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Net-shy Johnny’s announces deal for online channel with YouTube

by Patrick ST. Michel

Contributing Writer

Internet-shy entertainment management company Johnny & Associates said Monday it will launch an official YouTube channel on March 21.

The move comes as a bit of a surprise since Johnny’s, which manages popular J-pop groups including Arashi and Kat-Tun, has long been known for shunning the internet. The Japanese talent agency had avoided social media, prohibiting clients from maintaining profiles on sites such as Twitter and Instagram.

Monday’s announcement appears to signal a significant step from one of Japan’s biggest and most powerful talent agencies toward participating in online activities. The channel will host content from the company’s Johnny’s Jr. stable, according to its press release. This will include original videos in the mold of YouTuber-style creations like “challenge” videos. It also will be international, according to a YouTube spokesperson, meaning there won’t be the kinds of geographic restrictions that frustrate many overseas J-pop fans.

The groups that nominated themselves to regularly create content for the channel are Hihi Jets, Tokyo B Shonen, SixTones, Snow Man and Travis Japan. Johnny’s Jr. groups primarily train to become pop stars, and the five acts have yet to officially debut via a CD release. Several Johnny’s Jr. groups were not featured in the announcement, leading to confusion from some fans on social media.

The YouTube announcement comes as Johnny’s has taken small steps toward creating an online presence.

The new approach may have been prompted by former members of its stable seeing digital success. Last year, Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori — formerly of Johnny’s most prominent act, SMAP — embraced social media after being kept away from it. The trio has charmed new fans via Instagram and YouTube, opening up a new world of possibilities as a result. The move also stirred up negative feelings toward Johnny’s, which is now seen as having held the three back.

Johnny & Associates’ position as one of the country’s most powerful music entities means this YouTube channel will be a bellwether of sorts, and could hint that Japan’s slow-acting music industry is ready to take the digital plunge.