For those who read Part 1, mighty thanks! This article will further delve into some of the business model and strategies of Up Front Agency.
I hope I don't get into trouble by doing a business case-study like this on Up Front Agency. Anyways, my discussions here probably may not even qualify for a university level thesis. So just treat this like a regular personal opinion from an avid fan.
Picking up where I left off - many fans are thinking that Morning Musume has been getting less attention from their management, and are falling back to the dark pits. Ikimasshoi.com has pointed out a news clipping about Yoshizawa Hitomi's weight problem and her future as Morning Musume's leader after graduation. After reading that article, the summary at ikimasshoi.com have about summed it up nicely. It's an aftermath for which I have feared for the current (and upcoming members) of Morning Musume.
So where shall I start? I think I'll start on where we fans have most contact with - the artistes.
Whereabouts of past and present of Morning Musume members
Past members of Momusu (which I still love till this day) have seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. Other than Abe Natsumi, the others seem to be missing.
That's not really true. In fact, they are still very active and busy. But they are work they are given are not known publicly and are less related on the music scene:
Nakazawa Yuko - Recently released a new Enka single, but most of her work have been Japanese TV based like variety shows, cooking shows and talk shows.
Abe Natsumi - Recently released a pop single. Very much involved in movies and drama. She is involved in a new project titled "white snake tale"
Iida Kaori - Mostly variety shows and dinner shows. Not much that I can find out about her.
Yasuda Kei - Not music related, but mostly involved in acting and theaters. Also very much involved in dinner shows, I hear.
Mari Yaguchi - Mostly mass comm related, MC-ing, talk shows, and radio programmes.
Maki Goto - Still music related. Also assigned for the upcoming Eco-campaign project as an ambassador in Korea next year
Tsuji Nozomi - Can't find what to do with her, so mostly following Momusu schedules and appearance in variety shows.
As you see, they're still around but they are involved in things that in which us fans overseas have limited access to.
See here for a general guide. The musical note symbol represents for "Concert" (Anything music and performance related), the fork and knife symbols represents "Dinner show" (Dinner functions, with performance and MC-ing), and the microphone symbol represents "Talk Show" (...err, talk show.)
As for the current ones we see and hear the most about:
Morning Musume - You know these: Futsal, public promotions (World Volleyball, Eco-campaigns), promote Hello!Project works (movies, photobooks, solo singles, etc...)
I hope the above will help understand on what I'm about to discuss on.
Generally, UFA's strategies are create products to sell, and they love their own creation. So the next step is to sell them to customers. Just like how Microsoft sells the Windows OS. You know, I am more comfortable with finding out what the market needs and THEN you create products. No point creating a product and that nobody needs, and then you HAVE to get people to buy because you got a sales target. Here are two of the strategies used by UFA and what I think about it:
Strategy 1: Conviction marketing
UFA's style is always been conviction marketing - which means having blinding faith on your own products, without regard for the demand of the market. Don't get it? That's Asian businessmen for you. On the plus side, this means the company will always have resources to attend to the product. However, this is also dangerous, because at any given time, UFA will be overwhelmed with the changes of the entertainment business. Yes it is customer based, but more like persuading the customer take what the supplier has to offer. It's like "Look here, we got Momusu, we got C-ute girls, and we got some Berryz for ya, they're cute and hot, how come you no like? You really should! We got them new songs and costumes for them, PB and merchandises. We, the UFA set the standards around here they're good stuff and shit. So just take 'em, okay?" I do not know if they ever conducted any public research or survey. If they do, probably for the sake of justifying their decisions.
Strategy 2: Relationship Marketing
Confidence in customer support is one thing, being complacent and too relaxed towards customer loyalty is another. For a long time Hello!Project have such a massive fanbase, and that attributes to their past successful projects. Now all they have to do is to keep them, to ensure consistent income for sure.
Yes, H!P have strong customer base. but they may not be there forever. I am an avid fan since the first generation of Momusu. I watched the kids grow up, graduations come and go. I was a fan when I was only a college student, now i am a working adult getting ready to tying the knot with my partner. People move on. One by one, surely fans will have certainly move on to another point of focus. Customer retainment is good, but they should really think about getting a new breed of customers coming in. Otherwise the well would one day run dry.
So what happens if UFA can't sell Momusu and their other talents? Use more advertising? Use more sex appeal? (e.g. Maki Goto) Use shock value? (e.g. GAM) Assign them to other non-music related work? ..... Actually that last one is happening now.
So is that what explains the current Momusu bland activities and the poor response to the latest single? Rather than trying to get quality music out?
Came up with these few points after a conversation with friends, and some people in the music biz a long while ago. These are some the probable reasons for the current Morning Musume situation.
1) Artistes now depend mostly on income from performance rather than sales of CD, which already declining. (may be also due to this age of torrents and p2p file sharing)
2) When an artiste's name is already established, no need for more focus on music, they make enough money just by appearances alone. Unless we're looking for a reputation makeover, it is okay to be on mellow mode.
3) Artistes (especially those with established reputation) now make more money just doing concerts, shows, appearances and promotions compared to CD sales. Releasing singles are only to maintain public existence.
Be on the positive side, it's reality in the music industry. Be sure that what Morning Musume is facing now is but a common phase for long time acts. They can bounce back with the right strategies. But they need an aggressive one, for sure.
UFA should not forget Morning Musume is an idol group, not marketing tools. While Momusu is doing great with the event management projects, and the company is making some handsome revenues out it, UFA should NOT get distracted and recall what Morning Musume is supposed to be - a musical act. They are in serious need of a new musical makeover. If they can do this, then we can be sure that the Morning Musume wave will be back soon enough.
Footnote: Thanks for reading up to this point. I hope that with this article, with what little of my insight and knowledge on the entertainment industry that I have shared, will help the readers understand more about the current status of Morning Musume. Any comments are welcome, good or bad. Thanks again!
"Dancing! Singing! Exciting!"