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Editorial: NJPW's GIF Ban Will Stifle Its Growth


This op-ed piece was written by Smark Henry's resident enigmatic ninja KP, who forms part of local GIFfing outfit PH Wrestling Gifs.

GIFs! Oxford Dictionaries USA’s Word of the Year for 2012, GIF is defined as a “lossless format for image files that supports both animated and static images.” It’s also long been used as a replacement or enhancement for reactions, show previews, and microstories, among other things. And as a wrestling fan, there’s high probability that GIFS are also how you catch up with shows you haven’t had time to watch or are on the fence about watching.

If you’re the kind of fan who reads wrestling sites like Smark Henry, you’re also probably the kind who is active on social media — and the kind who has heard about the latest decision NJPW made regarding GIFs:

No longer restricting itself from taking down full videos of their matches, NJPW has apparently began taking down fan videos and GIFs of any and all of their material. As per the takedown issued to known GIF maker Mr. Lariato, NJPW seems to treat GIFs as videos and serious infringement of their copyright.

While that is within their rights, it’s an action that strikes as peculiar and even illogical. Sites like Daily DDT and Fightful noted that it’s similar to how MLB and NFL strictly handles GIFs of their product, as opposed to the fast and loose rules applied by NBA and WWE.

It’s peculiar because, barring a few brief scares in 2016, the largest wrestling company in the world i.e. WWE often turns a blind eye to GIFs, even those who GIF their shows on the fly. Hell, wrestlers signed to the company are allowed to retweet GIF accounts like Lariato or TDE.

That’s because someone in WWE’s marketing team knows that GIFs are effective tools for advertisement. They cost nothing to make, are easier to transmit than videos, curbs viewer impatience by cutting to the good part, and literally everyone can make it — including fans who don’t need to get paid to make things that will promote their shows and athletes.

Heck, non-sport companies like Benefit Cosmetics, Pepsi Co., and even Honda are using GIFs for their advertisement as the image format becomes ubiquitous in online conversations. Companies absolutely have a reason to allow and utilize GIFs, especially those looking to cast their nets in the U.S. (*ahem* NJPW *ahem*). To quote DigiDay:
“According to a 2,000-person survey conducted by public polling group Harris Poll and Google-owned GIF-sharing platform Tenor, 69 percent of Americans use emojis, GIFs and stickers because they believe they can communicate their emotions better through images.”
Having a big company like NJPW ban GIFs will undoubtedly have an effect on policies of smaller independents starving for traffic and subscriptions to their streaming sites. Though in the extreme, GIF maker Deno had a point in speculating that there may be a point where wrestling will be restricted to a purely video format.

I don’t think I have to spell out how horrible that would be. GIFs of matches and GIF threads explaining matches or feuds have pulled fans of all kinds to promotions they have no knowledge about and non-fans into giving this wrestling thing a shot. There’s actual proof of this everywhere on social media, and it can range from silly shitposting like WeRateWrestlers —

— to “meatier” tweets like that of fan and Golden Lovers scholar EffingBoring, whose GIF thread (and subsequent essay on Medium) explaining the history of the Kenny Omega-Kota Ibushi became the starting point for many NJPW fans who have gone on to subscribe to NJPW World.
The fan disappointment caused by NJPW’s ban on GIFs brings to mind the outrage that MLB courted when it claimed a copyright strike against Rob Friedman a.k.a. @PitchingNinja, a popular baseball GIF maker whose account was suspended earlier this year.

Restricting the ways their online community can spread their enthusiasm for the show is a discouragingly backwards move from NJPW. It’s especially baffling since they’re looking to expand to the US and other Western markets more — just read back to the paragraph above about the Nice number of Americans who use GIFs.

Let’s be real: it’s easier to encourage a person to tune in to a 15-minute wrestling match by showing them a couple of seconds-long wicked moments instead of a minute teaser on YouTube that may not even load (thanks, Philippine internet).

NJPW recognized this somewhat because they’ve taken to live GIFfing moments from recent events. But that’s not the same as GIFfing a whole match; if it’s a particularly good match, a fan will seek it out, because if the moments are mind-blowing, then how much more phenomenal would the whole match be? That’s a sold subscription to NJPW World right there.
So to New Dad (and NJPW president) Harold Meij, and to allegedly unpopular General Manager Michael Craven: Yo, wtf guys, let fans be fans and spread the refreshing fun of NJPW and stop with the bullshit Westernization of the wrestling. When fans said English-friendly content, they meant subtitles on your On The Road documentaries and old classic matches, not endless run-ins, NWO rip-offs, and stupid anti-Japanese promos, wtf man.

Photo from Uproxx

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