Imagine my chagrin: I spend half my time tut-tutting other parts of the press for "false equivalence" or related deviations from excellence. Then it turns out that I've helped spread a rumor without checking to see whether it's actually true!
Fortunately my chagrin is exceeded by relief that our friends at Next Media Animation, in Taiwan (with corporate HQ in Hong Kong), have indeed not closed up shop or put themselves on the auction block. At right, a scene from NMA studios, as the staff puzzles over the disturbing reports of their demise. Below is their video setting the record straight -- and after that, the results of an interview with a company official. You know, like a "reporter" would do.
After I saw this, I called the number listed on the final screen to talk with Mark Simon, an American who is the commercial director of Next Media Animation and assistant to the chairman, the colorful media mogul Jimmy Lai. I asked Simon how the story of NMA's sale had gotten started in the first place. Highlights from his on-the-record reply:
It's because our television group has reported very bad results. We're in a two-year battle with Taiwan to get on-air, because they don't want Jimmy up on the air. In that time we've incurred over $100 million US dollars in losses because of television. It's a media company, and all the rumors just started up, and off it goes. It kind of took us by storm. We had to go to the Hong Kong stock exchange and make clear that no one has approached us to buy us.
More background on Lai's struggle to get Taiwanese approval for his TV operations here, from a Taiwanese paper. Mark Simon explained that the animation division, despite all the media attention it has drawn, was financially a very small part of the entire Next Media operation, and that other parts of Lai's business (newspapers, magazines, online operations) were profitable.
In business terms, the crucial question for Lai is obviously when, and whether, his TV operations can begin reaching viewers in Taiwan, so they can start making money rather than being deadweight cost centers. Simon said that sooner or later Jimmy Lai will
either have to scale back the TV station, or get on air.... He built everything up very quickly [in Taiwan] on the anticipation that we could get on air soon. We have been rather shocked at the treatment we are getting there. There is no business for a TV station if it's not on the air, and the losses can be $6 million to $8 million US per month. I don't think he realized how expensive TV could be. The question is how long does Jimmy want to keep doing this. He could do it for years. He's a fairly substantial guy. The question is how long he wants to keep going.
For other background about Lai, NMA, and related aspects of their business, check out Wired in 2010, this also in 2010 with a greatest-hits collection of NMA animations, a NYT Mag Q-and-A with Lai ("Asia's Rupert Murdoch") in 2011, and this from Time last week with "four favorite animations." Meanwhile, welcome back, NMA. We missed you, even though you were never gone.