Interview: Henry Goto, President, Aniplex of Americaby Zac Bertschy,
Zac Bertschy: How would you describe Aniplex's business model?
Hi Zac, first of all thank you for this opportunity.
Our (Aniplex of America or "AOA") goal is to create a variety of ways to distribute Aniplex titles to North America. Our core business is obviously in home video releases, but we also license our titles to TV stations (ex: Cartoon Network), streaming sites (ex: hulu, Crunchyroll), merchandising rights and most recently we just added theatrical releases to the list.
The difference between AOA compared to other US distributors is our method of home video distribution. AOA sells our product on our homepage (www.aniplexusa.com and other title home pages) directly to customers and anime specialty retail partners only.
How has that business model changed over the years?
Information and time difference between the Japanese market and the international market has been shrinking smaller and smaller. With this era of the internet, International anime fans have a lot of information and knowledge not only about past shows but also upcoming shows.
With the old international business model, there was a good amount of time to watch and evaluate the entire series before making an acquisition decision for each title. But recently, we have to make our minds up in earlier stages to launch a simulcast successfully to encourage legal viewing opportunities. The anime business used to be pretty much solely home video sales, but nowadays business opportunities have been diversified such as streaming, theatrical experience and merchandising.
How would you personally characterize the R1 market for physical anime releases? What realities would you say people need to understand when it comes to this particular market?
Although R1 anime product prices have dropped significantly after 2005, the R1 anime market didn't grow. anime BD/DVD sections in stores are not as big as they used be, the number of anime publishers has been decreasing too.
How would you characterize Aniplex of America's release strategy? How do you go about selecting titles? Are there some titles you feel AOA is particularly suited for releasing, contrasted with others?
Our main focus is to produce collectible items which stay in people's hearts and on their shelf space for a long time. We want to produce quality products which deliver the passion and love of creators, casts, animation staffs and producers as much as possible and allowed. This type of abstract explanation may not work, however we feel happy when we read feedback cards which shows customer's understanding and support for our approach. We don't want to sell just paper and plastic but the memory of each title. Believe it or not, our limited editions have good value for consumers under my calculation.
We also care about picture quality; in order to preserve the crisp picture, we can't put too many episodes onto one disc. We are aware our products are not cheap but I believe people who want more than the streaming experience are looking for really good ones.
About the selection of titles, we have been lucky and confident to be involved with many popular and high quality titles since July 2010. It's difficult to describe our selection process but we try to be involved with properties which we ourselves are touched by and proud of.
Can you comment on what Aniplex of America views as a successful release? What sort of unit sell-through do you require in order for something to be considered a success? Does it vary title-by-title, or do you have a generalized strategy?
Of course AOA can't stay away from financial analysis for each project before its initial release because we need to survive as a company. Each project has a different background and various break even sales units to sell. We hope we exceed our original sales projections one by one. Some did, some didn't. I can't disclose the inside details of each project unfortunately, however I can tell you that AOA will continue the business in the US thanks to the fans' support.
What's the best way for fans to let Aniplex of America know which titles they'd like to see get a premium release?
We definitely receive feedback and learn from fans. I myself have read every single feedback card that comes with every AOA release since AOA started.
Besides our feedback cards, we also follow up with our social networks (Facebook, Twitter) on a daily basis. I check Facebook and Twitter and talk with our marketing guy, EJ, almost every day. Although we can't answer every question because customers tend to ask questions we can't answer at that point in time. We do read and talk about all the fans' questions and concerns. Our most recent example is our fans have been requesting a sturdier chipboard case to hold our DVD and Blu-ray releases. Thanks to the request of fans, we provided chipboard boxes for the Bakemonogatari Blu-Ray Box Set, The Garden of Sinners DVD Box Set and the Durarara!! Blu-Ray Box Set (with lunchbox). Aniplex Panels at anime conventions are also a great resource to have your voices heard. Although we provide “no comment” to some fan inquiries during Q&A sessions, we are certainly hearing your voices.
What metric other than fan feedback do you use to determine what you're going to release?
I keep my eyes open about information, good news and all other indications from Aniplex Japan. I'm also encouraged if I find cosplayers from upcoming titles.
Has there been any attempt to get more recent Aniplex of America titles on US television? Is that still considered a top priority when it comes to promoting a series, or do you feel the consumer you're targeting has moved on from being exposed to new series through broadcast television?
I believe that on-air TV is still considered a top priority when it comes to promoting a series. I appreciate Adult Swim for picking up and showing Durarara!! as part of their anime line-up . I hope more AOA titles will be shown on TV. If fans would like to see more AOA on TV, please send request to stations and let them know.
Who do you feel is Aniplex of America's primary customer? Do you feel Aniplex's primary targeted demographic is different from who other R1 anime distributors focus on, in terms of sales?
Yes and No. As one example, the most popular product of Madoka Magica is the limited edition. In a comparison of units sold between the limited edition and the regular edition is about 60% for the BD/DVD/CD combo Limited Edition, 20% for the regular edition Blu-ray and 20% for the regular edition DVD. On the other hand, Blue Exorcist has wonderful streaming results even compared to DVD results. So the important lesson I learned from these experiences is not to categorize or limit the customer demographic of Aniplex but to find the ways to reach fans property by property.
Also, when we imported The Garden of Sinners BD-BOX , pre-order numbers grew day by day meanwhile I saw many complaints about the pricing of this product on ANN's forum. Actually The Garden of Sinners has the highest score of “overall satisfaction” among AOA titles according to the feedback cards.
I think AOA's role in this market is to provide fans a wide variety of experiences. Whether its official streams or brand new home releases, we want to give all the fans a high quality and official experience. We hope at the same time, fans can appreciate the production value that the creators and the rest of the staff put into their title.
What is the size of Aniplex's business in America? Are you given all the resources you feel you need to succeed in this market?
The size of Aniplex's business in America today is growing but still tiny and not enough. AOA is a 5 person company and we have many things we need to do for fans. As an example, we plan to go to more conventions to meet more of our fanbase next year. And the biggest resource of AOA is always the fans. Without their support, Aniplex can't survive here. Aniplex's facebook has 9,555 followers today. I need 445 more!
What upcoming releases do you expect to perform well for you? Is there a model you use to determine potential success, or is everything basically a gamble, which is how other distributors have always characterized this market?
As I said we have detailed project analysis for all titles but it doesn't always seem to hit our target. Sometimes a title exceeds my projection, sometimes not. AOA recently announced Sword Art Online and Magi , it looks like they will perform well based on the initial reaction of their simulcasts happening right now.
The Madoka Magica films are your first major theatrical release - was the experiment a success? Could you see other theatrical releases in the company's future? Do you think Madoka Magica is a special case, or are there other properties that might work theatrically, if the opportunity presented itself?
Yes, Box office and merchandising sales (sorry, the latter only in L.A...) exceeded our projections. We also received many requests from fans in other cities to bring the Madoka Movies to their area. And I learned again that the theatrical experience is wonderful because people who love Madoka get to watch and share the experience with their fellow peers. We are making a plan to expand the number cities the films will play in, which we will announce shortly. Also we are making plans to release more movie titles next year. I can't say what they are now.
What do you consider your flagship title for 2013? What's the most important property to the company at this point in time?
We are going to release many new titles in 2013. It's really difficult to pick one. But the Modoka Magica 3rd movie will definitely be a hot title next year. We hope we get the opportunity to make it one of our flagship titles next year.
Thank you for all your questions. Tough questions but I hope I answered some of them for you.
Anime News Network thanks Mr. Goto for his time.
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