“We need insights we can use that are tangible and reliable,” said Artie Bulgrin, ESPN’s senior VP-research and analytics. “The industry lacks a robust, reliable and accurate measurement system for cross-media usage — a source we can all use to know how many Americans use both TV and internet, when they do and for how long. Or how many American on a daily basis use TV, internet and mobile devices. Or how many Americans use their mobile devices exclusively for web access (no PC). So step one is we need fundamental information on consumer behavior.”
Look out Nielsen.
Ponyo is Hayao Miyazaki’s latest “animé” release following a string of acclaimed cartoons that had limited success in America.
In his native Japan Miyazaki enjoys widespread critical and popular acclaim for his exquisitely animated films, which take viewers into surreal alternative worlds of shape-shifting dragons and floating castles. My roommate in Tokyo loved each one and even has all the DVDs.
But while he is a superstar at home in Japan as the master of animé, the director has struggled to capture the public imagination in the US.
Miyazaki’s hopes for a breakthrough in the biggest movie market in the world now rest with Ponyo, the tale of a playful goldfish who longs to be a little girl, released by Disney in the US this weekend.
Positive reviews of his previous work have failed to prompt more than a lukewarm response from moviegoers in North America. In 2003, the year his Spirited Away won an Oscar for best animated film, box office sales in the US and Canada reached a modest $10m, compared with $356m in the rest of the world. The pattern was repeated two years later with Howl’s Moving Castle, which made $4.7m in North America but $230m elsewhere. I actually liked that one.
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Ponyo earned $160m in Japan and sealed Miyazaki’s reputation as the country’s foremost living director.
After sneaking away from her underwater home, Ponyo befriends Sosuke, a five-year-old boy who lives in a cottage overlooking the coast, and her transformation into a human begins.
While much of the film’s charm hinges on its fanciful storyline and impeccable production values, there is room for consideration of the weighty theme of environmental destruction as the plot takes a darker turn.
Chastened, perhaps, by past disappointments, Miyazki, 68, has taken no risks in preparing for Ponyo’s US release in partnership with the Pixar and Disney creative guru John Lasseter.
Audiences will be treated to an English-language original produced by Lasseter, the wizard behind Toy Story and Cars. In an attempt to broaden the film’s appeal the makers have recruited an all-star cast of character voices including Liam Neeson, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett. This should help.
The inclusion of Frankie Jonas, the younger brother of the Jonas Brothers, as Sosuke, and Noah Cyrus, the younger sister of Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus as Ponyo, should help attract the youth market.
Miyazaki’s ability to tap into a child’s fevered imagination, coupled with his richly colorful, hand-drawn frames, have been rewarded with almost universal critical acclaim in Japan and huge earnings for his Studio Ghibli, near Tokyo.
Experts say he deserves more credit for his record in the US. The US box office figures aren’t great compared with Pixar and Disney, but compared with other Japanese films in the States they didn’t do badly.
Few Japanese movies have traveled well in the US in the past 30 years, with the notable exceptions of Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985), Shall We Dance (Masayuki Suo, 1996) and Dreams (Akira Kurosawa, 1990).
Despite his lower profile in the US, Miyazaki, instantly recognizable from his shock of white hair, has been nicknamed the Japanese Walt Disney, a comparison he is said to find discomfiting.
In the US it has received mixed reviews. The film critic Christy Lemire suggested it would appeal most to children under five and adults on hallucinogenic drugs.
For everyone else, Lemire said: “Ponyo will seem beautiful but surprisingly boring: a children’s film that’s at once overly simplistic and needlessly nonsensical.” Wow that was harsh but I get her point…it is very “Japanese” in style.
The New York-based film critic Ethan Alter was more generous. “If you have never seen a Miyazaki film before, now’s a great time to start.”
When it came out in Tokyo last year the theme song drove me and all of my friends crazy!
Since the 1950s, Topps has sold baseball trading cards filled with photos and stats, bringing the game to life. Now the company is bringing its cards to life.Consumers will be able to activate baseball cards with an Augmented Reality feature at the Toppstown Web site.
Beginning this year, collectors who hold a special Topps 3D Live baseball card in front of a webcam will see a three-dimensional avatar of the player on the computer screen. Rotate the card, and the figure rotates in full perspective. It’s called “augmented reality,” a combination of a real image with a virtual one.
“This is the ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ version of a baseball card that will get kids to buy more. We see this baseball season as a redefining moment for us,” said Steve Grimes, chief digital officer at Topps.
Topps needs to augment reality because baseball cards are struggling in the Internet age. Today’s collectors, most of whom are still boys, can just as easily and less expensively find the sports facts they want online.
While once a $1 billion business, the market for sports trading cards has shrunk to $200 million in yearly revenue today, according to information provided by Major League Baseball Properties in a recent lawsuit against a former card licensee. (The players’ association licenses the right to use players’ likenesses.)
The baseball card business is dominated by Topps, based in New York, and Upper Deck, based in Carlsbad, Calif. According to Chris Olds, editor of Beckett Baseball, a card collectors’ publication, Topps has the edge. “When people think baseball cards, they think of Topps,” he said.
Michael Eisner, the former chief of Walt Disney, did too, and in 2007 his Tornante Company and Madison Dearborn Partners bought Topps for $385 million. They hatched big plans to make trading cards relevant again.
Total Immersion, a French company, brought Topps the augmented reality technology. It has already been used in a theme park and for some auto design work. Using the technology, card collectors see a three-dimensional version of a player and can play elementary pitching, batting and catching games using the computer keyboard.
Mr. Eisner said Topps expected to ship 10 million packs of Series 1 (12 cards for $2) and Topps Attax cards this year (5 for $1). Scott Kelnhofer, editor of Card Trade, an industry publication, says the Total Immersion technology could strike a chord with boys. “This is the boldest technology idea we’ve seen in sports cards so far. The key is not to have it be a novelty and then it’s on to the next one.”
Mr. Eisner says he does not see Topps as a trading card business. “I see it as a cultural, iconic institution not that different from Disney; it conjures up an emotional response that has a feel good, Proustian kind of uplift,” he said.
Mr. Eisner has also created Back on Topps, a 17-episode Internet comedy that spoofs his acquisition of the company. He is developing a movie based on another of the company’s products, Bazooka Joe bubble gum. He also wants to create sports films.
Topps and Upper Deck already drive collectors to the Web by inserting special cards with unique codes in the packs. Entering the codes at Toppstown.com or UpperDeckU.com allows fans to create avatars, trade virtual cards and enter virtual worlds and interact with other visitors.
On deck: virtual cards that “come alive and contain video,” said Louise Curcio, vice president for marketing at Upper Deck.
For Mr. Eisner, the Topps 3D Live cards are a natural extension of the brand. “We take technology as our friend,” he said. “The playing card is the beginning, not the end.”