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Missing Minutes: Unraveling How Toonami Uses Airtime

Posted 10 January 2014 / By Andrew "Sketch" Hingson / Headline/ Opinion

There has been some controversy over why Naruto: Shippuden and Bleach received 30 second custom intros on Toonami instead of running their full original openings (which Bleach had done before). I’ll try to unravel that mystery by looking at exactly how long the runtimes for these shows are on Toonami.

One disturbing truth we have to get out of the way is that on American television – where we once had TV series with runtimes of roughly 24 to 26 minutes – shows are now made to run shorter than 23 minutes. If you think that’s appalling, one-hour block programs went from nearly 50 minutes to 45 minutes and now all the way down to less than 43 minutes. Some even below 42 minutes! That’s modern television for you. No wonder so many people hate watching TV live when they have to sit through 7 to 9 minutes of ads for a half-hour slot or a whopping 17 to 19 minutes for an hour block! That’s nearly one-third of the hour dedicated to ad time.

I’d like to clarify that we are not necessarily getting one-third less show, despite these shorter runtimes. It’s the opening sequences that take the brunt of the loss. That’s why so many shows either have very short openings or no opening sequence at all and run the titles over the first minute of the program (similar to films). Ending sequences are squished for more ad time, or the credits scroll over the last moments of the show to maximize show time. As someone who likes reading credits, that’s terribly annoying. Thankfully, streaming services and home video usually have full readable credits.

Toonami is known for its personalized bumpers and packaging. I think we can all agree that these wraparounds – along with the 30-60 second promos, music videos, and game reviews – are part of what makes Toonami interesting. Thanks to CabooseJr’s catalog of Toonami’s bumpers, I determined exactly how much time Toonami uses every half-hour for their own bumpers.

The first show on Toonami carries the block intro – which is roughly 20 seconds – as well as 35 seconds of other bumpers. That’s nearly a minute, not counting any extras Toonami throws in. (Although those extras don’t usually air during the first show because of this.) Space Dandy runs roughly 22:30 without the bumpers, and with them it runs 23:25. Toonami also ran the 1 minute schedule promo the night of its premiere, bringing things up to 24:25. Don’t count on that happening regularly.

When Bleach was the first show, Toonami didn’t usually run extras or promos because Bleach‘s runtime with a full intro was around 22:30. Since they swapped the original intro for a 30 second Toonami intro, Bleach‘s runtime is down to 21:30 or 21:00. When a show gets a 30 second Toonami intro instead of a full or partial cut of the original opening sequence, the bumpers come to 1:05 or 30 seconds of intro and 35 seconds of other bumpers. Shows that don’t get a 30 second Toonami intro have 10 second ones included inside 45 seconds of bumps.

Not all shows on Toonami have the same runtime, of course, but the amount of time used on the “___ show will be right back”, “now, next, later”, and “___ show is coming up next” bumpers seems to be 35 seconds. Keep in mind that those 35 seconds are substituting for the time dedicated to eye-catches, episode previews, and any other extras for shows like Space Dandy, Bleach, Naruto: Shippuden, One Piece and Soul Eater.

Bleach last Saturday (with Toonami bumpers) ran 22:05. If the lineup promo that aired before the first non-Toonami ad is counted as part of the show’s runtime, then Bleach clocked out at slightly over 23 minutes. With full intro, it would have run 23:05 seconds. That’s simply too long, even for Adult Swim – which allows their half-hour shows to run 22:30 at most. Adult Swim already seemed willing to make an exception for shows in the first slot, despite the block intro already bringing the bumper time higher than any other slot of the night. Now they’re even more willing because Space Dandy world premieres occupy that slot.

Naruto: Shippuden ran 21:23 with Toonami bumpers and also had the lineup promo pushing that to 22:23. It’s 42 seconds less than Bleach‘s runtime, but well within the standards of American television – if not exceeding them due to the lineup promo. Yes, Toonami could probably run the full opening since it wouldn’t make the show exceed 22:30. They could easily run the full opening if they didn’t run the full ending, but it seems Viz did not send Toonami a short ending like they did with Bleach and the original Naruto. Toonami doesn’t want to make their own short version of the credits, since that’s a much bigger pain than editing their own intro for the show.

Jason DeMarco was kind enough to ask on Twitter if viewers would rather have a short version of the original opening like One Piece, Soul Eater and Sword Art Online, or if they would prefer Toonami’s own 30 second intros instead. The majority voted for the custom intro, but maybe DeMarco should have told people that Shippuden‘s cold openings will cause an abrupt fade-out during the show. That wouldn’t be much of an issue if Toonami, like many networks, gave Naruto three short ad breaks instead of two longer ones.

One Piece ran 21:55 with Toonami bumpers, but there was no lineup promo or Toonami extras other than 45 seconds of bumpers (including the 10 second Toonami intro). Toonami usually runs the Toonami extra during the first One Piece ad break, so I fully expect that to be the norm. They can’t run the full intro without exceeding 22:30, and it doesn’t make much sense to ask FUNimation for a slightly longer cut of the opening. Maybe down the line they can get 45 second or 1 minute versions of the One Piece openings. As One Piece fans know, eventually the show trades an ending sequence for an extended opening. When Toonami gets to that point, they’ll have to get creative.

Soul Eater ran 22:28 with Toonami bumpers and only had a 16 second Kick-Heart Blu-ray promo which brings it to 22:44. Sword Art Online seems to have a similar run time.

The only show that could potentially get back its full intro is Naruto: Shippuden. If they did that, Toonami would be hard-pressed to run 1 minute promos, music videos or reviews without eating up the valuable ad time that keeps the block on the air. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get something new every week than the same 1:30 intro for half a year or longer. You can see those music videos any time you want thanks to legal streaming, but Toonami’s extra content would never be made without the time to air it.

Toonami and Adult Swim are willing to make exceptions to the 22:30 maximum, but they can’t afford to do it all the time. That sounds biased, but you’re not losing time during the shows – just the extra stuff, original intros, and original endings. It’s unfortunate that the ad time in a half-hour program on US television continues to increase, making it harder for US networks to air Japanese series without losing something in the process.

Maybe you don’t like how Toonami could play full intros, full endings, or original shorts if they didn’t use so much time for their own packaging. But even if they didn’t use any time for their own stuff, they’d have to cut something to keep these shows under 22:30. I’ll say again that I prefer to have original packaging from Toonami than keep things that can be seen a number of other places with relative ease. I understand if some viewers don’t feel the same. I’m just trying to offer you an explanation as to why Toonami does things the way they do.

Comments (3)

  • Great article, but if I may offer one little addition:

    In Japan, the production company pays the channel for it’s timeslot, over here, it’s backwards. That’s partially why there are less ads in Japan, but why shows do not go on breaks. If One Piece were to suddenly stop producing episodes, Fuji TV would sell that timeslot to someone else, and if they wanted to start producing more One Piece, who knows if they could get that timeslot back. Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.

    -Jose Argumedo
    Producer and Host of the Toonami Faithful Podcast.

  • Andrew "Sketch" Hingson
    Andrew "Sketch" Hingson

    Thanks for chiming in Jose.

  • Graham (Daikun)

    …Space Ghost image?

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