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NYCC: ADV Films Acquires Prefectural Earth Defense Force, Expands Anime Network

The ADV Films panel at the New York Comic-Con was run by co-founder Matt Greenfield, who went almost immediately to a question-and-answer with the audience after a very brief introduction. The highly interactive nature of the panel ensured the maximum content of interest to the attendees. Greenfield announced Prefectural Earth Defense Force, with a release date of April, and the acquisition of Gainax’s This Ugly Yet Beautiful World. He also detailed the continuing success of the Anime Network, emphasizing its expansion in New York broadcast markets, and ADV’s expansion into cell phone distribution channels.

Greenfield stated that the Anime Network had just debuted with Cablevision, Time-Warner Cable, and DirectTV in the New York area. At this time, the Anime Network is available in 24 million households with digital cable TV, and in more than 30 million more with video-on-demand. ADV is very happy with the rapid market penetration of the Anime Network, and continues to work at getting it in areas that don’t have it yet. Greenfield noted that he wasn’t even able to get the Anime Network until about 3 months ago. During the panel, Greenfield showed several new TV spots for the Anime Network, with the biggest laugh coming from one involving spurned love and a robot.

Interestingly, Greenfield answered a question from the audience by saying that they launched the Anime Network initially as video-on-demand by choice, believing that on-demand was the wave of the future. Two years after the 24/7 version of the channel was launched, it seems that most of the television broadcasters have finally come around to ADV’s way of thinking about on-demand services. Today, most cable networks want video-on-demand or “events” programming rather than new channels. Greenfield added that the Anime Network was the first channel to go from subscribers-only to a 24/7 channel. The only more popular on-demand cable programming is WWE wrestling.

However, ADV is also probably the most adventurous of the anime companies in exploring new ways to distribute their product. Starting on Friday, February 24, ADV anime could be downloaded to video-enabled mobile phones through Zoovision. The shows available include Princess Tutu, Gilgamesh, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. $9.99 gets you 30 days worth of content, refreshing weekly, as well as downloadable extras from the ADV Films website. In response to questioning, Greenfield added that they were looking at acceptable ways to provide digital downloads of ADV material, such as an iTunes-like distribution channel, but that the obstacle was finding a distribution method that was acceptable to their Japanese license holders and would ensure reasonable copy protection. He did add that ADV is the only anime company seriously using BitTorrent as a distribution and advertising channel. Greenfield noted that the one driving factor behind their constant search for new distribution channels was the abundance of titles available.

High-definition DVD, whether through HD-DVD or through Blu-Ray, was definitely on their radar, but ADV, like all the anime companies, are currently waiting out the format war. Greenfield pointed out that some anime titles in Japan can trace ownership back to either Sony or Sanyo, both of which have a vested interest in one format or the other, which causes further issues with deciding on a high-definition DVD format.

Greenfield assured another audience member that the masters they receive from Japan are good enough for high-definition video now, and are actually getting better. Surprisingly, most older material is ready for high-def, since it was shot on 16mm film. Material about 10 years old gets a bit more problematic, since it was shot on film but mastered on video, and that the film stock used was often of a cheaper grade. However, anything released within the past 5 years is HD ready, once a format is decided on.

On the other hand, Greenfield stated that he never saw the logic in the PSP’s UMD format, and that they had no plans to release any of their material on UMD, unless the discs were far cheaper to produce and sell than they are currently.

The new methods of content distribution doesn’t mean that ADV will be abandoning DVDs any time soon, however. Greenfield announced the April release of Prefectural Earth Defense Force, an anime series about a telephone company who wants to take over the world, opposed by three kids who couldn’t get a baseball team together. It is to Greenfield’s credit that he could deliver the plot synopsis with a completely straight face. He also noted that the trailer shown at the panel was “the most deceptive trailer ever,” since “absolutely none of this footage shows up in the show itself.” He also announced the acquisition of Gainax’s This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, and that there would be more Area 88 anime DVDs coming.

In detailing Prefectural Earth Defense Force for audience members, Greenfield called it “a geek title” that wouldn’t sell well in the chain stores. As a result, it will be carried by fewer outlets, but that the title would be available from ADV directly, cutting out the middleman and ensuring the title is profitable enough to warrant future releases.

Greenfield was coy in answering a question from the audience about “what show would you want ADV to release,” shouting with mock indignation, “I can’t tell you that!” but promising that there was a lot they wanted to release, and that they were continuing to seek out new titles. When asked which title he wished more people knew about, he named Michel, saying it was animated by the DR Movie studio in Korea, who had just come off a Hayao Miyazaki movie. He described it as what would result if, “Miyazaki made a Pokémon show.”

In contrast to the DVD and cable outlets, manga has experienced a slight slowdown at ADV, due to the “logjam” of titles available now. Greenfield stated that they opted to slow down their manga releases, since there was not enough shelf space to accomodate all the titles available now. However, he did state that an Evangelion: Angelic Days original graphic novel was coming soon. He also added that he thinks America needs “manga cafes,” such as those in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, where coffee shops sell manga to their patrons as well.

One question from the audience concerned publishing more Battle Angel Alita. Greenfield stated that some filmmaker named James Cameron has purchased all the rights to Alita in all media, and continues to state that he will do a live-action version of the movie. When the movie happens, Greenfield hopes the rights situation will loosen up, but until then ADV is unable to publish more Alita.

On the subject of other live-action adaptations, Greenfield commented that Neon Genesis Evangelion has begun pre-production with WETA, the famed effects studio which produced Lord of the Rings and King Kong. Apparently, there is currently more buzz around Evangelion than there was around Lord of the Rings, with 3 A-list directors expressing interest in the title. Greenfield stated that they were waiting for one of them to become available to direct, at which point, the script would be tailored for the director’s style. Greenfield would not name the directors, but stated that they were all “very different individuals,” that all 3 had come to ADV to direct the film, and that all 3 turned out to be ADV’s top choices as well.

Greenfield also said that Evangelion was doing very well on Adult Swim, and that he was very happy with Adult Swim’s handling of the title. He said that they decided to air Evangelion on Adult Swim to let people outside the anime mainstream to see it. ADV is talking to other networks, including Showtime Extreme and G4, to air other programming, with the rest ending up on the Anime Network.

In response to a question about non-Japanese content from ADV, Greenfield stated that the Farscape anime was “still being talked about,” but that current buzz was about a feature film.

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