Business

Former Line CEO's new venture aims to track the pulse of world fashion with smartphone videos

by Hiroko Nakata

Staff Writer

Having already spent time in the limelight as the CEO of Line Corp., Akira Morikawa has now started a new venture that targets would-be fashionistas and connoisseurs of popular culture.

The 48-year-old former CEO launched a new startup called C Channel Corp. in April that displays short videos aimed at smartphone users on subjects such as kawaii (cute) fashion and gourmet foods. The video clips are uploaded by fashion models and similarly style-savvy young women.

“I want to establish a made-in-Japan media brand that will become well known around the world,” Morikawa said in a recent interview with The Japan Times, adding that no company in the country has done so in the past.

Morikawa said Japan has a lot of charming and engaging cultural content to offer, but that much of it is currently presented to the world independently.

“I want to package them and create media that can be acknowledged globally,” he said during the interview in his newly built, yellow-themed office and studio near Takeshita-dori, a fashion destination for the younger generation in Tokyo’ Harajuku district.

His resignation in March at Line, the operator of Japan’s most popular instant messaging service, which is controlled by South Korea’s Naver Corp., caught many people in the IT industry by surprise. During the last year of his 7½-year tenure as CEO, Line’s sales nearly doubled to ¥86 billion and the number of users globally surged to 560 million people — most of them overseas users.

Morikawa’s vow to do something that no one in Japan has done before reinforced the notion that a number of Japanese industries, including the media, are reluctant to change unless they are forced to by increased global competition.

The website operated by C Channel has more than 2,000 one-minute videos presenting what women in their 20s — who call themselves “clippers” — think is stylish. They shoot and upload the videos themselves. The clips are all vertical, a format that best suits smartphones.

More video games are currently played on smartphones than are played at home using game consoles, and people use wearable gadgets to listen to music more than home stereo systems. The same will soon be true for videos, once the sole domain of television sets, he noted.

Morikawa described what he is doing as similar to what “fast fashion” did in the apparel industry. “What people want is reality,” he continued. “Everyone wants to know the reality fast.”

In the apparel sector, fast fashion helps those in the fashion industry spot new style trends and quickly move into production while saving money.

The effect has been to change the business cycle in the industry worldwide, which Morikawa hopes to harness.

His service constantly uploads new material edited by his posse of non-professional clippers. Previously, production of similar promotional videos was time-consuming and costly because professionals using high-end equipment were employed.

“With such methods, they could not keep up with new trends,” he continued. “What I want to do is create media that can produce the desired information instantly and present it to the world,” said the CEO, who used to work at Nippon Television Network Corp.

Morikawa said he hopes his new venture will play a similar role as companies such as Time Warner’s CNN, which pioneered the 24-hour news cycle and provided news faster than conventional broadcasters, but for “the age of the smartphone.”

He has already started to eye business opportunities abroad.

C Channel, originally in Japanese, started video streaming in English and Chinese in October. There are now about 150 clippers, of which 50 are living abroad in such places as New York, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh, Dubai, Bangkok and Jakarta. They provide videos on local food and fashion that are popular in their home countries. Some from outside Japan speak English and Chinese, and others translate the information into other languages.

Still, whether his nascent business will become successful remains uncertain.

Like many other social media services, Morikawa’s business model relies on advertisement revenue from companies including Toyota Motor Corp., major convenience store operator Lawson and French cosmetic maker L’occitane. Also, like many startups in the first business year, his own is currently in the red. Yet he stressed that what he has to focus on now is not boosting income from advertisement, but improving the value of the website.

“The company may turn into the black on the monthly bases next year, but that is not our goal right now,” Morikawa said. “What we have to do is provide valuable services and focus on doing that for the time being.”

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