Piracy has been a rising problem for entertainment media for a number of years. While the MPAA and RIAA are gong after end users and pirate organizations, the anime industry has a different approach. Titles are typically released by fansubbers way before they are licensed outside of Japan and there is “a new generation born on free media”, says Lillian Diaz, editor of Tokyopop. Instead of trying to halt downloads, the anime market is trying to embrace the internet as a means of distribution. Read on to see what the perspectives of companies like Bandai Entertainment, Viz Media, Geneon and Funimation think about how to handle the piracy problem.
“The anime business is more risky. So many people download fansubs. Many college students pay a higher tuition and have high school loans”, says Ken Iyadomi president and CEO of Bandai Entertainment. “It is so easy to grab anime through the internet. There needs to be more educational work on downloading being illegal. There needs to be some sort of global standard.” Since shows air on TV in Japan way before they appear anywhere in the world it is easy for groups of fansubbers to record the TV show, add in subtitles and distribute them throughout the internet. Large delays between the releases lean people towards downloading the latest shows instead of waiting for a US release. However this is changing since “the anime market in Japan is close to saturation we need to come to America for more business” says Ken. Funimation CEO Gen Fukunaga suggests that, “the licensor needs to get involved earlier.” Another problem the anime industry faces is their core market. Young kids who love titles like Dragonball Z and Naruto might not have the financial resources to shell out $20 or $30 for a four episode DVD release. Shawne Kleckner, CEO of the anime distribution company Right Stuff says, “the price of gas is $3 a gallon, the economy as a whole is affected by consumer buying patterns especially around our core market.”
So what is the solution to the problem? On one hand companies have to act on groups that are selling pirate copies. Jim Yardley, vice president of sales at Geneon entertainment explained that they have to protect their intellectual properties. In one case Geneon had to use a cease and desist tactic to stop a distributor in Canada who was selling bootleg copies of Samurai Champloo. For end users Viz Media offers another solution. “Rather than going after pirates we want to offer an alternative”, says Anthony Jiwa, the director of marketing over at Viz. Later this month Viz and Cartoon Network are working together to launch Toonami Jetstream, an online content channel where viewers can watch episodes of popular series like Naruto without having to resort to piracy. Toonami Jetstream will also be used to build new properties like Hikaru no Go, Prince of Tennis and Mar while showcasing older shows like Samurai Jack. Eric Calderon vice president of GDH has a different idea, “Studio Gonzo has the answer. Afro Samurai, the most expensive TV series produced with a $1 million per episode. By making the most fun product possible, something they have to see in the original format.” Afro Samurai brings together the voice talent of Samuel Jackson, music from RZA and the artwork of Gonzo into a single project. The show airs on Spike TV in November.
“We can’t treat fansubbers as pirates, they serve the purpose of introducing products. They can be used by the industry to see what is the next big thing. Beyond that they anime fans are not passive fans. They are active fans. They like to be involved with the product and the community. I think that it is important to work with the fansubbers and not against them” says marketing manager of Urban Vision, Robyn Mukai. Robyn makes a good point since the rise of anime was in part due to digital distribution of titles through the internet. Also companies can screen products to license by seeing which fansubs are the most popular.
While each executive has a different approache to dealing with piracy Matt Greenfield, Vice President of creative development over at ADV sums it up by saying, “only the porn industry is ahead of the anime industry.”