The TV & video entertainment service, ABEMA, has reached its 4th anniversary. With a great choice of fan-favorite animes and a wide variety of special programs, they have been growing their viewership every year.

ABEMA is also growing its presence in the anime industry.
“Anime Japan”, which was scheduled for Mar.21 and 22, 2020, was canceled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. However, ABEMA provided the space for many of the works to reach out to many viewers.

Why does Abema put so much effort into anime?
Here at Anime!Anime!, we conducted an interview with producer Yamazaki Kenshi, who is in charge of the anime category of ABEMA, with Mori, who is in charge of business management of the media department in IID, Inc., as the interviewer. The remote interview contained topics, such as the background of the special program in Mar., the role the channel plays, and the future of entertainment industry.

Yamazaki Kenshi

Producer, Anime Station, Abema TV Inc.
He joined CyberAgent Inc. as a fresh graduate in 2016.
First assigned to FRESH! of the media division, he experienced working in sales and program production before moving to his current position.
In addition to organizing the entire ABMEA anime category and producing “Say You to Yoasobi” (Nightlife with Voice Actors), he is also in charge of launching the commercialization division linked to ABEMA animation distribution.

Interviewer: Mori Motoyuki

Deputy General Manager, Media Business Headquarters, IID, Inc.
In charge of business management.

■Anime has the power to grasp the hearts of fans
Mori: You are currently involved in the entire ABEMA's anime channel. Have you always been a fan of anime?

Yamazaki: I had my fair share of watching anime, but I wouldn't say I was a fan. I started watching more since it became a part of my job.

The first project I was involved in, after moving to the anime channel, was the “Neon Genesis Evangelion” series. At the time, “Shin Godzilla” was being broadcast by TV Asahi for the first time on regular TV, so we were featuring “Evangelion” in connection with director Anno Hideaki.
I've seen the TV anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, but I only roughly remembered the story. Watching it again, I was struck by the depth and weight it had and was amazed by the power of anime.

ABEMA Yamazaki Kenshi

Mori: Like myself, I believe many people would think of national titles like “Crayon Shin-chan”, “Doraemon”, “Dragon Ball”, and “One Piece” when you think about anime.

Since I'm working for a media company, I decided to learn about entertainment, and the first animes I checked out were: “Eva”, “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”, and “Mobile Suit Gundam”. Watching anime seriously for the first time hit me strong and I immediately thought, “Wow, anime is amazing!”

I think the anime channel has been a big part of ABEMA since its launch. How did you feel when you found out you were being transferred?

IID Mori Motoyuki

Yamazaki: I knew it was an important category of ABEMA, and I thought it would be a rewarding job that has a great impact on the world.
Right after the transfer, I was involved with organizing the New Year holidays' anime. I remember being so busy that I didn't have time to worry or hesitate.
However, since there are so many anime titles, I also found it difficult to check out all of them.

Mori: ABEMA used to have 5 channels, but now it has only 3. Why did this happen?

Yamazaki: As a result of reviewing the channels' composition, we decided to consolidate the 5 channels into 3.
First, the channel for new anime and “Anime 24”, which handles works from 2000 onwards, were merged to be a channel that airs animes from 2010 onwards.

The late-night anime channel changed its name to “Anime LIVE” and regularly broadcasts live streamings such as “Say You to Yoasobi” (Nightlife with Voice Actors).
“Natsukashi Anime Channel” (Nostalgic Anime Channel) and “Kazoku Anime Channel” (Family Anime Channel) were also merged, and now is called “Minna no Anime Channel” (Everyone's Anime Channel), which centers on nationally popular animes such as “Doraemon”.

Mori: How did the viewers react to this change of the channels?

Yamazaki: Some of them may have found it inconvenient since there were fewer slots for watching missed episodes for the latest anime.
Also, many users had a habit of watching the national animes, and some of them said that they were confused by the reorganization of the program list.
Despite the confusion, we were able to create a channel composition that challenges limits. With advanced broadcasts of the latest anime, live streaming of special programs such as “Say You to Yoasobi”, and a wider range of national animes, such as “Doraemon” and “Crayon Shin-chan”, we now have more than double the viewers we used to have.

■I want people to see the merit in teaming up with ABEMA.
Mori: With ABEMA reaching its 4th anniversary, how do you think it has grown as a platform?

Yamazaki: Thanks to the support, we have been able to grow steadily in the number of users. Our efforts to create an environment that makes us the first to broadcast the latest anime, create special programs to broaden the target viewers, and challenging programs such as “Say You to Yoasobi” are slowly beginning to show results.
I believe that this is an important year to increase profits and establish a successful business in the future.

Mori: I have the impression that ABEMA has a lot of content that connects the works and the viewers, such as the original anime specials and programs centering on the voice actors. What do you aim for when making these shows?

Yamazaki: I want people to think that their content has become even more popular by teaming up with ABEMA.

ABEMA has a variety of specialized channels such as sports and mahjong, so many users are not hardcore anime fans.
That's why people who weren't interested in anime have a chance to come across ABEMA anime channel to find out how interesting anime can be. I see this environment as an opportunity to gain new fans.

Mori: I remember getting interested in an anime I've never heard of through ABEMA.

People involved in the media like me have the opportunity to encounter various works through interviews, but the average user doesn't.
Maybe the special programs and voice actors' variety shows of ABEMA is working as a bridge between the users and anime.

How about the anime production teams? What do they think about ABEMA?

Yamazaki: Honestly speaking, I heard they were very suspicious of us at the beginning, haha.
However, as the number of ABEMA premium members increased and we began working with them on projects such as producing special programs, we gradually gained recognition for our achievements.

Nowadays, all streaming platforms are working hard to earn the fastest broadcast rights. We at ABEMA use our strength of reaching out to new viewers as a weapon.
The anime production teams also appreciate ABEMA as a platform for publicity, and we feel confident in our work.
→Next Page: How the 48-hour broadcast was decided.

■ How the 48-hour broadcast was decided.
Mori: In Mar. 2020, “AbemaTV Anime Saishin Jouhou Daikoukai SP” (AbemaTV Anime Latest News Release SP” and the joint project with Aniplex, “Anime mo Game mo Daishuugou! Aniplex 48-hour TV” (Anime and Game Gathering! Aniplex 48-hour TV) was broadcast to replace “Anime Japan 2020”, which was canceled due to the novel coronavirus.

I think this show helped the production teams since there were many works scheduled to release their latest information in “Anime Japan 2020”. What is the story behind this program?

Yamazaki: There was a company that consulted with us about doing a special program when the possibility of canceling “Anime Japan 2020” came up.
Then I thought maybe there will be other works that would want to have their special shows, so I decided to keep the studios so that we could respond to their needs.
After the cancellation was confirmed, we talked to the publicity staff of each anime to see if we could broadcast a special program.

The word spread that “ABEMA is doing something if Anime Japan 2020 is canceled” in the advertisement industry, and many of the works came to us.
I think another reason was that there were many staff who had worked with us on advertising new titles in the past, so it was easy for them to get an image of the show.

Mori: I can imagine that the burden of the shooting the special programs was quite large. What was ABEMA's aim in deciding to go forward with this idea even with such a burden?

Yamazaki: We wanted to create an image of ABEMA being the best choice to share their work.
It may not have been a fun time with the whole society under pressure, but we wanted ABEMA to be the one to make a difference and deliver content at such times.
We did our best to deliver the appeal of the titles to the fans who were looking forward to the anime events like “Anime Japan 2020”.

Mori: How do you feel now that the broadcast has finished?

Yamazaki: We received many reactions from the viewers and were glad that there were many articles about it.
ABEMA usually peaks in viewers in the New Year holidays, Golden Week, and Obon period. The 48-hour special had almost the same number of viewers as the New Year holiday specials.

Thanks to being able to take on some titles that are usually difficult to broadcast exclusively, we had people who hadn't been watching ABEMA come to see the show.

Also, I believe the anime productions got an image of what kind of show they can make by teaming up with ABEMA.
Today, the productions can broadcast their original shows through YouTube, etc., but I'm sure they had realized the advantages of working with ABEMA to expand possibilities and provide more in-depth content.
Since the effects of the coronavirus are likely to be prolonged, we want to stay flexible and do what we can even in such times.

Mori: Can we look forward to more of these anime specials?

Yamazaki: We're inclined to take on the challenge. ABEMA used to do live broadcasting of events, so I think we can be of help for crowdless live performances.
We already have a system to return the profits to the organizers from cheering functions such as online tipping.
I'm sure many are struggling with hosting events, I'm looking forward to helping them.

Mori: It would be interesting if we could tip online to support our favorite anime.

Yamazaki: We call it the “cheering function”, but since the anime industry isn't accustomed to online tipping, we're thinking of using it case-by-case.
With so many titles being delayed and going through a difficult time, online tipping could become a means to support them. We believe by combining ABEMA's functions with the works' intentions, we will be able to make new approaches. We are already working towards it.

Mori: Anime!Anime! has also hosted casual events at venues with voice actors.

When one of the voice actors asked, “Who'll buy me a glass of beer?!” the fans start raising their hands. It's just like giving tips to street performers. I was amazed by the enthusiasm of the fans.

■Creating an ABEMA original title
Mori: The Japanese market is growing rapidly, and casual fans are increasing in number along with the hardcore fans. What is ABEMA's approach toward the diversifying fan base?

Yamazaki: ABEMA is aiming to create original hit IPs and work on commercialization and other anime related businesses. We want to handle all aspects of the creation, from creation, dissemination, to monetization.
I understand it's not going to be easy to create a blockbuster like “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba”, but that doesn't stop me as a media operator to aim for that goal.

We are working towards building a solid system, including related businesses so that someday, we can release a title that captures the hearts of both hardcore fans and casual fans, and become a social phenomenon.
If we could successfully put together the resources of our company, such as casting and marketing, we can widen the range of our activities. Especially developing games is one of CA Group's strong areas.

Of course, ABEMA is also a platform for expanding the anime market, and our work with the other titles are important to us.
We will take on any challenge to spread the appeal of anime.

Mori: Not only anime, but the entire Japanese entertainment business is going through a period of transition. Having a diversified approach is important.
What is your view of the future of Japanese entertainment?

Yamazaki: While user-generated content on YouTube, etc. will continue to grow, I think the number of platforms run by professionals will be narrowed down.
Right now, people gather where something interesting is going on. Coming next will be a careful selection of the many platforms that have popped up all over.

ABEMA will continue to create professional content, especially the “simple and interesting” ones.
We want to be the platform chosen by the fans even as the times change.

Mori: For now, your work is developing inside of Japan. Do you have plans of reaching out overseas?

Yamazaki: ABEMA is available worldwide except for some areas, but the content is mostly targeted for the Japanse viewers living abroad.
We do have plans to create content in foreign languages, but the procedures regarding licenses are difficult, especially for anime.

First, we will build up our achievements in the country, expanding overseas will be our next goal.

Mori: I've become much more excited about the future activities of ABEMA. Lastly, could you give our readers a message?

Yamazaki: Reaching our 4th anniversary, we intend to broadcast our programs in all directions than ever before.
In addition to being the fastest to air the latest anime, we will also grow as a platform where people can find interesting titles.
If you haven't watched ABEMA in a while, we hope you will take the time to check out ABEMA.

We also have plans for holding events of our original programs like “Say You to Yoasobi” so that people can enjoy our channel from various angles. Please look forward to our future activities on the ABEMA anime channel.