ANN Exclusive Interview: Mike Bailiff, ADV's Senior VP of Sales and Marketing

by Zac Bertschy, Dec 13th 2006

We sat down with Mike Bailiff, ADV's Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, to pick his brain about their upcoming series, Coyote Ragtime Show, as well as get a few answers about the industry.
 
Tell us about Coyote Ragtime Show. What's the premise of the series?

Coyote Ragtime Show
is a sci-fi series about a “coyote” named Mister.  He's a bit of a rogue not above the occasional smuggling or con job.  The series opens with Mister getting busted out of jail by his old partners.  They're trying to help his best friend's daughter recover her father's treasure, which is stashed on a planet that's slated for demolition.  Mister and his crew have to find the treasure before the planet explodes, at the same time they've got the cops and the Criminal Guild on their tail.   Did I mention the 12 killer robot maid assassins?  One for each month of the year.  They're cute.

What was it about this show that inspired ADV to accelerate the release?

The truth is everyone on staff fell in love with it on sight.  This is a hot show!   The pilot episode is one of the best I've ever seen.   People couldn't wait to start working on it.
Then there's the fact that Coyote Ragtime Show captured a great audience in Japan last summer. We think Coyote is a show with broad appeal, and we wanted to try something different with it.  So we started working on the DVD release just as soon as we could get materials in.

Is the accelerated release a direct response to the ubiquitous nature of fansubs?

Certainly when you expend the time and resources we do evaluating, acquiring, producing, and bringing a show to market, you want to see your version out there.  A lot of people at ADV Films are working very hard to bring you the best anime.   Most fans respect that, and to them we owe all our success.  
When we elected to release Coyote so soon after its initial broadcast run, we weren't thinking of fansubs really.  We're just trying to get it out while it's hot.   Why not bring it out right away?

I've heard that Coyote Ragtime Show has a more “mainstream” appeal; many compare it to Cowboy Bebop. Is that a fair comparison?

Well it's certainly a flattering comparison!  I admire Cowboy Bebop a lot.  It's got style, it's got action, and it's got great characters that draw you into the story.  All those things are true of Coyote Ragtime.  

Coyote Ragtime
is one series that you don't have to be an anime fan to appreciate.  The IGN webcast testifies to that.  IGN.com is the world's largest gaming site, and most of the people who are checking out Coyote over there aren't anime fans so much as sci-fi fans or action fans. Honestly one of the things I love about Coyote Ragtime Show is that it starts with a bang and continues right along at a breakneck pace. 

Do you think the show has a serious mainstream appeal? What audience(s) are you going after with this release?

Anyone who can sit down and enjoy a good sci-fi action film will enjoy Coyote Ragtime Show.   It has excellent crossover appeal.  But I don't want to make it sound like Coyote isn't going to be a hit amongst anime fans.  I think what makes Coyote so accessible to the non-fan is that it exemplifies so much of what's cool about anime:  an inventive story, complex characters, over-the-top action – you name it.

The truth is we have faith that Coyote Ragtime Show is going to gain a dedicated following among anime fans.  The collectors box we've planned for volume 2 is probably the best we've produced in a long time.  Wait until you see it!

ADV has recently announced a slew of new titles after what felt like a long drought; some of them are very high profile. Which of these new titles do you think has the biggest chance to be a breakout hit, and why?

It's really hard to say, because there's so much great material in the pipe.  I've already talked about Coyote RagtimeAir Gear is another one with breakout potential.  It's based on a great manga by one of the world's most talented artists, and the anime's producers have done a wonderful job bringing his story to life.     The character designs are true to Oh! great's style, The animation is first rate, and I think John Swayze has gotten some great performances from his cast.   Combine all that with a strong concept, and you've got a show that's really accessible and fun to watch.
Another one to watch out for is Le Chevalier D'Eon.  I have no doubt in my mind that this will be a hit.  Of course anime fans know it's a quality series, but I think word of mouth is going to propel it beyond the fan community.  It's the kind of show that people watch and then force their friends to sit down and watch.   Every aspect of the production is beautiful, and it's a sophisticated story with plenty of drama to draw the viewer in.   If nothing else, Le Chevalier D'Eon will be one of the most talked-about series of the year.  I think it will be a hit.

And then there's the second season of Ah! My Goddess.  We're pretty excited about that one.   It already has a built-in fanbase, and there's nowhere to go but up.  It's one of the best-known franchises in manga or anime.  Broadening the audience even further makes Ah! My Goddess a fun challenge.  We're really looking forward to it.

Are you confirming that ADV Films has licensed Ah! My Goddess Second Season?

Yes.

This is a property that's been handled by three different companies before ADV licensed it.  What steps are you taking if any to provide some continuity between the Media Blasters release and ADV's?   Are you planning on getting the same voice cast?

Well we like the show, so we'd prefer as much continuity as possible.  However, it's still a little early to say how many of the Season One cast or crew are going to be available for Season Two.   Stay tuned!

What are the primary factors in deciding to license a show like Ah! My Goddess?  Is it considered a no-brainer because it's a well-known title, or are there other factors?

It's the quality of the show that makes it a no-brainer.  And then there's the challenge I alluded to earlier:  How can ADV broaden the audience for a title that's so well-known and beloved by so many fans?  The content is perfect, so our attention will be focused on the sales and marketing.  I'm looking forward to it!
 
Do you consider Ah!  My Goddess to be a mainstream title? 

Well the manga has been selling very well in the States for a very long time, and there were two other anime that came out besides Season One.  That gives Ah! My Goddess a large fandom right off the bat, including lapsed fans that might not have checked it out in a while.   Whether that track record makes it “mainstream” I don't know, but it's definitely a quality title with broad appeal.

In terms of the anime industry, what makes a "hit show"? We see that phrase attached to everything that appears to be remotely popular, which makes it meaningless, but what do you consider a "hit"? Is it purely based on sales? If so, what kind of sales figures are necessary in order to call something a hit?

It's true!  “Hit” is a word that gets tossed around a lot.  Maybe that's because it wasn't so long ago that anime was sold exclusively in hobby shops.  There's been such explosive growth over the past 10 years that we've outstripped our old measures of success.  It's hard to keep up! 

We as anime producers and distributors need to keep working every day to grow the audience, and not just the dedicated fans. Casual or occasional viewers are important too. Sometimes when we talk about a “hit” property, we mean something that's obviously had an impact outside our fan base, whether through DVD sales or broadcast ratings or licensing visibility. Other times we might call something a hit because it's resonated so strongly with the fan base.  There are enough dedicated anime fans out there to generate DVD sales any studio would be proud of.   So there are plenty of hits that never get broadcast exposure and still sell gangbusters on DVD,  thanks to the fans.

>A lot of anime fans out there are very curious about sales numbers for anime series, and the industry as a whole keeps those numbers pretty close to its chest. Meanwhile, mainstream film DVD charts are listed in countless magazines and websites. Aside from the obvious - that the fans "don't really need to know" – what's the reasoning behind keeping unit sales - or really any kind of gross at all - so secret?

I don't think we set out to keep our sales “secret” so much as we're mostly privately-held companies.  The major studios (and some of our peers) are publicly-traded, and as a result they have strict reporting requirements to adhere to.   That's why you hear so much about the major studios’ theatrical take, their DVD sales, etc. It's true that we want fans to concentrate on the quality of the shows we deliver.  It's our job to help every show find its audience.  That's it.  I don't know how well that's accomplished by trumpeting our sales figures. 

If anything, I think that the whole business aspect of entertainment can be a distraction from what's really important – the shows themselves.

For you, what's the easiest thing about working in this industry? The hardest?

Definitely my favorite thing is going out to conventions and meeting the fans.  If you've ever seen me bang the drum at Anime Expo, you know how much I love it! 
We've put together a great program with Best Buy, which is our convention partner again this year.  We've got some great stuff cooking for 2007.  I'm really looking forward to New York Comic Con, because that's going to be a great event to kick things off.

As for the hardest thing about this business, I'd have to say it's when everyone works so hard on a title and it doesn't perform.   Princess Tutu is a prime example.  That was a quality show that was a “hit” inside this company.  I'm just glad that we were able to finish the series. 

If you had to pick one ADV title to personally recommend to our readers, what would it be, and why?

Elfen Lied!  That's another one that begins with a bang, just like Coyote Ragtime Show.  It's one of my all time favorites.


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