by Paul Wiegard, CEO of Madman Entertainment — 4/11/2019
The Australian Copyright Council and the Copyright Society of Australia hosted the 19th Biennial Copyright Symposium in Sydney on October 23 and 24, bringing together leading copyright lawyers and rights holders to delve into this year’s theme: modernisation, creativity and innovation in the context of the Australian Copyright Act. Speakers from Australia and overseas came together to discuss the best way to balance the rights and interests of copyright creators and users in this ever-changing technological age.
I was asked to discuss our streaming VoD channels, AnimeLab, DocPlay, Garage and present a case study on how Madman responded to technological changes triggered by the internet. The AnimeLab platform (a project led by co-MD, Tim Anderson) provides a clear example of how rampant piracy negatively impacted the platform.
Madman’s first foray in Anime distribution was via VHS in the mid-nineties, piracy was uncommon beyond small numbers of fans trading subtitled videotapes and occasional importing of high-priced VHS from the UK / USA markets. Madman were early to market during the DVD and home entertainment boom of the early 2000s and that was when we felt the first impact of piracy. As Anime fandom grew, witnessed through surging numbers visiting the Anime Expo each year, which went from less than 20,000 in 2002 to more than 100,000 in 2016, sales declined as Anime piracy took hold.
We diversified our business to reduce our reliance on the shrinking physical media market, launching the AnimeLab platform in early 2015, prior to both Netflix and Stan’s Australian launches. AnimeLab runs on the VODLab platform which has been developed and supported in-house. We also made it a priority to connect to our fans through community events, creating unique and memorable experiences in the hope of positively encouraging them to support legal streaming.
With an evolving business model AnimeLab has had to continually innovate to offer a compelling service to our 1.5 million signed up users. AnimeLab provides access to 8000 episodes across 350 programmes, it offers fast-tracked content direct from Japan and access to the service across a wide range of devices and operating systems.
In December 2015 the infamous anime pirate site Kissanime went offline for two weeks leading to a 250% increase in content streams on AnimeLab. It was then we truly realised how much our efforts to build a thriving online platform were hampered and it gave us a taste of what could be achieved if access to pirate sites were reduced or restricted. And so, the team at Madman decided to join the siteblocking actions with other copyright owners in Australia.
Our first case commenced in July 2018 and obtained its verdict on December 23rd. Fifteen high profile anime pirate sites were blocked, and the result was immediate. AnimeLab traffic showed sustained growth throughout the following month with mobile registrations up 76% per day and free trials on the website up 95% per day compared to the pre-blocking period.
There is no doubt that siteblocking is an essential regulatory policy which offers an immediate outcome and allows our homegrown business to continue to innovate and serve Australian Anime fans, and for that matter, all fans.
But we believe there is still more to be done.
The ACCC correctly identified the limited role of online search and social media platforms in mitigating piracy. It recommended them to be subjected to a Mandatory Code under Authorisation Liability with the risk of serious fines if they are not compliant. And we think this is right. Today we can find exclusive Madman anime content which we have licensed to YouTube compete with illegal copies on the same website, around which YouTube generates advertising revenue in which we do not share. The platforms’ incentives are clearly not aligned with ours under the current policy settings. We encourage the Government to implement the ACCC’s recommendation.
About Paul Wiegard
Paul Wiegard is the Co-Founder of Madman Entertainment (Est 1996) a leading independent film distribution and rights management company, with offices in Australia and New Zealand. Home to more than 80 employees across all divisions, including theatrical sales, marketing, publicity, digital aggregation and agency distribution. Madman has investment shareholdings in local production companies and renowned for its commitment to quality Australian, foreign film and feature documentary content. Paul has Executive Producer credits on more than 15 feature and documentary films. In 2014, Madman launched AnimeLab, an anime Video on Demand service which has rapidly moved from “startup” to an industry leading platform with an impressive subscriber base of more than 1.5m signed up users. The world-class service, headed by co-Founder Tim Anderson continues Madman’s 20+ year history as an anime market leader in Australia & New Zealand. Over the past decade has distributed more than 15 Oscar nominated feature documentaries. On December 1, 2016 launched DocPlay, a specialised streaming service dedicated to curating a collection of the world’s best documentary content. Currently, President – Australian Independent Distributors Association (AIDA), Board Member of AHEDA and Australian Centre of The Moving Image (ACMI).