Thursday, September 13, 2007

:anime: ADV Films Acquires...Geneon?

ADV Films perhaps made the biggest acquisition of the year, if not in the history of the entire North American anime industry, two weeks ago as the company announced that it was taking over Geneon Entertainment [USA] Inc.'s distribution, sales, and "certain" marketing duties. This deal was originally rumored the weekend before, with both entities keeping quiet about the news leak. With it being now being official, ADV will take on Geneon's sizable catalog and will be handling their given affairs on October 1 this fall.

ADV and Geneon's new "strategic alliance" caught many by surprise. And going by their press release and the news itself, it isn't one that can be easily comprehended either. It isn't entirely clear as to how they will be handling sales (Are they doing the figures or are they partaking in the sales?) or what those "certain" marketing duties are or what they entail. Distribution is rather clear cut in its terminology, but it is this and other aspects of the deal that deserve to bear more scrutiny.

With such a monumental pact giving one company so much managerial ground over another, the kind of effect it will have on the industry as a whole can go in either direction. Positively, a change in marketing tactics can bring more attention to Geneon titles and create a trickle-down effect with other companies. In addition, fans could expect collection repackagings of older titles or discounts on many of the properties already in both companies' realm. Negatively, while a massive condensation of such properties could be seen as a sort of monopoly in the industry, a more likely matter of concern would be the additional load that ADV will be taking on in addition to their own.

ADV Films, only a few years ago, experienced difficulties in keeping up with its overgrown backlog of titles resulting from their mass licensing spree from the early 2000s. The company has managed turned things around in the last two years, getting through the titles on the aforementioned list, creating a strong investment partnership with Sojitz, and changing their tactics for the better in a growing, evolving market. In spite of this, a few of their old ways have begun to resurface with a new face. ADV has been licensing more titles recently, albeit of higher quality and popular ones as opposed to the "license anything" mood of old. Though they have appeared to have learned their lesson, one still has to question whether they will be up to task in handling the affairs-worth of two licensors (or three, as described later).

In being Geneon's sole distributor, marketer, and sales manager, ADV will have to handle their business alongside their own. On the marketing side, Geneon has always been at its weakest. Outside of a few recent ventures (fanclub site Geneon Spot, podcasts), there hasn't been much of an effort to get their titles the appropriate exposure they need (this was something that was stressed last year during the "anime exposure" series). TV broadcasts, for example, were rather nil (Samurai Champloo, Lupin III, and Paranoia Agent on Adult Swim, TEXHNOLYZE, Hellsing, and Akira on Encore Action, and a slew of others, including acclaimed shows Gankutsuou, Kamichu, and Ergo Proxy, on lesser available channels such as Fuse and ImaginAsian TV) and video-on-demand offers were a rarity. Though advertisement and efforts to obtain airtime increased substantially in the last year or so, it was still not entirely done well enough. This could be seen in the lack of updates and content for "The G-Spot," having a high number of their top shows on little known channels, and the sorely lacking push for their big or mainstream-appealing titles (i.e. Paradise Kiss, Hellsing Ultimate, Black Lagoon).

ADV Films has shown a good propensity for advertising the shows they have licensed and making them available for the public to sample, whether it is through VOD services on cable and online, having free first episode showings on their website or, or through BitTorrent-distributed promo packages. Though they have found a good deal of success through these marketing venues, as well as through other digital distribution methods, one of their best assets, The Anime Network, is also one of its Achilles' Heels. The channel may have a prominent spot in many cable VOD lineups, but the same cannot be said of its actual broadcasting arm. ADV, surely to their chagrin, should start to focus on expanding their shows to additional outlets other than their own both for their sake and Geneon's. To not do so is to self-limit both of their potential and business. Another such "Heel," somewhat minor in light of the other, is the quality of their trailers. The sort of style often employed results in a video that doesn't convey the true nature of the show well, due to it being conveyed in a hackneyed and generic way, and can instead come off as amateurish. This may seem trivial, but when expanding your business, such matters must be polished and more professionally done. The trailers should be representative of what the show is rather than highlights of action sequences or a set of average catchlines.

Another concern that arises is how will this deal affect Bandai Visual USA's own distribution deal with Geneon. With ADV Films taking over the reins from their department, will they have to make business with them, or will they need to look elsewhere? The latter is doubtful, yet no news has been made of this arrangement as of this date.

Though ADV has its share of flaws, the partnership should prove to be a fruitful one for Geneon. The subsidiary has essentially been downscaled (or downsized, however you look at it) into a licensing & producing arm in the similar vein of Enoki Films USA, Bandai Visual USA, and Kadokawa Pictures USA, who has found success in Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. This comes as a bit of irony, as Geneon (then Pioneer) once distributed for a fledgling Bandai Ent. Outsourcing in of itself is nothing new in this industry or others, though what makes this case unique is that a company of their stature has yielded a large and important amount of power to another. While the deal outlined does not mean that A.D. Vision is, contrary to popular belief, in absolute control (Dentsu Inc. holds 100% ownership of Geneon), they should still stand to profit handily from being the sole distributor/marketer/sales manager of a major Japanese producer such as them (think Bandai Ent., FUNimation, Nozomi Ent., and Media Blasters--all of whom have had involvement with outside licensors). The key to this arrangement working is for the advertisement to be there for the titles and for an expansion of broadcast outlets to take place. The onus now is on ADV Films to make this endeavor worthwhile for their newest client.

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