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Anime Expo 2007
Keynote: The Future of Anime

by Mikhail Koulikov,

The third day of Anime Expo's industry conference took as its theme the future of anime on broadcast and cable television, in theaters, and online. The keynote speaker who opened the session was Debra Kennedy, senior vice president of marketing and new media for FUNimation Entertainment. In her speech, Kennedy made the point that as the anime market in the US continues to evolve, there are several specific trends that all of the participants in this industry have to be aware of.

The first of these trends is the continuing growth of the anime viewer base. According to surveys conducted by the marketing research firm Streetwise, as many as 69% of people between the ages of 16 and 29 watch anime on a regular basis, while Funimation's own research shows that up to 40% of the videos uploaded to YouTube are anime-related. At the same time, paradoxically, anime sales are falling across the board. This trend has been accelerating for some time, and at this point, sales of anime DVDs are dropping even faster than the rate of decrease of DVD sales overall.

A similar paradox affects the actual retail landscape. Entertainment and media stores such as Best Buy like anime DVDs because it is a very high-margin medium, but are faced with major issues in terms of identifying which titles to buy, how to actually organize them on store shelves, and how to market and move releases that are not brand new.

To respond to both of these issues, the industry will have to specifically work to develop new business models and experiment with new ways of reaching customers. Such experimentation can include identifying ways of getting anime on cable and broadcast TV, on-demand distribution on both third-party and proprietary Internet services and online sales. At the same time, the way US distributors and Japanese anime produciton companies interact will have to change as well. In particular, American companies need to be specifically requesting digital rights as they go about licensing new shows. Royalty structures will also have to change to respond to the increasing prominence of digital distribution. Finally, since one of the major factors affecting anime DVD sales is the easy availability of fan-subtitled anime, ways of bringing anime series out in the US as soon as possible after they first air in Japan will be crucial. One of the most important ways of achieving for American anime distributors will be through co-production and investment directly into the Japanese industry at the development stage.

Making these changes will not be cheap, and not every one of the companies that currently make up the North American aniime audience will be able to invest enough resources to change itself successfully

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