New media keep old media honest

Nico Nico Douga winning over public wary of establishment

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Ssecond of Two Parts

On one evening in March, a producer at NHK appeared on an online program that was being streamed live over the Internet by Nico Nico Douga to speak about her struggles navigating Japan’s changing media scene.

“To be honest, we’ve been struggling and thinking hard about what kinds of programs we should make” because TV’s role has changed with the rise of the Internet and social media, said Miwako Hosoda, a producer for the popular program “Close Up Gendai.”

It is quite rare for an NHK producer to speak online, and Hosoda’s appearance March 10 proved popular, attracting a whopping 190,000 viewers.

Online media entities have been regarded as rivals of conventional media. But as conventional media, led by TV, radio and newspapers, struggle to attract younger audiences, some are seeking ways to collaborate instead.

Nico Nico Douga is a prime example. The online company operated by Tokyo-based Dwango Co. originally started as an online video-sharing platform. Now it runs its own live programs and boasts more than 21 million registered users.

Over the past few years, the popularity of live streaming has grown by providing alternative content that the major broadcasting conglomerates don’t, such as unedited news footage of full-length news conferences and hours-long debate programs on timely social issues.

Experts say this has grabbed the attention of younger audiences and people who are now skeptical of the way “real news” in Japan is being reported by most of the major TV and newspaper companies that are part of the repressive and exclusive “kisha” club (press club) system.

Its recognition as a trailblazer in alternative media hence appears to be drastically increasing.

The discussion aired March 10 on Nico Nico Douga was actually the result of a collaborative effort with NHK.

In February, NHK came to interview Nico Nico Douga for a “Close Up Gendai” program that would be aired March 10. The intent of the program was to focus on the trend of live streaming. But Nico Nico Douga went a step further by proposing that the media titan hold an online discussion about the program later the same day.

The discussion on Nico Nico Douga would review the TV program and talk about the future of the TV industry.

Although she was initially surprised by the proposal, Hosoda decided to take part in the discussion herself.

“We thought we can hardly see the future of TV if we just stay within the TV field,” she said.

During the discussion, the participants said many people are now doubtful of the way TV broadcasters and newspapers are reporting the news and feel that their reports are usually edited in an arbitrary manner.

“What’s clear is that Nico Nico Douga’s live streaming has grown because of people’s dissatisfaction with existing media,” journalist Daisuke Tsuda said in an interview with The Japan Times.

Tsuda, who was a participant in the discussion, said the way TV stations and newspapers report news can sometimes be interpreted differently if people watch a news conference in its entirety.

Tsuda pointed out the case of brash Internet entrepreneur Takafumi Horie, founder of Livedoor. Horie held a press conference on April 26 after the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of his fast-track conviction for accounting fraud.

Horie, who was sentenced to a 30-month prison term, is often criticized in traditional media reports for his attempt to take over tiny Nippon Broadcasting System from private broadcaster Fuji TV, a move that was widely perceived as a challenge to the Japanese media establishment.

During the news conference, which lasted more than an hour and was Netcast live by Nico Nico Douga and other journalists, Horie defended himself and apologized for his carefree attitude toward the world and did it with sincerity. But Nippon TV, another major broadcaster, did a report about the news conference the same day that said Horie didn’t make any apology and repeatedly criticized the prosecutors, who hung him in the press with an endless stream of anonymous leaks about the case.

In cases like this, Nico Nico Douga, which shows its news sources in their original form, seems to have become a tool that the public can use to verify reports issued by TV and newspapers.

Even politicians discontent with the existing media are using Nico Nico Douga to convey messages and information.

The most notable example is the Democratic Party of Japan’s former president, Ichiro Ozawa.

Although Ozawa was an early user of Nico Nico Douga, his appearance on the site last November came as a huge surprise to many in the media.

At the time, the public was waiting to see whether Ozawa would appear in the Diet to speak about allegations that he was involved in a funding scandal. But instead of doing that, he bypassed conventional media and knocked on the door of Nico Nico Douga.

“Newspapers and TV don’t really report the facts correctly,” Ozawa said.

“(Nico Nico Douga) is really open to many people, and they can make their comments to me, and I can respond to them. With a system like this, I thought more people would be able to understand my situation.”

Nico Nico Douga has a real-time comment function that allows users to type comments directly on the screen. The comments are viewable not only by the users, but also by those appearing on the program.

Other live streaming services are also becoming popular with politicians and journalists. For instance, many politicians broadcast their own programs through Ustream, which is also used by individual journalists to broadcast press conferences or events they are covering.

Taro Kamematsu, chief editor of Nico Nico Douga’s news service, said the company has been trying to differentiate itself by running unique content that other media outlets decline to show.

Unlike private broadcasters, which are largely dependent on advertising revenue, Nico Nico Douga’s main revenue comes from paid users. This allows it to take up a topic that TV stations normally won’t because of concerns about their ad sponsors, Kamematsu said.

For instance, Nico Nico Douga has reported on problems connected with pachinko, such as gambling addiction and the industry’s pork-barrel connections with politicians — issues that TV stations are loath to cover in depth because they receive so much ad revenue from the industry, he said.

Media journalist Tsuda said that while Nico Nico Douga’s news team is still no match compared with conventional media in terms of size and investigative ability, it is wisely playing a counter-role to TV that has become accepted by users.

“Nico Nico Douga’s influence is likely to expand if the conventional media are slow in adjusting themselves to the changing media scene,” Tsuda said.

Meanwhile, Kamematsu said he wants other media entities to use Nico Nico Douga and promote collaboration.

“From the beginning, Nico Nico Douga’s position has been a bit different from the existing media that create and provide their own content. We are rather a platform, as users upload videos to us and make comments,” he said.

At the same time, there is content that general users cannot generate and existing media outlets do not run, so it is more efficient to provide such content through Nico Nico Duga itself, he added.

To provide quake-related information for those who could not watch TV but had access to the Internet, Nico Nico Douga collaborated with TV and radio stations immediately after the March 11 earthquake to run their content on its online service.

NHK, Fuji TV, TBS, Ibaraki Broadcast System and Tohoku Broadcasting Co. agreed to run their news content on Nico Nico Douga’s website for a few days to a couple of weeks.

According to Dwango, about 11 million people watched NHK’s programs via the site.

“We’ve done some collaboration with TV broadcasters this time. We hope we’ll be able to share more content with each other, but it has to do with adjusting interest with TV and content holders,” said Seiji Sugimoto, president of Niwango Inc., a subsidiary of Dwango that actually runs the Nico Nico Douga service.

“We hope that the existing media make good use of us,” Sugimoto said, because this service is much better known among Internet users.