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Anime Expo Indicates Industry Climate

7 Jul, 2008 By: Chris Tribbey

LOS ANGELES — Something was amiss at this year's Anime Expo, held July 3-6, and it wasn't the new location at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

On the convention floor, the booth for leading anime DVD distributor ADV Films looked like a mom-and-pop DVD sidewalk store, with no signage and no representatives from the company.

“I just work here,” a young man selling DVDs said. “I can't tell you anything.”

While ADV's set-up was bare bones, anime powerhouse VIZ Media wasn't on the show floor at all. Neither was The Right Stuf International, though they have a habit of avoiding convention booths. All three companies held panels to discuss their plans for the rest of the year and beyond, but their absence from the show floor was reflective of the slow-down of domestic anime DVD.

“You can see the decline in the industry,” said Adam Sheehan, senior events manager for Funimation. “A lot of the companies in the past were pushing every title as an ‘A'-list title, and it was too much for the market to handle.”

A simple look at the new release SKU output for anime at the halfway point of 2008 is telling: According to figures from The DVD Release Report, anime distributors are on pace for less than 400 DVD releases in 2008, the lowest output since 1999 when only 153 were released. Four companies that were releasing product in 2007 — Central Park Media, Manga Entertainment, JapanAnime and AN Entertainment — have not put out a new release SKU yet in 2008, though at least one has plans.

Geneon Entertainment, which was No. 2 in terms of SKU output, bowed out of the domestic DVD business last September (Funimation Entertainment announced July 3 that it would distribute roughly 20 of Geneon's titles).

And the companies that are still steadily releasing anime — ADV, Funimation, VIZ, Bandai Entertainment, Bandai Visual, Media Blasters and Right Stuf — are all releasing far fewer DVDs compared to last year.

“I think the market has definitely gone through a realignment,” said Robert Napton, director of marketing for Bandai Entertainment. “Blu-ray will help, but the number one problem we're still facing is piracy.”

Bandai Entertainment will release Ghost in the Shell: Innocence as its first Blu-ray Disc.

Chet Brier, account executive for Media Blasters, said that while DVD has declined for anime, other avenues for revenue could help make up for it.

“There's a lot of downloading, and then there's Blu-ray,” he said, adding there are still anime titles from decades ago that haven't seen a DVD release. “It may level off thanks to these other areas … shelf space is still a fight.”

As for the subdued presence at the show of some of the anime business' biggest players, Brier said companies such as ADV are watching their bottom line.

“The industry is a little rough right now, and it can be prohibitive to do all these shows,” he said. “It took a while, but anime hit its peak. I don't know how much larger we can grow the fan base.”

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