Why Did Only Cartoon Network/Adult Swim Stick With Anime?
by Justin Sevakis,
One thing I always found strange looking back at the anime boom was the lack of anime on Nickelodeon. At the time Nickelodeon was the second largest children to young adult network after Cartoon Network, which was in full swing with Toonami and later Adult Swim programming block. Also almost every network that catered to a younger demographic at least dabbled at one point with anime except Nickelodeon. Instead they decided to make a few anime influenced series like Kappa Mikey, Speed Racer, and Avatar: The Last Airbender as well as a number of unsuccessful pilots like Constant Payne. (I have heard rumors that they attempted to get Sgt. Frog, but ADV collapsed before a deal was struck.) In the last few years they have licensed a few series like Dragon Ball Kai, GT, and Digimon. But why did Nickelodeon have such an anti anime stance for so long?
Nickelodeon isn't the only youth-oriented channel that pretty much avoided showing anime back during the bubble: Disney Channel avoided it too. Neither network had much of a business interest in getting anime, really. The better question is why Cartoon Network DID show anime when none of their competitors went for it.
For any major international television network it makes far more financial and logistical sense to make your own content rather than license it out. Sure, it costs quite a bit more money up front to make your own show, but think of the upside: not only do you get merchandising revenue, but you also get revenues from DVD sales and selling to TV networks in other areas. You don't have limits on the number of times you can rerun a show. You don't have to submit anything for approval -- ever. You don't have to go back and renegotiate to show it in another territory. And the license never expires. That all adds up to way, way, way more than the cost to make the show.
Also, think about all of the money a major network spends to market a new show. A network launch might cost well into the millions in advertising and PR expenses. It makes sense to spend that on a show you own -- no matter where the viewer watches it or buys it, you get a cut -- but if you only own TV rights for a limited time? You're basically paying to market someone else's product. It's like leasing a car and paying to upgrade it.
So why DID Cartoon Network show anime when it clearly doesn't make financial sense in the long term? That company is very clearly run by animation enthusiasts, and I think it's very clear that the staff, themselves, were fans, and thought that getting firmly into the anime space would create a unique and memorable block of shows that would create a devoted fanbase -- and they were right. I also think the relatively low cost of licensing already-produced content made it so that the venture wasn't particularly financially risky.
Today, of course, even Cartoon Network is using their daytime and evening blocks for more original and parent-company owned animation. They're intermixing them with big-money mainstream licensed shows (which might include shows like Pokémon) that reliably bring in tons of viewers, and using that to build up their own brands. Those efforts are where they put the bulk of their money, the "good" timeslots, and their marketing efforts, because that really IS what makes more financial sense. Anime is still a thing, but it's late at night, in spots that would otherwise just be infomercials. In the age of the DVR it's not a huge impediment to getting viewers, and it's a far better place to put cheap-to-acquire-but-low-potential-moneymaking content like anime.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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