November 29, 2010 / 11:58 AM / 10 years ago

Next Animations the future of news: Jimmy Lai

TAIPEI (Reuters) - The satirical take on news from Taiwan’s Next Animations that has taken the Internet by storm will become part of the mainstream as news programing becomes increasingly visual, the company’s founder said.

Jimmy Lai, chairman and founder of Next Media, speaks during an exclusive interview with Reuters in Taipei November 29, 2010. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

Jimmy Lai, head of Next Media, told the Reuters Global Media Summit from his small office next to the company’s TV newsroom in Taipei of his vision of fully visual news, a trend that all media outlets would have to follow.

“What TV now is, is telling a story through the mouth of the people on TV and using an image to match it,” he said. “That’s why it’s so boring.”

Newspapers will also need to go with the trend to visual. They will become fewer and smaller, replaced by digital newspapers on iPads and other devices. But he doesn’t see them disappearing just yet, good news for his own paper, the controversial tabloid Apple Daily, which is published in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“People only read Twitters these days,” he said. “One thing is sure, if newspapers are a tool of communication, they will have to follow the same trend, which is image.”

He pointed to a copy of Monday’s edition of Apple Daily on his desk, with its front page dominated by a montage of photos and a 3D graphic illustrating the shooting of a politician at a campaign rally in Taiwan on Friday night.

“You never would have thought a newspaper would become like this 20 years ago,” he said. “But people understand the news right away.”

That’s where Next Animations comes in. It has surged in popularity globally since its take on golfer Tiger Woods’s troubles went viral on YouTube earlier this year.

The animators have since offered their unique satirical versions of subjects from Apple’s iPhone antenna problems to Sarah Palin to the U.S. flight attendant who left his job via an aircraft’s emergency slide.

It will become a central part of Lai’s media future, so big that it will have to stand alone.

“Very soon we will have to spin it off. It has to be on its own; the idea is too big for us to support it as a subsidiary,” Lai said.

He declined to give specific dates, saying only that a spin off and listing would be in the “not remote” future, but added that the unit had to generate revenues first.

One problem for the company, however, is that it is cut off from the world’s largest Mandarin-language media market because of Lai’s outspoken opposition to China’s Communist Party.

Lai is persona non grata in China, from which he fled at the age of 12, smuggled by boat into Hong Kong.

But he sees a way in through peer-to-peer (P2P) services, which allow individual users to share downloaded content.

“With P2P coming onstream there is a limit to how the government can control access to overseas TV,” Lai said. “Our future definitely hinges on the P2P access from China. If we have content that is free, people inside China would use P2P to watch it, and that could be the future.”

He said he can get production shared with Chinese firms and simply buy the Taiwan rights from them, avoiding the problem of his direct involvement in the company’s business on the mainland.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Now 62 but looking younger in his jeans and sport shoes and close-cropped hair, Lai remains passionate about democracy in China.

He will attend the Noble Peace prize ceremony for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, even as China pressures countries not to attend in its pique that the award went to someone it calls a criminal.

“We have to go; it’s significant for us.”

Editing by Will Waterman

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