Many lament the creative bankruptcy of Western media as of late. Original ideas seem lost among remakes, reboots, and reimaginings. There are a number of factors that contribute to this, but one counterintuitive factor that sets Western media apart from anime is the production committee business model used by anime.
A production committee is a group of companies that comes together to fund and plan an anime before hiring an anime studio to create the anime proper. They usually consist of many different types of companies, from publishers to merchandisers to TV stations, and many companies inbetween.
Most late-night anime (as opposed to long-running daytime anime like Sazae-san) use the production committee business model in their creation, as they are often initially created as long-form advertisements for the source material, the manga, light novel, or game that the anime is based off of.
While anime fans often bemoan the heavily corporate nature of the production committee model and dismiss it as business interfering with art, that’s a simplistic view that fails to fully understand the purpose of the business model.
The reason committees consist of so many companies is not only to bring companies with different specialties in, making the media mix easier to achieve, but to distribute risk amongst many companies.
When the Japanese bubble economy of the 1980s burst, anime was one of the many markets to feel the squeeze. Gone was all the extra money, the likes of which had gone into creating the many OVAs that marked the late ‘80s as an era of anime.
As a market, however, otaku goods was still not only viable, but on the rise, even as almost every other sector of the Japanese economy declined. Gone, however, was the era of abundant ad revenue letting TV stations pay studios to broadcast anime they produce. Too much risk.
The anime industry was presented with a dilemma: We want to make more anime to take advantage of the growing market, but how can we do that if it’s too risky for single companies to pay for production?
The solution: Get multiple companies to invest in an anime’s production. The more companies invested, the more distributed the risk. And the more distributed the risk, the less risky it is for any single company to invest more money into the production. Add to that the “media mix” business model of having multiple works of media surrounding one property and you end up with a solid, sustainable method of funding future anime productions.
What’s more important, however, is that the production committee business model saved anime from creative stagnation. People could take risks with anime without being worried about potentially losing a ton of money by not following a trend. While people bemoan production committees for mixing business into art, they probably have that business model to thank for allowing some of their favorite anime to exist in the first place.