuff.

Even though I’ve conjured the above scenario from my own imagination, it makes more sense than it being a localization issue – us Brits don’t get special UK dubbing of American cartoons – or Sega simply being a silly billy poopie pants. Either way, it’s a confounding situation and a far cry from the world of videogame publishing where Sega has, and routinely exercises, the ability to launch a title in multiple territories at almost the same time.

And why wouldn’t they? Simultaneous worldwide, or at least Western, releases help spread the word among digitally connected communities across the globe, such as TSSZ. It also reduces the amount of importing and piracy committed by eager fans and potential customers.

It’s a mindset that has already changed the global launches of films and TV programmes, with popular British programmes such as Doctor Who and Sherlock popping up on American televisions within days of their broadcast back home. And let us not forget the days when such a wait could easily be six months or more. Bad times.

During the last fifteen years we’ve witnessed the birth of the era of instant gratification, and the resultant arms race between internet pirates and content providers. Be it iTunes or more modern services such as Netflix, content providers have only been able to deflate the rate of piracy by addressing the reasons people pirate in the first place – offering affordable, instantly delivered digital content, with almost simultaneous global release dates.

What I’m trying to say is that the demand for, and delivery of, TV programmes with tight worldwide or Western releases is greater than ever. Therefore there’s no reason why Sonic Boom‘s global release should be so unbelievably staggered between territories. If not for the sake of disgruntled fans and eager pirates, then at least for a stronger rebranding effort. What sense is there in Sega watering down its ace-in-the-hole Sonic reboot in every country apart from the USA and France?

Vertical Slice sonic film boom

Well, credit goes to my lovely girlfriend for – as she often does – bringing the most logical solution to light.

Some days ago, while trying to finish the first draft of this very article, I explained my frustration at not being able to write a satisfying conclusion that was more than “SEGA Y U NO MAKE SENSE”. Because from my point of view, Sonic Boom‘s delayed arrival in the UK and elsewhere honestly made no sense to me. And then like Watson, chiming in with a statement most obvious, and yet most profound, she told me:

“But Michael, Sonic Boom isn’t for you.”

Many individuals involved with Sonic Boom have stated numerous times that the reboot is aimed at children between the ages of six and eleven. Such an age group is less likely to be actively engaging in internet piracy. Even if they have assistance in the form of parents or older siblings, it’s unlikely that the six-to-eleven age group keep abreast of Sonic the Hedgehog news via sites such as TSSZ, especially if English isn’t their first language.

Simply put, children in that age range don’t know what they’re missing, and therefore Sega’s in no rush to provide it to them. Furthermore, television programmes that do get near simultaneous broadcast dates in multiple countries are almost always adult orientated, such as the aforementioned Doctor Who and Sherlock. In those cases, the threat of a reduced adult viewership as a result from piracy is high enough for networks to give a damn.

Yes, it’s silly that Sega is drip feeding the Sonic Boom reboot to certain countries over the course of a year while others get the full package next month. But the only ones that care are older Sonic fans, like the majority of TSSZ readers, many of which Sega probably assumes will pirate Sonic Boom anyway.

Sometimes it’s hard to think that the Sonic the Hedgehog series, which has tried so hard to retain its older fans while gaining new ones, has turned over a new leaf and started again. In some ways I think that Sonic Boom is the start of a new “Sonic Cycle”, with Sega aiming to generate a new, younger fandom, as it did twenty-five years ago. And even though I’m okay with that, it’s situations like this television broadcasting issue that really makes me stand back and realise:

Sonic isn’t made for me any more.