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Extras Don't Get Any Respect

by Justin Sevakis,

It's a busy, short week. By the time you read this, I'll be in Baltimore, enjoying the scent of freshly baked otaku wafting through the overtaxed air conditioning systems of Baltimore Convention Center! I really enjoy Otakon. Anime Expo is mostly a lot of work for me, and Otakon allows me more time to relax, hang out with friends, and not worry so much about pretty much everything.

Last year was a little different. I threw out my back the DAY BEFORE my flight, and let me tell you, a cross-country flight in Coach is probably the last thing you need when your lower back is spasming like an earthworm being electrocuted. Here's hoping I won't spend this year's event on the floor of my hotel room!

Macelo asks:

Who pays who when it comes to airing an anime series on television? From what I heard, the broadcaster (say, Cartoon Network) pays for the right to air the anime that doesn't directly belong to them (say, Sailor Moon). Why is that? I mean, since having a series on television is by all means a good thing in terms of selling a product, it just sounds odd that a company would make it hard for a channel to air its product (I mean, surely Bandai wouldn't be adamant against the idea of a TV channel airing one of their Gundams). I don't mean they would give it for free, exactly, but....just how much does it cost to air an anime? Is it more or less than producing and airing an original show?

While it is pretty standard for a TV network to pay the owner for the right to broadcast their content (doing so is how the TV industry has worked forever, based on the belief that the show has value, and by broadcasting it and selling ads, the TV network makes money), anime has very seldom collected much money from doing so. While marquee, kids-friendly properties like Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon have certainly collected their share of broadcast royalties, most anime just doesn't drive that big of an audience. For most of the networks that carry anime, the shows represent fairly cheap filler.

Just to give you an example, when I was at ImaginAsianTV (now MNet), we were able to negotiate the rights to show some pretty great shows for a license fee of only $200-500 per episode -- sometimes less than the cost of copying the master tapes and shipping them to us. Compare that to the cost of making an original show from scratch: $200,000 at the absolute cheapest, if we're talking about scripted (non-reality/talk) shows, and well into the millions at the high end.

Cost has never really been a major reason why TV networks don't show much anime. The biggest reasons are:

  • The show is already made, so network execs can't influence anything about it creatively. They're essentially showing someone else's re-run. Other countries are used to importing shows and showing them as-is, but American TV networks completely balk at this.
  • If the show is successful, the network won't own any part of it, and so they won't collect any revenues from it being sold in other markets, or on DVD or online. Essentially, they would have to spend money to market the show, and if it's successful, the amount of money they'd be able to make from it is pretty limited.
  • Most network execs don't "get" anime or its appeal. Most of them are too old and not nerdy enough to appreciate it, frankly.
  • Aside from obvious kids properties like Pokémon, anime has a pretty mediocre ratings track record on places like Cartoon Network.
  • TV networks are pretty used to working their marketing with impunity. Demands that their advertising be approved by someone in Japan are usually met with an eye roll. (This last point isn't a huge issue, as TV networks often get away with doing a lot of things without approval.)

So you see why most network programming executives aren't all that excited to air anime on their channel. In the past, anime companies like Bandai and Geneon would eliminate the license fees altogether in exchange for some branding on the anime promos, or some advertising time. In some cases, the shows were even given to cable networks for free, AND the anime company would buy ads, just to get their shows seen by more people. That sort of thing doesn't happen much anymore, now that everyone in this business is watching their pennies.

Anime producers regard their shows as TV product, and so they tend to get pretty excited when their shows air on a real TV network -- especially one that broadcasts terrestrially, as opposed to cable and satellite. But with the medium having been out of the spotlight for so long, those opportunities are happening less and less.

Eric asks:

With Sentai having licensed and released Grave of the Fireflies and Maiden Japan doing the same for Patlabor OVA's and TV Series, and "both" companies not including the extras on the CPM discs, I'd like to ask Why not? CPM has been long gone by now, So who owns those extras, who would Sentai have to pay to get the Mamoru Oshii commentaries on the Patlabor OVA's or the Roger Ebert featurette on the Grave of the Fireflies disc?

Central Park Media filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation back in 2009, and the company no longer exists. For a time, the rights to CPM-owned dubs and extras like the Roger Ebert featurette and Mamoru Oshii commentaries were represented by Long Island, New York based attorney David R. Kittay of the firm Kittay & Gershfeld, PC, who was appointed bankruptcy trustee for CPM by the court. A bankruptcy trustee's duties, among other things, are to make sure the bankrupt company's stuff gets sold, and that as much money as possible gets back to the parties (banks) that are owed.

And so, Mr. Kittay hired the liquidation firm MYC & Associates to represent everything CPM owned, including its intellectual property. This led to a lot of internet chatter at the time, because at first glance it LOOKED like CPM was selling the rights to its entire anime catalog past and present. Upon closer inspection, all that was for sale was things like the copyrights to box art, some dub and subtitle tracks, DVD menus and extras. Not the shows themselves, but just the things CPM owned.

That auction came and went. I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that nobody in their right mind would pay a dime for the rights to packaging assets they can't legally use (they wouldn't own the show itself, after all), and all of those copyrights went unsold. In that case, ownership would revert to one of the creditors that are owed money by the bankrupt company.

Assuming that's what happened, and those rights went to one of the creditors (most likely Bank of America), the bank probably stuffed a statement of ownership of those mostly-worthless copyrights into a file cabinet and forgot about them. It's highly likely they don't even know they have them, and if someone tried to inquire about them it's pretty unlikely anyone would know what the hell they're talking about.

And so that's where we are today. A bank is sitting on the title to assets that are worthless without also licensing something else, and are not really worth a whole lot of money in any event. And the bank probably doesn't even know it has them. So if a new company bought the rights to one of those shows, and wanted to include those old dubs or DVD extras, they really have two choices: include 'em and assume nobody will ever bother them about it; or play it safe and not include it. The licensor of the show will likely have say in this decision.

In the case of Grave of the Fireflies, the licensor (TOHO, not Ghibli) wasn't a big fan of most of the extras we created (there was some acrimony about our including them in the first place), so I doubt they would want most of that stuff seeing the light of day ever again. Which is a shame, I'm really proud of some of those extras.

Peter asks:

So I got the Another Complete Collection today, but I see that it is missing episode 0. You can't really consider it complete, now can you? How does such false advertising get approved? Do OVAs and other on disc extras require separate lisencing? I would think that when lisencing a title all that stuff would be included, yet often they're missing (the Index and Railgun omakes, for example). Sometimes they make it in (like the first season of Code Geass picture dramas) but it seems pretty inconsistent.

Honestly, the phrase "complete collection" gets tossed around willy-nilly by whoever does the packaging copy writing, and after a while the term starts to lose its meaning. I don't think there's anything nefarious going on here -- it's just meaningless marketing blather, slapped on a package with the understanding that it's meant to be a complete story package to the consumer. Is it actually "complete?" Well, it's a complete season. It's just not the complete franchise. See what I did there?

Excuse-making aside, it's really up to the whims of the licensor or the production committee as to what extras get included in the license to a show. The licensee (the US company) can ask for everything, but the licensor might want to hold back certain things because they want to encourage Japanese fans to buy the Japanese discs, or because they don't, themselves, own those extras (the company that makes the DVDs might own them, not the show's producer, for example). Sometimes those extras are created after the rest of the show is already licensed. Sometimes the licensor wants more money for those extras, or demands that a separate license be negotiated. Or maybe the licensor just likes being difficult. That certainly happens. A lot.

Regardless, most anime publishers do what they can to get as many extras as they can, but they can only do so much. Stuff happens. As fans, we can really only ask about those extras, and try to be understanding when we don't get them.

And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.

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