September 12, 2020
As this year’s Festival of Licensing quickly approaches, speakers are preparing to give their best to the licensing community through the virtual event. Two of those speakers, John Leonhardt and Waell Oueslati, are from Crunchyroll, a distributor, publisher and licensing company focused on streaming anime, manga and dorama.
We caught up with Leonhardt and Oueslati ahead of the Festival of Licensing to discuss Crunchyroll, its place in the licensing industry, their individual experiences in licensing and more.
For those who don't already know who you are, who are you and how do you fit into the licensing industry?
Leonhardt: I’m John Leonhardt and I’m the head of consumer products at Crunchyroll, the world’s best home for anime. Crunchyroll currently manages all-rights for more than 350 anime titles, working with more than 100 global licensees to provide anime fans with the best lifestyle, fashion and home goods products from their favorite series.
Oueslati: I’m Waell Oueslati and I’m the head of the Licensing department at Crunchyroll EMEA formerly known as VIZ Media Europe. I’ve been working in the licensing industry for more than 10 years exclusively on Japanese content, either animation or publishing. Our branch handles the video and merchandising rights for Crunchyroll’s worldwide catalog in the EMEA region.
How does anime fit into the licensing industry, and how does it differ from other entertainment properties?
JL: Anime is an incredible storytelling medium that crosses many genres including sci-fi, sports, thriller, adventure, action, romance and more. There is truly an anime for everything. While anime can be a distinctly grown up medium, there are also a multitude of family-friendly offerings as well.
WO: Anime continues to grow in popularity all over the world. We see anime’s evolution from a very niche genre to a pop culture sensation as one of the most fascinating case studies in modern branding history. Anime is a very specific category as it speaks to a plethora of audiences including boys, girls, kids, teens, adults, and also so many genres whether it is action, drama, comedy, sports, etc.
What is the current biggest trend of industry disruption that you see due to the pandemic, and what’s the biggest industry disruption you see on the horizon that would have happened regardless?
JL: The disruption of retail during the pandemic has been a painful one, but this has underscored the need to build a direct to consumer relationship. That said, the need for a DTC offering has always been an inevitable outcome, as the world becomes increasingly digital. Thankfully for Crunchyroll, we’ve always been a digital-first company, and through the operation of our direct to consumer Crunchyroll Store, we’ve been able to keep pace with many of this year’s curveballs.
WO: The licensing business being driven by product and experiences. I think the pandemic has seriously disrupted some of the planned strategies for 2020/2021 – leaving licensing and retail businesses particularly exposed. This disruption pushes us and our partners to explore a number of new creative options to enable the same experiences online or virtually. This change was actually predictable and already ongoing, but let’s say that the world situation we’re all facing today has accelerated the process.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to the beginning of your career, and what advice would you give newcomers now?
JL: First of all, try to identify what you are good at so that you can distinguish yourself early in your career. Building a strong reputation early will give you the freedom to pursue the areas you are interested in at a higher level with more impact. Also, it is never too early to start networking and building on that network. A strong network will expand your career opportunities and may lead to finding a mentor. Lastly, know that your first job does not define you or determine your trajectory – your first job is the starting point.
WO: Be more creative and aware of the upcoming trends. There are so many good brands out there, but most of them are exploited in a very similar way. So, to a newcomer, I would say use your youth as an advantage to come up with new and fresh ideas.
What do you see as the most beneficial habit those in the licensing industry should implement while working from home or at an emptier office?
JL: Finding ways to stay connected with your team. Things move quick here at Crunchyroll and using Zoom for all of our meetings has allowed us to feel like we’re all still in the same office, and not miss a beat in staying aligned and keeping things moving forward. Also, since we no longer have access to a break room, walking the halls or having lunch, you need to be intentional even about casual encounters. So try to “schedule” some casual time and stay in touch with colleagues outside of your department.
WO: This would apply to all the people working, not only licensing, stay connected as much as you can with people, whether by phone or otherwise. Working is connecting with people, especially in our globalized industry.
What do you hope people who listen to your speech get out of it?
WO: Anime is more mainstream than ever and has a lot to bring to the industry and the fans around the world. Crunchyroll is the leader in the genre today, so I hope that people will understand the value of anime and the work that Crunchyroll did to elevate the medium.
JL: I’ll be speaking twice, first with my colleague Waell to introduce Crunchyroll and our capabilities worldwide. My second conversation will be more of a deep dive into the world of anime for the licensing community. Through these conversations, I hope people walk away with a better understanding of anime’s power and place within pop culture, and an appreciation that the growth of this medium is not slowing down!
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
JL: While COVID has had a major impact on licensing globally, I believe that some of the changes we have had to make could have a lasting positive impact on our industry. For example, during COVID approvals of products have shifted from physical samples to digital samples. Also, while we are all looking forward to getting back to in-person conventions, the virtual aspects of conventions have improved greatly and will probably always be a feature of events going forward. If you attend Virtual Crunchyroll Expo, you will know what I mean.
Both Leonhardt and Oueslati will be speaking at Festival of Licensing, a month-long large-scale digital gathering that unites the global licensing industry to connect, learn, strike deals and do business on an international stage. The event takes place Oct. 6-29. Register for free now!
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