Hidden in the very last exhibition hall at the Mobile World Congress we spotted two men from Toei Animation sitting at a relatively empty table. Kenji Ebato is Toei’s executive vice president and Sae Song is responsible for new business development, their booth is decorated with a few anime posters, including Sailor Moon and One Piece – shows that Toei produces.
Curious to see why the company behind Dragon Ball Z was at a mobile event we headed over for a chat. According to Song, Japan’s population of children is declining so Toei’s audience is shrinking at home, and overseas anime bit-torrents are cutting into DVD sales.
“The way people consume anime is changing and our fans are ahead of the curve… we’re learning the hard way and getting burned by piracy” stated Song. He’s a smart guy and he didn’t beat around the bush when discussing the challenges Toei faces, explaining that similar to many media companies, Toei needs to figure out how to monetise its content effectively. It’s a very complicated situation though. Putting Fist of the North Star online is easy, making money from it isn’t.
Song thinks that this is a tipping point for anime. It’s expensive to make quality anime and if the industry doesn’t start experimenting with new formats and new business models then many production companies will get hit hard. At one point during our chat Song said that the obvious solution is for anime studios to group together, creating a Spotify-style anime hub, making it easy to watch anime online.
Ebato and Song aren’t dreamers though, they know that most anime studios won’t want to play ball straight away, which is why they are keen to get their content on mobile phones and tablets. Watching anime on a phone or tablet would be amazing but Toei needs help getting on mobile devices. From app developers to networks, Toei wants to talk to everyone and come up with something amazing.
We think it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity. Manufacturers and networks are going to need more than touchscreens and Twitter to shift phones in the future – content such as Toei’s will hopefully add that extra value. Unfortunately, Ebato and Song haven’t been inundated with requests for information.
“There’s no convergence… the tech people and the content people aren’t talking,” adds Song. In fact Song’s last statement to us is much more than an anecdotal truth, it’s the heart of the matter. It’s not enough that Apple and Amazon are talking to content creators, everyone should be doing it. Of course, a good start would be to not hide people like Ebato and Song in distant exhibition halls, where only we can find them.