Having just pulled off a tricky transformation from VOD channel to 24/7 linear outlet in September, there’s bound to be a lot of grinning and back-slapping going on at Houston, Texas-based Anime Network these days.
But Stacy Slanina is trying not to get caught up in the celebration because ID’ing what the channel’s audience wants and filling those holes is serious business 365 days of the year. The Anime Network’s director of programming and operations is on the front line of acquiring and scheduling content, and her current goal is to fill in around a core library of 5,000-plus hours from all the usual suspects, including ADV Films, Geneon Entertainment, Warner Bros. and Bandai.
With the building blocks of the schedule in place, Slanina is looking back to anime’s pioneering days for new material. ‘We are looking for classic titles,’ she says. ‘Although it has already been licensed [by DIC Entertainment], Speed Racer would be a good acquisition in the future,’ because it hits a double demo of adults who are nostalgic about the genre’s heyday and kids who are discovering anime’s masterpieces for the first time.
Slanina usually acquires between 15 and 25 series a year, picking up the bulk of them in Q3 and Q4 to help forecast scheduling. But she constantly has an eye out for high-potential projects because her sked is flexible enough that it can always be reshuffled to accommodate something that’s got a little heat behind it.
In terms of format, half-hours make up most of the lineup, but Slanina is also interested in longer-form features or mini-series, as well as shorts for side ventures such as the mobile channel Anime Network runs on Sprint TV. Besides classics, Slanina is also keeping her eyes peeled for high-quality series based on video game properties and robots, as well as programming that showcases Japanese pop culture, including animated takes on reality TV and romantic-tinged shows for the increasingly important female demo.
In fact, internal Anime Network research indicates that the channel’s fastest-growing audience is girls, which was the driving motivation behind launching a three-hour Girl Power Block on Wednesday nights last year. The formula that seems to best appeal to female anime fans is empowering shows with protagonists who stay strong as they face common growing-up issues. For example, Girl Power’s anchor series is ADV Films’ Best Student Council, in which an all-girl student government works to keep the school safe from evil. ‘It’s fantasy-based, a little over-the-top, and a little extreme,’ says Slanina. Rounding out the block are Bee Train/ADV Films’ Spy Girls Noir and Studio Deen’s musical Gravitational, about an all-girl rock band.
In terms of penetration, Anime Network has experienced a 233% distribution increase in under three years, thanks to deals with service providers Time Warner, Comcast and Cablevision. The VOD component now reaches 95% of all VOD-enabled households in North America, and all tolled, 40 million homes in North America can dial the channel up with a touch of a button.
On the linear side of things, recent carriage deals with Harron Communications and Wide Open West, along with more than a dozen other service providers, have made the net a viable player in the broadcast landscape for animated programming. Although the linear channel hasn’t been rated by Nielsen yet, the VOD service has consistently generated more than two million monthly impressions or downloads since its launch in 2002, more than 65% of which are triggered by the 12 to 16 demo.