Overseas market expanding as Japanese ‘anime’ celebrates its 50th year

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the first ever TV broadcast of anime in Japan, which kicked off with the anime classic  “Astro Boy” created by the “god of manga” Osamu Tezuka.

Over the past half century, anime has steadily gained popularity around the world , it is now without question one of the key symbols of Japanese culture. But the question of whether Japanese anime is really bringing enough profits to its creators is a different matter.

“It is really great that Japanese anime is being watched all over the world, but the sales are not really growing,” said Hiromichi Masuda, director of Video Market Corp., which provides video services to mobile phones, at a seminar on March 21, during the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2013.

6 years ago, overseas sales of Japanese anime hit ¥16.8 billion but that has since plunged almost by half, a direct result of pirated videos online and video-on-demand services. In 2011, global sales were a mere ¥8.55 billion.

These figures show how tough it is to not only sell anime through proper channels but also promote related businesses such as anime merchandising in foreign markets.

Not only the overseas market is suffering though the domestic market faces tough challenges too as Japan faces a rapidly aging and shrinking population.

At the Anime Fair, however, some people, from both domestic and international markets, seemed confident that Japanese anime companies still have the chance to take fresh approaches to business, such as strategically co-producing content with domestic and overseas partners.

One project that has recently caught the attention of the media and the industry is the Indian version of “Kyojin no Hoshi,” which was aired during the 1960s and ’70s and is a classic among baseball-anime TV series in Japan.

The Indian version is called “Suraj: The Rising Star,” and sticks pretty much to the original plot, except for the change of sport, baseball has been switched to cricket.

Traditionally, Japanese anime makers have aimed their attention at producing content for their domestic audience, but it can be hard to sell anime series to overseas broadcasters, particularly due to stricter censorship. This makes working with foreign partners from the outset a good idea.

As many Japanese anime makers are small or midsize firms, “it’s not easy for them to go overseas and sell their product by themselves,” said Masuda. “It’s important that they find distribution networks and partners to jointly produce (content).”

Another international co-production is “Scan2Go,” created by Tokyo-based d-rights, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi, South Korean broadcasting firm SBS and New Boy, a toy maker based in the United Arab Emirates.

They jointly produced the series and its merchandise, and first aired the show in Europe, Asia and Middle East in 2011, where it has reportedly been well-received. They also started broadcasting the program in the United States last September.While many anime programs are made to air and be marketed in Japan first, “Scan2Go” has yet to debut here.

Foreign buyers at the Anime Fair appeared to welcome the opportunity to co-produce programs and related goods in their home regions, saying that Japanese anime has great potential to cultivate more overseas markets.

Amer Bitar, managing director of the satellite-TV channel Spacetoon International in UAE, said that Japanese anime could be hugely popular in the Middle East and North Africa regions, due to the high population of young people there.

To cultivate that market, though, Arabic content is needed, so co^production between local and Japanese firms will be key, said Bitar, adding that the UAE government is financially supporting such creative projects.

While co-producing may be one approach to help boost overseas marketing, some foreign buyers pointed out that Japanese anime makers should not be in too much of a rush to adjust their content to such markets.“It has to stay original,” said German buyer Daniel Otto, who is Vice President of Acquisitions and Sales at AV Visionen. He said that in the past Japanese anime makers tried to create content that targeted European viewers, but apparently it was not so successful.

“Programs that are, from their heart, really dedicated and made for the Japanese market are the kind of programs that the German fans, for example, really want to see.”

Source: the Japan Times

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