January 10, 2024

Japan's phantom content boom

The Hollywood Reporter has an interesting story about the international rise of Japan's domestic entertainment industry. Anime is a given and Kdrama is all the rage these days, but the market for made-in-Japan live-action productions (produced in Japan or based on Japanese content) is seeing (we're told) a renaissance. Japan is "on the precipice of a content boom."
"There has never been more global curiosity and love for Japanese culture, and with that interest, there is so much potential for Japan's entertainment industry to regain momentum," says Netflix's Minyoung Kim, who was based in South Korea and now works out of Tokyo.

The live-action remake of One Piece is a recent example. Netflix hopes to duplicate that success with a big-budget live-action adaptation of another manga and anime classic, Yu Yu Hakusho.

One telling statistic is that live-action productions in Japan have typically been budgeted at around $250,000/episode. To put that in context, what an episode of Star Trek cost sixty years ago. Comparable Hollywood budgets start at ten times that amount. So spending only five times as much is bargain basement.

Thus it comes as no surprise that

the live-action series space is the area of Japanese entertainment where the surging investment from big foreign streamers is changing production standards most and where insiders say there is the biggest potential for a reinvigorating shake-up.

Of course, the potential will always be there. For now, though, the appeal of Jdrama outside Asia remains so low that any improvement at all in the overall numbers can end up looking far more impressive than it actually is. Frankly, I'm not convinced that what the The Hollywood Reporter is describing will amount to a positive long-term trend in content acquisition.

Streamers like Netflix and Amazon, in a Red Queen race to to fill the bottomless pits of their catalogs, are simply grabbing the low-hanging fruit. But take note of what they are not doing—namely licensing shows already in production for Japan's domestic broadcast television audience.

Cultural mismatches between the tastes of the domestic audience and the overseas audience may be impossible to overcome at scale. Kdrama, like anime, was a fit right out of the box, and so could iteratively build on that foundation. More supply equaled more demand. Except there has never been any organic demand for live-action Japanese television in the first place.

As a case in point, variety and infotainment shows make up the majority of the broadcast schedule in Japan. Yet other than sifting through the catalogs and picking and choosing odd and interesting titles here and there, nobody has figured out how to "capitalize on the category anywhere near to the extent to which it already dominates traditional TV in the country."

Add to that the gatekeeping function of Japan's powerful talent agencies. Outside the news divisions, practically any human being appearing on Japanese television has been vetted, approved, and booked by a talent agency. Their primary interest is the domestic market and the advertising revenue it generates. Markets outside Asia are not an immediate concern.

Which is why I expect this "boom" to eventually regress to the mean. Japan may well become home to thriving overseas production facilities, but as cogs in the Hollywood offshoring and outsourcing machine, not deep wells of backlist material just waiting to be localized for North American distribution.

Related posts

Whither TV Japan
Galápagos entertainment
Japan's phantom content boom

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# posted by Blogger Joe
1/10/2024 12:54 PM   
There must be an adage along the lines of: Don't let popularity in a niche market lead you to think it will be popular in the general market.