Japan: The New Era of Video

The days of traditional television are approaching an end. The monopoly on video production and editing once held by TV stations is over, and the age of YouTube — an age in which any individual with a camera and a computer can create a video and upload it onto the net — is upon us. Changes are coming that will shake the foundation of mass media.

Or so was the message of NHK, Japan's national broadcaster, who last Friday aired a special on the “New Era of Video” [ja] in celebration of “Broadcast Day“. The program painted a gloomy picture of the future of television, emphasizing a growing generation gap in media use and re-iterating the dangers posed by online file sharing.

But why would a TV station air a program that goes against its own interests? If the age of YouTube is upon us, would that not spell the end for NHK itself? One blogger who watched the show delved deeper into the motivations behind NHK's dire predictions. Kobayashi Akihito, who blogs at Shirokuma Nippo and at the Polar Bear Blog, explained in a blog entry posted on Saturday:

昨夜、NHKスペシャルで「放送記念日特集~新動画時代 メディアが変わる」という番組が放映されました。先ほど録画しておいたのを見たのですが、NHKが感じているもどかしさというか、悔しさがにじみ出ているなーというのが最大の印象。

Last night, a program was aired on NHK Special called “(Broadcast Day Special) The New Era of Video: The Changing Media“. I just watched a recording I made of the show earlier, and the greatest impression I had was of the bitterness being exuded, the irritation perhaps that NHK is feeling. 

番組はいきなり、「YouTube の方が断然面白い、もうTVなんて見ないよ!」と子供が言い放つところから始まります。これだけでも十分自虐的なのですが、ある日本の家庭(同じ部屋)でおばあさんはテレビ・お孫さんはネットを見ているシーンを写して、「テレビの前にいるのは、祖母のカツコさんだけです」というナレーションをのせるという場面まで。他にも20代の人々のテレビ視聴時間が急速に減っていることを示すなど、よっぽどNHKはテレビが嫌いなんだろうなぁというのが感じられました(笑)

The program started all of a sudden with a scene with a kid declaring that: “YouTube is way more interesting, I'm not watching TV anymore!” As if that wasn't enough self-torture, they went as far as to shoot a scene of the home of a Japanese family (all in the same room) in which a grandmother is watching television and her grandchildren are on the Internet, superimposed with narration explaining that: “The only one in front of the TV is Katsuko, the grandmother.” When in addition they also pointed out other things like the fact that TV viewing time has been dropping rapidly, I got the feeling that NHK must really dislike television (LOL)


There were references after that to things like the problem of illegal video and to the danger lurking in violent images, but as a whole the atmosphere [of the show] was something like: “The era of the Internet is coming!” Efforts by foreign television stations were on showcase, as well as shrewd publicity for projects of NHK itself. However, people who have read “Why does television hate the Internet?” may have been able to predict the plot [of the show]:

He then quotes the following passage from the book “Why does television hate the Internet?” (see this review [ja] by blogger Ikeda Nobuo, and for the original quote in Japanese see Kobayashi's blog entry [ja]):

As I have written so far, television stations do not like the Internet. However, the truth is that there is one unusual television station that is lying in wait for a serious advance into the Internet. This is NHK, Japan's largest television station.

A fifteen minute jolting bus ride from JR Kawaguchi station in Saitama Prefecture, and the facility they call the “NHK Archives” comes into view. Opened in 2003, this is largest video storage institution in Asia. Stored here are tens of thousands of programs, and millions of news clips, broadcast by NHK in the past.


Nothing could be more enjoyable than having all these movies filled with emotion projected through the Internet one by one onto computers, mobile phones and TV screens. The NHK Archives were established under determined NHK president Ebisawa [Katsuji] in order to introduce people to this possibility of distribution over the Internet.

[The problem is that] NHK is systematically prohibited from having a genuine Internet enterprise. In order to get the government to change this system, users or other concerned people who say that: “NHK should distribute its older programs over the Internet” become very important. Because if these demands increase, then NHK is granted a legitimate reason to “advance toward becoming an Internet enterprise for the sake of the users”. It is for this reason that an enormous quantity of programs are presented as hoarded away in the NHK Archives, in order to fabricate a public sentiment that: “This is a waste. These should be distributed over the Internet.”

Kobayashi then continues:


Naturally these “NHK Archives” were introduced in the program, and casual reference was made to the fact that NHK holds huge amounts of contents. On top of this, the show went as far as to criticize the fact that, in contrast to the freedom of activity granted by the King to the BBC when it was established, the NHK is “tied down” by the Broadcast Law; it seemed even that you could hear voices expressing not “envy for the BBC” but rather that “we must also take the step forward!”

恐らく NHKは、過去の映像のアーカイブ、それに自身の番組制作能力をもってすれば、ネット時代も怖くない――いや逆に大きなビジネスチャンスだと考えているのでしょう。実際、番組内ではプロアマ問わず、「おもしろいコンテンツを作った人/会社」「人々が望む形でコンテンツを配信した人/会社」が特をする/特をする可能性がある、という例も登場していました。「自分たちもチャレンジしたい」と感じてもおかしくありません。

Perhaps the NHK is thinking that if it has the archives, as well as its own capacity to produce programs, the Internet would not be so scary — on the contrary, it would be a business opportunity. In fact, [in the program] examples were introduced demonstrating the possibility for people and companies who make interesting contents, and for people and companies who distribute contents in ways that people want, to profit, regardless of whether these people are professionals or amateurs. It felt like they were saying: “We will take on this challenge as well.”


However when the NHK starts something new, they face a considerable backlash from people who dislike NHK, in particular commercial broadcasting stations. All the more so if they make advances into the Internet. It seems to me, then, that they made this program to publicize the potential of the Internet, with the aim of “directing public opinion” in the way that is indicated in “Why does television hate the Internet?”, with the idea that if NHK is going to go down, then everybody will go down with them… that's what I managed to dredge up about it.


Toward the end of the program, they introduced this episode:

He then quotes again from “Why does television hate the Internet?”:

When NHK tried to connect a radio relay to sumo wrestling, the Japan Sumo Association opposed it, saying that: “People to come to the Sumo hall and pay the entrance fee, that's the business model.” However if you look deeper, you see that Sumo took off thanks to the relay, and the number of people coming to the Sumo hall increased.

And concludes finally:


So if the NHK is allowed to advance into the Internet, the number of people who will profit will increase… The show didn't go as far as to say that, but I did gradually get the feeling that the main purpose of this program may well have been to get people to sense this message.

For more commentary on the NHK special, see an additional post by Kobayashi at the Polar Bear Blog [ja].

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