Alfred R. Kahn

by Steven Pennington, Apr 24th 2005
Alfred R. Kahn, more commonly known as Al Kahn, is the CEO and chairman of 4Kids Entertainment. Previously the head of Coleco's licensing division, where he oversaw one of the hottest properties of the 1980s, the Cabbage Patch Kids, Kahn joined Leisure Concepts, Inc. in 1988 and turned the company into 4Kids Entertainment, which eventually became the largest publicly traded licensing entity in North America. 4Kids Entertainment had it's biggest success in the late 90s with the behemoth known as Pokémon, a property that, at its peak, did more than $2 billion a year worth of business worldwide. Currently 4Kids is riding another wave of success with Yu-Gi-Oh!, and is bringing back some popular properties of the 1980s, namely Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a page from Kahn's past, the Cabbage Patch Kids. 4Kids is also expanding into more girl oriented licenses with Mew Mew Power and Magical DoReMi.

On April 18th Mr. Kahn sat down with ANN for an interview...

What motivated 4Kids to do a Kirby film?

Because Kirby has been such a popular character for Nintendo for a long time, and the TV show is no longer running on our network, we decided to try and continue the franchise by doing something like a direct to video movie to help the franchise continue to prosper. That's one of the reasons we are doing it.

What sort of demographic are you aiming for with this film?

It's a dual-demographic, you know? Because it's got the normal 6-11 crowd, but it's also got some of the 8-14's, so it's got that little double demographic.

What sort of release will this film have?

Well again, it's a direct-to-video release. It'll be available in every store in every retailer, I imagine.

Who will be producing the animation for this film?

By the same animators that created the Kirby television show. It's pre-imposed to be done for the United States, and then the new footage is sent to us from Japan.

What attributes should a property have before you consider bringing it over to the west?

We look at things such as popularity, but also if it has a merchandising component; can we license it, can we license products for it? Thats really the main issue for us... the playing pattern, if it's popular and how it merchandises. If we can't merchandise it, it really doesn't have a lot of interest for us.

Because it's not financially viable?

That's correct, because it's too expensive to do the dubbing and the acquisitions because we rewrite, we re-script, we re-score. So it's very difficult to do that if you don't have any other revenue streams and we have to make sure we get that.

A lot of aspects in your adaptations are changed from the original Japanese version. Some things like dialog, credits and names are changed for obvious reasons, but things such as music are re-done. Why do you feel this is necessary?

Only to make it more Western. We westernize it so that children in English-speaking countries will understand it, and to us that is very critical. It's a mixture of the westernization, the trying to make the music appeal to kids who are in the United States.

Recently 4Kids have acquired certain shows, such as Magical DoReMi and Tokyo Mew Mew (Mew Mew Power), which look odd considering most of your titles seem to be aimed at boys and young teens. Do you see a potential in girl oriented anime?

We are trying to increase our business mix and it's certain that girls make up 50% of the audience in the United States, and that they buy products as well. Generally speaking, for the boys' shows we run, the animation and merchandise is more traditional to boys, but with these girls' shows, we believe we can sell products to girls and also get larger total ratings because we'll get a girls' comp for the girls' shows as well as a boys' comp for the boys' shows. So I think a combination of those two will not only increase our ratings on 4Kids TV, but will also allow us to get new physical merchandise in terms of categories.

4Kids mainly focus on the children's market, but last year you surprised fans by announcing uncut Yu-Gi-Oh! and Shaman King. What encouraged this decision and are you satisfied with the results?

For Yu-Gi-Oh! and Shaman King? Yeah, they've been extraordinarily successful. We unfortunately (or fortunately, depending who you're talking to) have to change those in order to make them compatible for younger children. Some of these things have situations we couldn't air on our network, so we have to do them for our network for the parent's sake. The real anime fans sometimes feel slighted that we change these things dramatically, but we have also released original versions into the trade market which are uncut and unedited, so that the anime fan who wants the original version can get it, and for the younger child we have the localized version which we air on TV so it's a combo of what we do. Obviously Yu-Gi-Oh! has been extraordinarily successful here.

I was actually referring to the uncut releases... your thoughts on them?

We do those, at some level, for the anime fan and those things do, you know, reasonably well. The market for them just isn't as large as the one for the cut version.

Some critics cite that the uncut releases contain uncharacteristically low episode counts, English translations and release schedules. Any thoughts?

I don't know, I don't work in that area so I don't know what's going on with them. I think again everything is related to how we release the cut version.

Can you shed any light on why Shaman King and Yu-Gi-Oh! uncut were postponed?

I think it's because we are still releasing them as cut versions, and we don't want to put the cut versions and the uncut versions at the same time. So we try to stagger the uncut episodes after the cut episodes have aired. So it's just a function of getting those things to play.

So they aren't competing against each other?

Yes, that's exactly right.

In recent years due to the popularity of anime the cost of licensing Japanese animation has gone up. Has this affected the way in how your company does business and how you will do business in the future?

I think we've become more selective. You have to be very careful about how you do it, because if you don't then you're going to end up with a much more difficult situation. So we definitely believe that you have to be careful in terms of the price of your thing and we're certainly concerned about that.

At a licensing convention last year, where 4Kids revealed a first look at One Piece, a version of the Japanese opening with English vocals was played. However, 4Kids used an original rap opening in the broadcast version. What made you consider this opening over the other one?

Yeah, well.. we liked it, we thought it was good. And we thought it was going to be something that'd have a lot of popularity. There wasn't anything more to it than that.

Is there a possibility of an uncut release of One Piece?

Yes, definitely

Is there a time-frame of when it might come out?

Not sure, but we're definitely looking at it.

On a similar note, do you have any intentions of releasing any other Japanese series in their original format?

We expect every series we license to be released in its original form.

Finally, is there anything you'd like to say to the 4Kids nay-sayers in Anime fandom?

I think they have to understand that because the price of these acquisitions is so high, that if they want this programming to come to the United States then they're going to have to accept the fact that it's going to be available in two styles. Because the only money that can be made that helps pay for the acquisition is obviously whether or not we're able to outfit it for the masses. And fitting it for the masses requires editing. And if we didn't do that, it'd be very difficult for us to afford to bring it in, just to release it to the anime fan who would be looking for the uncut version. I think we're trying to satisfy both sides of that by having it both ways so that we'll be able to afford them.

Thank you for your time, Mr. Kahn

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