Sunday, January 2, 2011

Major Television Stations in Japan on Death's Doorstep

The major terrestrial TV stations in Japan are in big trouble. On July 24, 2011, they will stop broadcasting analogue and start digital broadcasting. On that day they will lose at least 30% of their viewing audience. If they are losing money now, what will they do when the estimated 30% of the people who do not own a digital tuner drop off?

I have written extensively, during 2010, about the coming collapse of TV Tokyo, TBS TV and TV Asahi in Japan before. Read those articles here, here and here.

Now, after spending five days at my in-laws house this New Year's I can definitely attest to the coming demise with anecdotal evidence.


My father in-law is 72-years-old. My mother-in-law is 68. These folks are typical prime target audience for a station like TV Tokyo.

These are folks who have seen TV all their lives. The Internet is still a new thing to them. My in-laws are the kinds of folks who turn on the TV when they wake up in the morning and leave it on all day whether they are watching it or not. They are terrestrial TV's prime audience.

Why are these people the typical prime target for a station like TV Tokyo or TBS? Think about it.

Who has the time to sit around and really watch TV for 2 or 3 hours a day, everyday (like people did 30 years ago)? Well, the only people who do have the time to do so are either:

1) Inactive
2) Poor
3) Retired or aged
4) Handicapped or ill

Think about that. Now, if you were a sponsor, would you spend money on TV advertising for people who fit any of the descriptions above? No. You wouldn't.

That's one huge problem for these dinosaur TV stations that have thousands of employees and a dropping revenue base.

In fact, I was told that, in TV Tokyo's case, their sales are dropping by 5% a month and they are losing more than one million dollars a month.

But there's another, more subtle problem that I have discovered during this New Year's visit that makes me want to share it with you; it used to be, that coming to the in-laws house drove me crazy as they, like I mentioned, would watch TV all the time.

At my house, we do not have a TV and I do not want my 7-year-old son watching it. So, it would pain me whenever we visited the in-laws as the TV was on constantly....

Not this year. We have been here for 5 days now and they only turned on the TV 3 times that I saw, and each time was just for 10 or 15 minutes. Then they'd turn it off. After coming here annually for the last 15 years or so, this recent behavior had me curious so I asked my father-in-law what was going on. I asked him why they hadn't been watching TV like they did before. I was wondering if they were being kind to us as they know we don't watch TV and don't approve of our son watching it either...

Well, it wasn't anything like I was expecting. My father-in-law told me that they didn't watch TV like before because he said, "The Internet is more interesting."

I was so surprised. Of course, I'd agree. Yesterday, when my family and in-laws all went outside for a few hours, I grew curious. I mean, they have this expensive new-fangled system, yet they don't watch as much as they used to? Hmm....I sat here doing some work and then I watched TV for 20 minutes or so to see what the new system was like.

My in-laws have a brand new plasma TV and they get all the analogue channels and Chidigi (the analogue stations on digital) and both BS and CS digital. I flipped through the stations for a while and thought (as I usually do with TV) "Who'd watch this crap?"

I think the BS and CS stations have a chance to survive as most of these stations are small and have staffs that number under 100 people. But the Chidigi stations, like TV Tokyo or TBS, that have well over 1,000 employees are dead.

Just because their signal is digital, people are not going to watch the same old crap. Hello TV Tokyo, TBS and TV Asahi! The problem is not your platform, the problem is your content; it sucks and is boring.

On top of that, some of the channels asked for "pay per view" yet they were showing movie like "Kramer vs. Kramer." No joke! No one is going to pay for that! Why not rent it or watch it on Youtube? At with those you can watch it when you want - with no commercials!

I did watch a bit of some other movie about the CIA but gave up after 20 minutes because of commercials.

After flipping through the channels a while and seeing lots of Shopping TV and commercials, I turned the TV off. Not only was the content the same old boring stuff, but, the tuning system is confusing... Instead of one block of channels to pick from, you now have three...

It's not convenient at all.

If older folks like my in-laws have turned away from TV; if 30% of the TV audience is dropping off this July; if the content is going to be the same old thing; and Japan's economy stays in the doldrums - which it will. Then I stick by my predictions:

TV Tokyo, TBS and TV Asahi will not survive 2015 in their current configuration. Expect TV Tokyo and TBS to go bankrupt first.

What happened?

1) No one has time to sit around and watch TV anymore.
2) TV demands that you adjust your schedule to fit theirs. That doesn't work anymore.
3) Minor stations only have to support 40 ~ 80 workers. Big stations need to support thousands. There is no revenue base for that anymore.
4) Other forms of entertainment are much more satisfying and time-flexible.

Considering the above and now, throw in the older folks coming to the conclusions that TV isn't interesting anymore then, there you have it.

Are there any stations that will do well? Yep. I predict that Cartoon Network will always do well.


Ira Hata said...

Maybe Tivo or DVRs will finally take off. NHK puts out some good stuff and it would be ideal to watch when I have the time. All I need is a Tivo-like box that records the programs I want to watch....


Liz M said...

I'm actually a media anthropologist coming to Tokyo this summer to study the state of the television networks for reasons that line up with what you've described. Well, we'll see anyway. Television professionals at the commercial networks who are already on edge may not be thrilled to have me asking to visit. (I also don't get television in my home. Since I study it, it's not relaxing. And the quality in the U.S. is just as bad, as I am reminded whenever visiting my parents.)

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Please check my bio. I know lots of people who I can introduce you to. Even former presidents.

Liz M said...

(I'm going to follow your blog, btw. It's of great interest to me. Don't mind what may become my ubiquitous comments.)

Guy Jean said...

"lose 30% of their audience"...

But according to this poll, 4 in 5 are ready for the digital takeover.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Thanks Guy Jean! Different polls, different results... OK. 4 out of 5? That's 80%. The major broadcasters are losing money now... What are they going to do when they lose 20% of their audience?

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