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Anime Key Player Interview #10
Ray Chiang, CEO of SPJA, organizers of an anime convention in USA, Anime Expo Part.2


Let’s talk about Anime Expo. Please tell us about the event.

Well, the way I see Anime Expo is that we’re a platform. We’re here to promote the industry, to really bridge Japan and the United States, to bring new content, the best for the fans in the United States. That’s part of our mission, to support the industry, and it translates to the fan experience. It’s like a circle of life; if the fans want it, and we bridge that gap, it’s a cycle of life so that the industry thrives and continues to thrive. That’s my concept of Anime Expo. A platform for the Japanese industry, what they want to promote and market to come in so that we can introduce that to the US fans.

When did the event start?

The Anime Expo started as a club in 1991 and the following year it became Anime Expo. I don’t have much info on the history because I wasn’t there in person, but I know it started many years ago back in the early ‘90s in the Northern California area, and it migrated down to Southern California and now Anime Expo’s home is in LA.

We know that SPJA, a non-profit organization runs Anime Expo. Could you tell us more about the organization?

SPJA is founded by fans and since the early ‘90s the model hasn’t changed that much; we‘re based on volunteers, on running the event and making the event successful. Being a non- profit, it’s mutually beneficial, because our mission is to promote Japanese pop culture and animation and we kept it that way. We consist of approximately 30 employees that we employ all year round to run SPJA, including myself, the staff here and those back at the office. For our flagship event which is Anime Expo, we have about 1,500 to 1,700 volunteers to run the show, and that’s not just on-site. The volunteers start planning and organizing three to six months before the show.

That’s so many!

There’s a lot of them and they’re so passionate. The average duration our volunteers stay with us is three to five years or more. We have veterans who’ve been with us for 15 to 20 years as well.

What are the pros and cons of being a non-profit organization?

I can’t speak much about pros on the business side because I’m not a CPA but I’m sure there are advantages in terms of tax, but mainly it’s about maintaining the status. I have this saying in the office that “I’m here to improve the company; I’m not here to change the status.” If it was founded as non-profit, it’s going to remain like that. At the end of the day, we’re here to improve and support it. We want to maintain that structure moving forward because in the future, there is going to be a new successor, and we want to continue that tradition as a non-profit.

What were the key points which helped Anime Expo grow into the largest anime event in North America?

My philosophy in running the company is - there are its people, a process, and a product. The product is already there: SPJA’s flagship event, Anime Expo. Having the right people in place, and the process, more on the administration stuff. The people are the talent that brings in, connects with the industry and the process, the paperwork in the office, making sure everything is systematic. That’s my philosophy in making the business grow.


How about Anime Expo’s “secret sauce” to success?

No comment (laughs). There’s no secret. It’s bringing the best of the best to our show. The internal team has helped curate the contents and the programs whether it’s exclusives, whether it’s concerts, whether it’s industry partners and things they want to promote. They curate it to help that industry partner come in and have it at our flagship event. That’s our “secret sauce.” My staff ask me what’s the vision and what are goals for this year’s event, and it’s like “to have the best: the best exclusives, the best premieres, the best talents, the best whatever the industry is doing that they want to promote. Let’s get that and support them by getting them into Anime Expo. That is just hard work and go find it. Go figure out what’s out there. It’s not really a secret. That’s why some of our team are here in Japan twice a year to make sure we touch bases and build that relationship. Also user experience. We want to provide what the fans wants. It’s an experience they look forward to all year long so we match them with the business.

Anime Expo has a lot of contents. Which content is most popular and gathers the most people?

Everything. The exhibition hall is always one of the most popular sections, where our industry exhibitors come out with their new items or merchandise, or promote a certain title coming out that year. There’s just so much to do. My predecessors used to say that “this (Anime Expo) is like Disneyland or Disney World, where you go to our show, and there are just so many things to do. I’d be frank with you, I haven’t personally experienced everything because there’s so many things going on at our show: cosplay gatherings, interactive halls, multiple concerts, multiple panels and premiere screenings. The list goes on and on, so there’s a lot to do, and they’re all popular. Each has a lot of people and a lot of fans.

What kind of anime or anisong do people prefer in the US?

At our show, there are titles that people enjoy every year such as Naruto, Bleach or One Piece. Those are titles that they always enjoy regardless of the new titles that come out. With digital distribution sites such as Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu and Netflix, we can actually see what’s in Japan in simulcast, so popular titles in Japan are simultaneously translated in US nowadays. There used to be a time lag in the past; titles are localized and introduced to the US market only after they are done in Japan so we were a season or two behind. With simulcasts now, Americans can enjoy the same content simultaneously. It helps our partners to sell their products when they create it in Japan because with the time lag in the past, it was difficult to sell merchandise. Now, you can make it here in Japan and bring it over to America.

Is the popularity same as it in Japan?

Yes, we see the world premieres, and we’re very lucky to have partners who would love to do the world premieres at Anime Expo. The US fans love the contents that haven’t been released in Japan, and when they’re released, they continue to support it. We’re really in sync nowadays. Technology has really helped.

Photo by: Keiko Tanabe

Next: Ray Ching Interview Part.3 will be published on 18 June, 2019!

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