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Japanese broadcasters eager to grab more Asian viewers

by Hiroaki Matsuki and Kisaku Seno

Kyodo

Japanese television networks are scrambling into Asia, seeing it as a new frontier of business opportunities as they struggle with dwindling advertising revenue at home.

Fuji Media Holdings. is pushing into the Asian market with its “Asia Versus” program, a competition for amateur musicians. While it is filmed at a Tokyo studio, the program features contestants from various Asian countries and a multinational mix of hosts and judges from the target markets — South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia as well as Japan.

“Asia Versus,” which was launched in April in Japan, will gradually be aired in the other three markets. It is produced by a company jointly established by Fuji Media Holdings, which has Fuji Television Network Inc. under its wing, and Itochu Corp., a major trading company.

Through “Asia Versus,” the Fuji group is hoping to discover new talents and create a fresh revenue source. The group will collect royalty fees on the winning musicians’ music as the manager of the copyrights.

“There is a desperate hunt around the world” for promising talents, said Osamu Kanemitsu, an executive officer of Fuji Media Holdings.

The Fuji group will also produce an international TV shopping program in which home-shopping hosts from Japan, Thailand and Taiwan hawk hot items in their countries, including clothing products and accessories. This program is intended to produce a revenue stream of sales commissions for the Fuji group.

“Merely selling programs to other countries has its limits as an international business model; to achieve business expansion, we must do more than that,” Kanemitsu said.

Asia is not exactly a new market for Japanese broadcasters. There was a time when Japanese TV programs enjoyed strong viewership in Asian countries, but since around the mid-2000s, South Korea has overtaken Japan in TV programming exports.

Japan now trails far behind South Korea. Its annual exports of programming produced for terrestrial TV, estimated at some ¥6 billion in fiscal 2010, was well below half the smaller neighbor’s, according to government data.

In a bid to relaunch the Japanese brand of programming, nine companies, including four nationwide television networks in Japan and advertising giant Dentsu Inc., have joined hands to create an Asian cable TV channel specializing in Japanese programs.

The new channel, Hello! Japan, was put on the air in Singapore in February. Accessible by 570,000 households, Hello! Japan offers a broad range of Japanese content, including animation, variety shows, dramas, music, movies and sports, with English subtitles. In the future, the channel will also be made available in 10 other markets, including Hong Kong.

In addition to the nationwide TV networks, Hokkaido Television Broadcasting, a regional broadcaster, has joined this international venture, hoping to invigorate its home market. It expects to lure more Asian tourists to Hokkaido through programs featuring local foods and other tourist attractions.

“We should not always reach out (to foreign audiences) via Tokyo,” said Kazuyuki Takahashi, the chief of the broadcaster’s international media division, referring to the nationwide networks’ stranglehold on programming.

Meanwhile, Yoshimoto Kogyo, a talent agency with a stable of comedians who are a permanent fixture on the Japanese airwaves, has also spied a huge business opportunity in the Asian market.

In March, Yoshimoto Kogyo formed a partnership with Content Land Inc. of Hong Kong, which has strong ties with broadcasters in various Asian countries, to promote Japanese programming.

Yoshimoto Kogyo has been expanding its footprint outside Japan for the past several years through Yoshimoto Azio, a satellite channel targeted at Asian and Western markets.

Yoshimoto Kogyo will work with Content Land to do such nuts-and-bolts work as program dubbing and rights management on behalf of Japanese broadcasters to ease their way into foreign markets.

The effort to win Asian hearts has just started, a Yoshimoto Kogyo official said. “We are hoping to give a push to the spread of Japanese programming in Asia.”