Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ken Iyadomi on Bandai Entertainment's Downsizing [via AnimeNewsNetwork]

Ken Iyadomi on Bandai Entertainment's Downsizing - news via AnimeNewsNetwork
Ken Iyadomi is no stranger to the American anime business. Having been at Bandai Entertainment since its inception in 1996, and VHS anime publishers LA Hero and Manga Entertainment before that, he's seen a lot of changes in the business.
Unfortunately, his latest announcement is one he'd rather not be making. On January 3rd, the publisher is announcing that it will cease to release new DVD and Blu-ray releases in North America, effectively ending its 13-year run in the market. The majority of the division's contractors and three of their five full-time staff members will be laid off, and all releases scheduled after the end of January have been cancelled.

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In a decision made last October, but only now becoming public knowledge, Bandai Entertainment's corporate parent at Namco Bandai Holdings made the decision to exit the American home video business. Iyadomi says he wasn't privy to the fine details. "The decision was made in Japan by the contents SBU (Strategic Business Unit)." That business unit originally included the video games division, but recently was merged with all of the company's audio visual businesses, including Sunrise, Bandai Visual and Bandai Channel.
But the broader reasons are quite clear from the outside. The physical anime business in North America has shrunk substantially over the last five years, and shows no sign of returning to its former glory. "A couple of times we were hit with huge returns, and the financial result was pretty bad," Iyadomi admits. Still, he believes the division might have been able to keep going for a few more years, had the SBU allowed it.
"The pricing range for our products kept dropping in Western countries, and people tended only to buy sets with very reasonable prices, which we understand is what fans want, but it lead us to a different strategy than what Japanese licensors wanted," he remarked. "So we always had a problem [with licensors wanting something different than what consumers wanted]."
For now, nothing is going out of print. Iyadomi is careful to point out that, while new releases will cease and three of Bandai Entertainment's five employees will be let go (as well as most remaining contractors), the company currently plans to keep its existing catalog in print and available until their respective licenses expire. (No new re-releases or re-packagings will occur, however.) Retailers can continue to order those discs the way they always have, and when stock is depleted, new product will continue to be manufactured.
The timing of the near-shutdown coincides with the final releases of Star Driver, Tales of the Abyss, The Girl Who Leapt Through Space and Mobile Suit Gundam (the new release of 0079 with Japanese audio), which means that they will all be released in their entirety. However, all releases after February 2012 have been cancelled. Three series that were announced last year, including Turn A Gundam, My Ordinary Life (Nichij┼Ź) and Gosick, will not be released and their rights will revert back to their licensors.
The third volume of Gundam UC's DVD re-release, which would have comprised episodes five and six has been cancelled; the fifth episode is not scheduled for release in Japan until May. However, this news does not affect the availability of imported Japanese Blu-rays of the series through amazon.jp, which have included English audio and subtitles produced by Sunrise directly. Also unaffected by the announcement is the Ghost in the Shell franchise: the Stand Alone Complex series is distributed entirely by Starz Entertainment's Anchor Bay line (bearing the "Manga Video" brand), while the feature film Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence was a short-term sublicense from Paramount Pictures (current owner of the Dreamworks back catalog), and has already expired.
The manga division, unfortunately, will not be so lucky. Kannagi, Gurren Lagann, Code Geass: Renya of Darkness, Mobile Suit Gundam 001, Lucky Star Boo Boo Kabagoo and Tales of the Abyss: Jade in My Memories will all see their releases cut short. Their fate had not yet been determined at press time. "All we can confirm for sure is that those series are not going to be finished by us," Iyadomi says.
As a corporate entity, Bandai Entertainment will stick around, albeit in a very different form. The company will continue to sublicense its shows to internet and TV broadcasters, as well as for merchandising. "The function of Bandai Entertainment will change towards helping group companies as opposed to making profit ourselves. We will continue handling licensing and sub-licensing for digital, tv and merchandise for group company properties," says Iyadomi, adding that this new role might even involve shows that Bandai Entertainment never had access to. "Whatever group companies want us to handle, we will help them. Our purpose going forward will be like it was in 1996-1998, before we started doing physical distribution."
But at this point, little is set in stone. Only one thing is clear: the role of a distributor for anime in North America is changing, and some well-equipped licensors can now cut them out of the process entirely, if they choose. Japanese publishers can now create Blu-rays with English subtitles, ready to import to English speakers worldwide. While those won't sell as many copies as American-produced discs, the higher price point and lack of middleman can still result in a decent amount of revenue with little additional cost. Bandai Visual Japan recently discovered this for themselves with their release of Gundam Unicorn. "They found the results pretty good, and that's how I think they would like to move forwards," Iyadomi says.
And so, for Bandai Entertainment, its days as a publisher are drawing to a close. Facing a massive restructuring, Iyadomi remains grateful to the fanbase. "I would like to say thank you to all the fans that have supported us. Although we no longer have new releases coming up, we will still have the catalog, so we appreciate your continued support."
Bandai Entertainment's Most Successful Anime (in no order)
 •Cowboy Bebop (absolutely #1)
 •Escaflowne
 •Outlaw Star
 •The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
 •Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
Bandai Entertainment's Most Successful Manga (in no order)
 •Lucky Star
 •Eureka Seven
 •Code Geass
 •Mobile Suit Gundam

8 comments:

  1. All because of how people can view the content digitally without having to buy them.

    They're probably only making money from what manga they have left in the market, not so much with the animations and films.

    I'm not pointing all my fingers at piracy, I'm saying legit sites aswell. Crunchy Roll, can watch some of the latest shows.

    People just got digital. : /

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  2. I'd gladly buy Gundam Unicorn on blu ray disc if the pricing wasn't so goddamn ridiculous. This is what's killing them.

    I'm not paying 50 dollars(example price of a quick search on Amazon, I'm sure some people can find it cheaper) for 60 minutes of content. It's an outdated pricing model, based on local Japanese revenue only. If they start pricing for a global market, they can afford to price these more reasonably.

    I'm surprised they're even making money in Japan, but I guess this type of pricing is accepted there by the hardcore anime viewers.

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  3. Well at least we'll still get Mobile Suit Gundam box set #2...

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  4. @Anonymous
    Dvd prices are a lot higher in foreign countries such as Japan. Dvds are generally slightly more expensive then Gundam Unicorn's dvds are. A box set of all of Zeta Gundam on blu ray costs $400 in Japan.

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  5. It's a multi-faceted problem.

    Firstly, I am a Gundam fansubber. I subbed older shows that never seemed to have a chance to get released here. Before 2010, I truly believed they never ever would see a US release because the companies had already chosen to ignore anything from before 2000. (F91 was the last old title licensed in 2003 or so) I never touched anything made after 2000. I also purchased nearly every single gundam DVD ever released in the states, save anything that had Blu ray equivalents available, like 00. I own all 4 Unicorn discs and the BD of the 00 film.

    I fansubbed because I believe there was little other choice for generating interest in these shows and bringing them to a wider audience. Some might say this practice undermined the market, but I waited until well after the US market bubble burst in 2005 to do the majority of shows I did.

    Is what I did a factor in Bandai's demise? Perhaps on some level, but it's one of many. The Japanese price model is completely unsustainable here. I purchased Unicorn, yes, but that doesn't mean it's a permanent working business model. It would never work even if streaming versions were NEVER made available. We'd go back to the early 90s where few shows could be seen at all. They'd probably discover that merchandise (non show model kit) sales have taken a hit as a result. The problem we're seeing is exactly the same reason STARZ left netflix. They believe it's too good of a deal. They're unwilling to accept the reality of the market and claim their premium product was undervalued on netflix.

    Sure, there are more people willing to pay for Starz, but for how much longer? Bandai was not losing money as some people seem to believe, they just weren't making 'enough' to consider it worthwhile.

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  6. They are short-sighted. Do they really think all those who bought the American release would play so much more money of a Japanese BD? please...! Keep dreaming...!!

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  7. This is coming from someone who imports a lot, not DVD's but mostly Model Kits and figures, things in japan cost MORE MONEY than they do in the states. take a look at SHFiguarts Shinken Red and Shinken Gold, those things imported tend to end up being damn near $50 but when TRU started selling them they were $35. It's the same thing with DVD's but on a much larger scaling. People don't want to go back to the days of having to by piece by piece for their DVD's/Blu-Rays, we want instant gratification on having EVERY episode in our hands at once. Funimation figured that one out quick... so yeah if Bandai doesn't want to see that I say good riddance... here's hoping Funimation picks up on doing Gundam. Or maybe Sunrise will make an american division... though I hope they don't end up like Aniplex is (Glares at the decisions made for the Madoka Magika DVD's)

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  8. First Nichijou barley has any merchandise to begin with and now there will be no DVD/Bluray? I am going to die.

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