How Do Publishers Choose Which Older Shows To Re-License?

by Justin Sevakis,

Chibi Chetsko asked:

There is a particular pre-2010 anime series I want a different company to license for US release (I am pretty sure the old license expired) but is there anything I can do to to convince them to pick it up? If I contact the company, they'll probably ignore my plea. But I do know that cash usually talks! Would a Kickstarter to raise money for it help? And has anyone else with the same goal been successful in using this method?

With older, more forgotten shows, it always helps to drop a polite email to publisher(s) that regularly make a habit of re-releasing classic anime and let them know that you like that particular show and would be interested in picking up a re-release. That is never a bad idea, because even if you don't get a reply, it may get forwarded on or otherwise worm its way into someone's decision-making process. Email or Twitter is generally better than just bringing it up to someone that works for a company at a convention, because conventions are pretty chaotic, and passing conversations are unlikely to be remembered later. That said, neither of these things are terribly effective at getting a show "license rescued." The actual stuff that goes on behind the scenes with decisions like that are pretty opaque, and usually have nothing to do with fan input.

License rescues tend to work much differently than the break-neck and highly competitive world of simulcast licenses. Since the show is already old and has already been released once in the US (or wherever the territory in question is), nobody's in any particular hurry to get a deal done. The process is much more casual and far less rushed. The companies involved take their time to gather as much information as possible and make more strategic decisions.

The companies who sell and manage the rights to shows are known as licensors. They're usually (but not always) one of the show's original producers, and have the right to represent the interests of the other producers for business dealings. Production committees, those groups of corporate entities that chipped in to produce the show in the first place, have often been disbanded, leaving that licensing office (consulting with the original creator) to call the shots on any prospective deals. Most of them are sitting on a small library of shows, and trying to do deals around the world to get as much money coming in for those titles as possible. Internally, they strategize, trying to align the interests of publishers around the world with what's available in their catalog. If a show got a recent re-release or remaster in Japan, or has some reason why it should be of interest again, they'll likely try to shop it around and try to get a good price for it.

When looking for "back catalog" (industry term for "old") shows to license, a publisher will approach one of these licensing offices, and perhaps have a meeting. They'll usually be given a list of "avails," or shows that are available for their territory. The licensor will also usually have a one-page info sheet for the titles they're trying to push, or maybe even a nice glossy catalog.

In evaluating each of those shows, the publisher has a number of data points to analyze. Was the show a hit, before? Was it dubbed? Was the previous release completed? Is there plenty of old stock available still at retailers? How rare are the existing releases? Has there been a remastering of the show? Has the market changed in some way since the show was released? (For example, sports anime is somewhat more popular now than in years past.) Also, for most publishers, it's extremely important to get the rights to stream the show online, rather than just sell DVDs and Blu-rays.

But the ultimate decision to license an old show might just boil down to something far more basic: is it cheap? And, do I have to license it in order to get another show I actually want? If the license is extremely cheap, and other market conditions are good (there's already a dub and there's still a fan base), then a re-release might make a lot of sense. Most shows can now be dusted off and re-released (digitally, if nothing else) at a minimal cost. But doing so takes manpower, and there's just so much anime out there that a publisher needs to carefully weigh whether releasing and promoting a show is worth its time. Sometimes shows will be bundled together, in order to get more shows a release rather than just the hits. "Oh, you want this A+ title from 2001? Sure, but you'll also have to take this crudely animated pervy OVA from 1985 that nobody's heard of."

So, while it might seem like there's a grand plan behind what gets re-released and what doesn't, there usually isn't. While sometimes a publisher might try to track down a specific title they want, more often they're just choosing from what's being offered to them, like choosing food at a buffet. They're still picking what they hope are winners, but they usually only can pick from what's being offered. And that selection often comes down to the whims of the back office.

Thank you for reading Answerman!

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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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