Whatever Happened To Saban Entertainment?
by Justin Sevakis,
As a child of the late-80s/early-90s, I grew up with a lot of anime dubbed by Saban (not even knowing it was anime half the time, i.e. Maya the Bee). However with Saban being bought by Disney and then coming back recently as its own company, I was curious to know what anime Saban owns or doesn't own anymore. It looks like they have bought back all of the Digimon franchise, but that looks about it. I noticed the Discotek DVDs of Samurai Pizza Cats still have the Saban logo at the end, but is that just because they can use the dub via Tatsunoko's blessings or is Saban in the mix there? Obviously, someone needs to license rescue their dub of both Noozles and Bumpety Boo.
The Saban you are probably referencing, Saban Entertainment (and sister company Saban International), is the company started by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy back in 1983 that adapted a huge number of Japanese shows -- mostly children's anime -- for an international audience. In the early days, they simply acted as hired producers (mostly for music) and didn't actually own any rights to those shows. Later they developed their own library of shows, including quite a few they produced or co-produced themselves.
This is the era that anime fans remember Saban Entertainment for. This is the era that brought us Samurai Pizza Cats, Maya the Bee, Teknoman, the original dub of Dragon Ball Z, Flint the Time Detective, Digimon Adventure and many others. This is also the Saban that experimented with Western adaptations of tokusatsu shows, turning myriad Japanese series into Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Big Bad Beetleborgs and VR Troopers. But Saban was also a distributor, and co-produced many new Western shows as well. It can be very difficult to figure out from the outside which ones they actually owned.
At any rate, Saban Entertainment and Saban International were bought by The Walt Disney Company back in 2001, as part of their purchase of Fox Family Worldwide (which Saban partly owned, and had folded themselves into). At that time, the entire library was transferred to Disney. The rights to most of the licensed shows have since expired, and while Disney still has most of the master tapes, they don't actually have the rights to do anything with them. Others, such as those Saban was able to buy outright, or co-produced, may still be active. From here, it's hard to tell which is which.
The thing is, the media landscape has changed a lot since 2001, and most of those old master tapes are pretty worthless today. Almost no broadcast outlets will take old, standard definition analog video. Hulu and Netflix won't take them unless they're in absolutely pristine condition, and most of them aren't. They need to be digitally remastered to be worth anything, but even if they did, old 2D kids' cartoons still don't fetch a very high price, and probably aren't worth the trouble. Besides, in most cases, Disney probably doesn't even have any film elements from which they could do a remastering.
In any case, today there's a new Saban, Saban Brands, a division of Saban Capital Group, which was founded shortly after the Disney buyout of the old company. In 2010, Saban Brands bought back the rights to the crown jewel of the old Saban Entertainment Library, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. They sold the old seasons to Nicktoons, and began production on new series, which continue to this day. (A new movie is also in the works.)
Saban Brands has been very active in non-Power Rangers licensing, too. They bought California-based cute/family/hipster merchandise company Paul Frank Industries and the now-defunct kids' website Zui.com. They re-bought the rights to the Digimon franchise in 2012, which they continue to develop with Toei Animation. They also bought back several other tokusatsu-based shows, and
produced distributed a new adaptation of a Kamen Rider show, Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight.
But for Japanese shows, that's basically it. Power Rangers, Digimon, Beetleborgs and Kamen Rider. Some of the old stuff is still owned (at least partially) by Disney, but most of it is back with its Japanese rights holders. Whether they'll ever find a home in North America again is anybody's guess.
Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.
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