Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dr. Marc Hairston: Interview with an Otaku Professor

Before I interviewed Jonathan Clements, I had know to get in contact with him. I was introduced to Clements by Dr. Marc Hairston, a professor of astronomy at The University of Texas at Dallas, though he includes anime and manga among his expertise and occasionally helps teach literature classes that focus on the topic of anime. He is also the advisor to UTD's anime club, SPOON, which I am currently the president of.

Are you familiar with regional lockout or region codes?

Yes, I've known about them since DVDs first came out in the 90s.

Do you own DVDs? About how many (approximate)? What genres do you prefer?

Like Jonathan said, I've lost count, but I'm sure he's ahead of me. I have over 500, but all of them are domestic other than about 30+ Japanese ones I have.

Do you own video games? About how many (approximate)? What genres do you prefer?

My son plays with a Wii. I'm so old school that the last computer game I played was an interactive text game back in the late 80s on an Amiga computer. I do admit to having Angry Birds on my iPhone.

Do you import DVDs or video games? About how much of your collection? From what countries?

Like I said, I have about 30 to 40 DVDs that I've imported from Japan, plus a handful of ones from Britain and Brazil and Mexico.

Have you had trouble getting foreign DVDs or games to play?

Back about 1999 I bought an all-region DVD player (for about twice the cost of a regular DVD player) just so I could watch the Japanese DVDs I was getting. I never had any trouble getting
the Japanese ones to play on it, but the British ones were PAL, so the TV couldn't handle the signal.

How do you usually get around regional lockout?

In addition to the DVD player, I ended up buying an extra DVD player-burner for my computer and set it to region 2 (Japan and Britain) and kept the internal DVD reader set to region 1. That's how I was finally able to watch the PAL DVDs from Britain.

Of course there's always the gray area of watching fansubs that are posted on-line.

What is your general opinion of regional lockout? Should it continue or be removed?

The lockout was developed by Hollywood lawyers back in the 90s when movies were released over a period of 12 months throughout the world. What they didn't want was for "Blockbuster A" to come out in the US in June and then be released on DVD six months later when it still hasn't come out in Japan and Australia and South America yet. The home DVDs would arrive by import in those places before the theatrical release did. Since then big films tend to be released worldwide within about month so this is not an issue (at least for the blockbuster films). I liked Jonathan's comment about anime being able to afford music if they buy just the Japanese rights but couldn't if they had to pay for the worldwide rights so that's one of the few positive side effects of region coding. But with distribution over the internet becoming the primary means of distribution I think region-coding will ultimately become a non-issue.

I'll tell you a story about how region coding is seen outside the US. Here in the US I would say less than 5% of the population is even aware that DVDs are region-coded. That's because the typical US viewer only watches US DVDs and isn't interested in any films or shows from outside the US. However, every other country on this planet (Europe included) watches a mixture of domestically-made TV and films as well as the Hollywood program that the US exports. So 100% of the population in, say, Turkey knows that the shows they want to watch come from two or maybe three different DVD region codes. In the late 90s we had a post-doc in our department who
was from Turkey and he told me that every store in Turkey that sold DVD players (from the hole in the wall local shop to the big department stores) would "fix" the player free of charge when you
bought it to make it region-free player. (This usually required them to just open the box and snip two or three legs on a particular chip, and they knew which ones to snip on which models.) So 100% of the DVD players in Turkey were region-free and my friend was buying up lots of DVD movies on Amazon to watch and then ship to his brother back in Turkey. So the whole system the US lawyers set up to prevent revenue loss from foreign sales was being circumventing everywhere *except* in the US! That's when I first realized that trying to protect rights and sales with region-coding was a broken system.

Are there any other comments you would like to share?

Again, I liked Jonathan's point about how getting worldwide rights for music or providing translations for multiple languages ahead of time for simultaneous releases puts a high upfront
financial burden on smaller productions (like most anime shows) and if we and they aren't careful we're going to end up reducing anime to just the lowest common denominator and killing off the more interesting and niche shows. But region-coding was just a stopgap along the digital conversion of media and something else will evolve to either replace it or make it unnecessary.

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