Japanese animation fans will soon get a fix of their favourite programmes around the clock, with the launch this month of Animax Asia, the region's first 24-hour Japanese animation channel.
Three separate broadcast feeds, for Taiwan, Hong Kong and south-east Asia, will serve up a diet of animated films and series to an audience of young adults.
Todd Miller, the managing director for AXN, Animax and SVP in Asia at Sony Pictures Television International, says Asia's fascination with all things Japanese began with comics and Japanese music as early as the 60s. The love affair with animation came later as anime became more mainstream in the mid-90s with the Pokemon phenomenon.
More recently, the Japanese animated feature film Spirited Away captivated audiences across the globe .
"The genre of anime in Asia is very strong and there is widespread demand for it. And now the evolution of pay-TV in Asia allows us to meet this demand," he says.
Animax Asia follows the launch of the original Animax channel in Japan in mid-June. Animax Japan has since become one of the country's most popular cable and satellite networks, viewed in four million homes. "In Japan, Animax is a general entertainment channel appealing to children and adults, male and female. It's not dependent on just one demographic," Miller says.
There will be four distinct programming strands or day parts. The first will target seven- to 12-year-old children with fun and educational content. The bulk of the programming will be aimed at young adults, while another range of programmes will be for older adults. Late-night viewing will be for the most serious, hardcore anime fans.
Some programming will be dubbed into viewers' local language (Mandarin for Taiwan, Cantonese for Hong Kong and English for south-east Asia, which will cover the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand).
The rest will be in Japanese.
The drive for ad revenue has not yet begun; a rate card is not even available.
"Our view is that once you've established distribution and viewership, the ad dollars will follow, so for us the focus is very much on creating a compelling service. Shortly after launch we'll be commencing an advertising initiative," Miller says.
Advertisers are expected to come from the FMCG categories and span consumer electronics and fashion. There will be some overlap of viewers and advertisers between Animax and AXN, which carries about 30 hours a week of anime, but Sony does not foresee one stealing revenue from the other and will use both channels for cross-promotion, especially in the lead-up to Animax's Asia launch.
Other marketing activity will include microsites for anime fans in each target market, where competitions and online forums will allow people to discuss programmes. Events such as the recent anime festival in Malaysia will give fans a chance to meet the animators and attend special screenings.
Whether Animax or, indeed, any Japanese anime expands beyond Asia is a question for the longer term. Miller says that while Pokemon helped draw world attention to anime, it remains "more niche" in the west. He doesn't discount an eventual expansion into Europe or the US, but says: "It's much further down the line."
Owner: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Format: 24-hour Japanese animation
Advertisers on Animax Japan include: Vodafone, Procter & Gamble, Pokka
drinks, Sony Music, Toyota, Meiji confectionary
Ad rate: Not yet announced
Rivals: No direct rivals. Indirect competition from AXN, MTV and Channel