Click here to see the article of the 3rd issue. Memories with Mr. Idei vol.3: “Atom” and “Bit””.
Start of the “Bit” division
Now, after the first shareholders’ meeting, we officially started our activities as a startup. We had to meet with various people, including Japanese content holders and people with knowledge of the overseas content situation, to gather information anyway. I myself had no experience with shareholders, Quantum Leaps, or SONY, so Mr. Tsujino was the only one I could rely on. Anyway, although I did not have a clear picture of the whole picture, I tried my best to complete the work in front of me, but I am not sure if I was really able to be of any help.
In order to build a platform for transmitting Japanese content overseas, regardless of genre, such as music, movies, manga, and anime, it was necessary to listen to the wishes of the content holders and build a consensus. At the time, I was still inexperienced, but I wondered if it would be that easy to obtain the agreement of content holders. Would they be able to unite if it was for a foreign market? Would there be some kind of magic wand that only Mr. Idei could wield? I was worried.
I was sure that I was a mismatch for this project at the time I was thinking this. Even so, all I can remember is desperately continuing to do what was right in front of me. In reality, however, I was only able to do something as small as carrying Mr. Tsujino’s bag. I don’t know if I was even good enough to be his bag man.
Crunchyroll to distribute Japanese anime simultaneously in Japan and the U.S.
The core company in this series of “Bit” division initiatives was Crunchyroll, a San Francisco company that had gained popularity by broadcasting Japanese anime simultaneously with Japan in a rights-cleared format, attracting a lot of traffic not only from the U.S. but also from overseas. It was attracting a lot of traffic not only from the U.S. but also from overseas.
Crunchyroll wanted to build relationships with more content holders and increase the number of paying subscribers by posting more content. He came to Mr. Idei for consultation to see if he could do the same for Crynchyroll.
I believe that he wanted to make Crunchyroll an equal investment by content holders and develop it into an entity similar to Nextflix. Nico Nico Douga became popular around 2008, and Hulu appeared around 2009, so the timing of the idea could not have been worse for 2010.
I myself had the opportunity to speak with the founder, Mr. Kun Gao, several times, even without Mr. Tsujino. At the time, we were not only distributing anime, but were also considering technology to automatically insert video advertisements into the anime distribution, and had also prepared a manga distribution platform, so everything was in place for a platform to distribute manga, anime, etc.
Above all, I thought that my knowledge would be of some use when it came to advertising-related monetization. However, I was not in a position to negotiate with many content holders for investment, so I had no choice but to ask Mr. Idei and Mr. Tsujino for help.
Now that we had a good idea of the platform for content distribution with Chrunchyroll, it was time to talk about the important content side. Through Mr. Idei’s introduction and by fully utilizing his own network, Mr. Tsujino spoke with various content holders, including TV stations and music labels such as SONY Music.
Around February or March of 2010, the idea of monetizing Ghibli’s works by distributing them overseas on YouTube came up. This was mentioned in Ghibli’s monthly “Hot Wind” booklet, and Mr. Tsujino also had a conversation on a PodCast hosted by Producer Suzuki. Studio Ghibli was close to John Lasseter of Pixar, the creator of “Toy Story” and other films, and therefore close to Apple’s Steve Jobs, who was the owner of Pixar, and it was around the time that Pixar was acquired by Disney, which also brought them closer to Disney I think it was around this time that Pixar was acquired by Disney. As for movies, it was around the time of the release of “Arrietty the Borrower.
Because of these circumstances, I myself accompanied Mr. Tsujino to talk with Mr. Suzuki. Producer Suzuki was very kind and spoke to me about various aspects of the current situation surrounding Japanese animation, but as a result, we came to the conclusion that the “Bit” section was not a good idea.
Taking everything into consideration, I think that YouTube at the time still had a strong impression of piracy, and that, in the end, it would not pay off to release films on the Internet at that time. Even if it had been possible to release the film on YouTube, it would not have been well received by content holders at a time when YouTube was still perceived as a place where pirated copies were left unattended.
However, when you look at Studio Ghibli’s decision to release their films on Disney Plus outside of Japan, the general framework was not so bad, and I think that if there had been another option other than Disney Plus, there might have been a different development.
Reluctance of Content holders
I have met and talked with various other content holders as well, but basically, they were all very reluctant to do so. After all, even in the music industry, there was still a strong sense of resistance to the Internet, which was a factor in the decline of CD sales, and to YouTube, where pirated content was uploaded, at a time when there was still a strong allergic reaction.
It wasn’t until a little later that YouTube’s masthead, or pure ad space, was fully booked, and YouTube itself began to grow in earnest when Susan Wojcicki became the head of YouTube and began to incorporate the managed advertising philosophy she had developed at Google AdWords into YouTube. The current rise of YouTubers is a result of the growth of the YouTube platform. Without her, the current YouTuber phenomenon would not have been possible.
If Idei and Tsujino had approached SONY with the idea for Bit, the story might have been different; if SONY had provided the platform technology, there might have been some movement. However, if it had been a subsidiary of Quantum Leaps, the position of the company would have been different and there would have been a sense of frustration and frustration.
Looking back now, 12 years later.
Looking at Wikipedia now, I see that Crunchyroll is now a SONY-affiliated company, and I am somewhat relieved to see that SONY has taken over that concept. If I had been able to acquire Crunchyroll at that time, the traffic would have snowballed and I might have been able to monetize it to a certain extent.
At that time, there was a site called Onemanga.com, a pirated manga site similar to today’s Manga Village, which was the 101st most trafficked site globally according to Google’s AdPlanner page view count. It probably had more traffic than any other Japanese site at the time. I often wonder what would have happened if they had acquired these sites, processed the rights, and monetized them through advertising, etc., instead of destroying them.
I hope that the content holders themselves will do their best in the copyright business, because it will not progress well unless they themselves are at the center.