The world was in attendance at the 12th Hong Kong International Licensing Show, which took place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre early last month. Asia's largest licensing exhibition, the event, organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, boasted 242 exhibitors from 19 nations and regions, including China, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, the U.S. and France, a jump from 209 in 2013. Visitor traffic was up 5.2% over last year, with 18,082 attendees from more than 100 nations and regions.
The substantial growth in the numbers and nationalities of exhibitors and visitors alike brought home to me the rise of the licensing business in Asia and the keener-than-ever competition ahead.
Sony Creative Products, Sanrio Far East and 13 other leading Japanese licensing firms participated under one roof at the Japan Pavilion, resulting in a much more effective presence than in previous years.
This year, rather than working under the leadership of the event planners and advertising agencies that have up to now acted as general coordinators, the licensing firms themselves led the effort. This bottom-up approach allowed for uniform leaflets, sufficient staffing, social events and many other intangible positives that aided the marketing efforts of Team Japan.
Whenever I was involved in an international licensing fair abroad previously, I became frustrated at the very low profile of Japanese companies, which formed such a striking contrast to the sprawling exhibits of firms from South Korea and elsewhere with their large national booths. These differences left me despairing that individual Japanese companies -- despite owning attractive, licensable characters -- would ever be able to compete in Asia or the world on their own.
But the quickly changing business environment led companies in the character business to establish the Character Brand Licensing Association.
The licensing market in Japan is bleak and growing bleaker due to the changing business environment for media and distribution companies caused by the falling birth rate and aging of the population. Even with the help of the government, many of the market's challenges require an alliance of corporations to overcome. These challenges go beyond raising Japan's profile on the world stage and include such issues as blocking illegal knockoffs and parallel imports from entering the country, invigorating lagging overseas operations, assisting creators and expanding distribution networks.
The CBLA was formed as a result of several licensing firms recognizing the need for joint action in these areas, and the Japan Pavilion at the Hong Kong licensing show was its first project.
Under the theme "Creative Japan," the pavilion showcased twice as many Japanese exhibitors as last year. The flood of inquiries from visitors left the pavilion's staff little time to catch their breath, and at the end of the event, the exhibitors all agreed they had achieved a great deal. For everyone involved, the experience renewed their faith in the underlying strength of the Japanese industry.
I am confident that the CBLA was key to the success of the Japan Pavilion.
The organization has four divisions, each with its own mission: assisting creators, sharing global business information industry-wide, improving the marketing skills of member firms and building networks, including that for matching businesses. It works for the growth of every member's business, listening to their requests, hosting study meetings, seminars and counseling sessions, and operating working groups in each division.
With its strong and ongoing growth, Asia is an attractive market for Japanese companies now and will continue to be so in the future. The government has designated its "Cool Japan" campaign for selling Japanese content abroad as part of its economic strategy, and I am determined to keep the CBLA working to help reinforce Japan's image in Asia.
Aiichiro Furukawa is chairman of CBLA and president of Sony Creative Products.