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Dentsu Content Business Design Center

Content creation is not a new or secondary business at Dentsu. Rather, it is at the heart of Dentsu’s heritage and identity inside its Japan office and around the world. Dentsu’s ability to create original content fundamentally differentiates the Company from its global competitors. Dentsu produces content that people want to watch and advertisers want participate in, such as movies and sporting events.

Like most things, Dentsu’s content business began because of a need, Keiichi Yoshizaki, managing director of Dentsu’s Content Business Design Center (CBDC) explains. “In the early days of Japanese television, the only content available was news and sports. As unbelievable as it sounds now, TV was widely viewed as a medium for broadcasting facts, not original entertainment. Radio and newspapers were widely viewed as more substantive forms of communication and entertainment than TV”.

For TV to have a future, and for Dentsu’s clients to spend money on buying television media, its content had to capture people’s imagination and connect to popular culture. So Dentsu produced one of the first variety shows for Japanese TV, Shabondama Holiday (shabondama means “soap bubbles” in Japanese). After that, the power and influence of TV media changed.

In the past, the content business itself was a lot like flipping a coin: sometimes you would succeed and sometimes not. “Today, CBDC generates approximately 70% of its revenues from our own investments, ” says Yoshizaki. Advertising agencies earn revenues from clients, but CBDC generates a large proportion of its revenues from investments. The content business involves financial risk, but the emergence of new media platforms such as Netflix have caused the business model to change. As a consequence, in some cases the content provider is at an advantage, and there are ways of reducing the risk associated with investing in content.

“Our ability to invest in intellitual property (IP) and our own ideas separates us from ordinary agencies where content is designed to promote a client’s product or brand.”

Dentsu Content Business Design Center

Keiichi Yoshizaki, Managing Director of the Content Business Design Center, Dentsu

CBDC is currently seeking opportunities to collaborate more closely with Dentsu’s advertising clients. For example, when a company creates blockbuster content, Dentsu could potentially use this content to develop secondary businesses like toys, fashion or even resorts. From these secondary businesses, Dentsu is able to introduce the company’s content to advertisers. “We think the ability to create an ecosystem between content holders and Dentsu clients is an important opportunity for us and our industry,” says Yoshizaki.

An example of a content ecosystem created by Dentsu is AKB48 (Japanese idol girl group)

Dentsu Content Business Design Center

Before AKB48, only television stations, record companies and talent promotion agencies produced “idols;” due to the overwhelming power of television as a medium, there was no room for an advertising agency to enter the business. However, an altogether new idea occurred to Yasushi Akimoto, an executive producer: why not produce idols who would mainly perform live in theaters?
This idea was a forerunner of the current music business, in which live performances are a key source of revenues. At the time of AKB48’s launch, though, its success was far from guaranteed. Dentsu decided to partner with Akimoto, providing backing for the business of creating a new type of performers’ organization that involved clients.

For AKB48, Akimoto started a theater in Akihabara where he also created new teen idols just as digital media was gaining ground.

Dentsu Content Business Design Center

At the theater in Akihabara, fans would have a point of contact where they could meet their idols in person. AKB48 debuted in December 2005. At that time, one of Dentsu’s clients, a leading Japanese mobile service provider, wanted to popularize videophones. Based on this request, in January 2016 Dentsu proposed the idea of broadcasting a drama featuring an advertising agency. As part of the program’s planning, second-year AKB48 members used videophones when auditioning for the drama. This tie-up with the mobile provider was the first major sponsorship for AKB48. It boosted recognition of the group, and spurred it on to popularity.

As Shabondama Holiday helped popularize TV in its early days, AKB48 helped popularize videophones in its formative years. The mobile service provider quickly saw its videophones profits increase with the idol group. Dentsu learned, before other agencies, that videophones was a media channel with a potential for massive growth (and profits).

The work of CBDC is different than other parts of Dentsu, as well as other advertising agencies. Yoshizaki notes, “We decided we should create ‘real’ contents first and then invite brands to join in. In order for content to be successful, creators need to have the right distance from brands. Frankly, I think a lot of agencies would like to approach content this way. Dentsu is objectively more advanced than competitors in its ability to attract creators and distribute content than its competitors.”

For example, Keishi Ohtomo, one of the most successful film directors in Japan, has created a private planning and production company with Dentsu. Ohtomo has produced internationally acclaimed distributed films like Rurôni Kenshin.

This new company will produce Ohtomo’s content and will also promote his content globally. Otomo expects Dentsu to connect his content with brands through this joint venture.

Creators gained confidence in Dentsu as they worked together to produce a TV miniseries adaptation of Hibana, a Japanese novel written by Naoki Matayoshi, which won a number of prestigious literary awards in Japan. When Dentsu’s clients learned that it was producing Hibana for Netflix, they suddenly became interested in having the miniseries become a global platform for product placements.

Netflix and Dentsu’s clients made a good bet. Hibana was successful on Netflix and approximately 50% of the film’s viewers were from outside Japan.

For Yoshizaki, marketing-driven contents is based on research of past or present performance. “In the digital era, we can understand the reality in front of us clearly. To make successful content, we have to ask these creators to use their imagination to make something about the ‘further future.’ In this way, the content has to be even more persuasive.”

CBDC has many groups of talented individual: a film and TV program section; an animation section; a section that produces musical content; idols; and a section that produces Hollywood films. CBDC is also involved in the integrated resorts business.

Another reason why this part of Dentsu is special is that the company not only collaborates with top creators, but some of its employees are also top creators in the entertainment industry. For example, one of Dentsu’s CM Planner, Makoto Nagahisa, also a film director recently won the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Dentsu Content Business Design Center

A scene from the award winning short film ‘And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool’

Dentsu Content Business Design Center

Makoto Nagahisa expressing his pleasure when receiving the prize

While Nagahisa had offers from France’s Canal + and Fox Entertainment, he chose to continue his work at Dentsu rather than being independent. His choice to remain at the company, even after attaining international recognition, speaks to the quality of the creative opportunities he and other exceptional talents can access by working with Dentsu.

For many clients, advertising and marketing departments are viewed as cost centers. The reason is that these departments are limited to the ability to provide up-front explanations. For the most part, advertising clients call for production when costs can be rationalized in a branding or marketing context. This is one reason why advertising is becoming less attractive to top creators. “If the global creative talent feel that they cannot do their best work with advertising agencies, our industry as a whole loses its ability to remain competitive,” explains Yoshizaki. “We feel that the advertising business can be more creative and exciting.”

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