StartupCloseup: Anime Network

Most people know anime through its most popular incarnations, such as PokŽmon and children's cartoons. But fewer know that it's a rich and varied art form that has grown from its roots in Japan to include not just kids' cartoons but also adult satire, science fiction, action-adventure, and martial arts animation.

Enter The Anime Network, a newly launched effort that is starting small but has big plans in the United States. Since its inception in 2001, the Houston-based subsidiary of AD Vision Inc. has been bubbling under the surface, and six months ago it was announced to much praise and interest from anime fans. In December, anime enthusiasts served by Comcast in the Philadelphia region were able to see the first fruits of the Anime Network: About 25 hours of free video-on-demand programming available to digital cable subscribers through a new service.

In the U.S., animation has primarily been relegated to children's entertainment. However, anime appeals as much to adults because it is highly creative and intensely serialized, with strong characters. "It's very, very sophisticated storytelling, with elaborate plots that twist and turn. Major characters die, which is not what happens much in American animation. [Anime] really rewards careful, consistent viewing. You want to see every episode," says Anime Network spokesman Andrew Nelson.

Anime also targets one of advertising's most desirable targets, the 12-to-30 market. It's heavily male Ñ as much as 70% Ñ and there are parallel interests in video games, music, and skateboarding. "These are pop-culture consumers with money to spend," Nelson says.

The network is so new that it's not clear where it will end up. There's a good chance that it will be a digitally delivered channel, although it could take other forms, such as the current video-on-demand, for example. It'll depend on the results of negotiations with MSOs. Nelson points to the success of anime blocks on The WB and the Cartoon Network as proof that there's an audience. "Anime has much more appeal than has so far been realized," he says.

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