Japanese toon market down again

Animated media drops for second year in a row

TOKYO — Japan’s domestic toon market, including pics, TV shows and DVDs, has declined for the second year in a row, according to a study by private media think tank the Media Development Research Institute.

After taking a record $2.54 billion in 2006, the local toon market fell to $2.24 billion in 2008. This number includes both domestic and foreign toons.

The drop occurred despite the 2008 release of Hayao Miyazaki’s smash hit “Ponyo,” which earned $163 million domestically, making it the year’s top box office earner. But the number of toon releases that exceeded 1 billion yen ($10.5 million) — the traditional mark of a hit in Japan — fell, while foreign toons failed to take up the slack.

On TV, the number of toon shows has been slipping for some time, a trend not helped by the recession, which reduced sponsor enthusiasm for new shows. Cable and satellite strands have been adding toons to their skeds, but overall growth in this sector has been slow.

The DVD market is also in decline, falling 5.1% in 2008, according to the Japan Video Assn., with toons taking an especially hard hit. One reason, says MDRI researchers, is a drop in the number of rental shops; another is a recessionary chill on consumer spending.

The arrival of Blu-ray discs offers a ray of hope, but it remains to be seen whether the new format can pull the market out of its slump.

On the bright side, toon services for mobile phone users are starting to become a growth biz.

The MDRI report concludes, “We expect the market for the transmission of animation to mobile users to grow with the construction of a stable environment for watching animation on mobile devices.”

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