No longer content to languish in the DVD aisles (and with extra capital from new parentco Navarre burning a big hole in its pocket), FUNimation Entertainment is launching its own 24-hour digital network to showcase anime culled from its extensive catalogue. Cable distributor OlympuSAT has already been recruited to sign up carriers for the new channel, and FUNimation president and CEO Gen Fukunaga says he’d like to see it on-air by year’s end. The plan is to sell the net as part of both basic and extended digital packages.
Having spent the last 11 years building up its DVD library, FUNimation has close to 1,000 hours of content from which to cherrypick, including titles such as Case Closed, Kiddy Grade, Tenchi Muyo! and Fruits Basket. The company is also on the verge of signing a deal with an undisclosed Japanese prodco for five more series.
Fukunaga plans to pack the net’s initial schedule with shows that aren’t airing anywhere else in North America, but he’s also in the process of approaching FUNimation’s existing broadcast partners to discuss the possibility of sharing windows.
FUNimation isn’t the only anime player on the U.S. dial right now; ADV Films runs a 24-hour Anime Network, but it’s largely distributed as a video-on-demand channel via providers including Comcast. FUNimation isn’t ruling VOD out entirely, but Fukunaga says the new stream just doesn’t offer a viable enough revenue model yet.
The official target demo for The FUNimation Channel is ages 12 and up, and every program will be at least as neutral as a PG rating. But Fukunaga still expects to draw a good-sized audience of boys six to 12, who tend to be hard-core anime fans. Series will get edgier as the network heads into late night, but during the day, FUNimation is aiming to program for family co-viewing. Fukunaga adds that PG-rated series are often difficult to sell in the U.S. market because of an underlying philosophy that kids channels should only air them late at night. ‘We feel that society has moved past that mindset, but the TV world is still stuck there,’ he says.
Case Closed, as one example, tells the story of a little boy detective and aired as part of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block until recently; but in Japan, it was broadcast as a prime-time family show.