LONDON (Kyodo) BBC Japan, the British Broadcasting Corp.’s channel dedicated to Japanese viewers, has had an encouraging start since its December launch, but senior managers acknowledge that the choice of a digital platform has caused criticism.

The channel, a mixture of light entertainment, documentaries and educational shows, has had a “very positive reaction” and early research shows the audience is largely Japanese, according to Richard Sambrook, director of the BBC’s global news division.

Viewing figures are not available yet for the new channel, but at its launch officials said they hoped to attract 100,000 subscribers in the first year.

It is only the second time BBC Worldwide Ltd., the public broadcaster’s commercial arm, has launched a channel aimed exclusively at one country. The first one was BBC America.

Sambrook said the BBC decided to enter the Japanese market because it is “economically and culturally important,” and because the broadcaster’s programs resonate with many Japanese.

BBC Worldwide also produces the BBC World news channel, seen around the globe, and BBC Prime, an entertainment channel shown in about 130 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

BBC Japan, a 24-hour subscription channel, which has subtitles, is broadcast on Channel 025 of Sky PerfecTV 110 on the CS 110 degree satellite.

Japan MediArk Co. is in charge of marketing the channel.

“Broadly, we have had a very positive reaction to the channel,” Sambrook said. “The only criticism has come from subscribers to other platforms who can’t get it.”

Some people, particularly in the expatriate community, have criticized the choice of satellite provider. They claim that tuner-and-dish sets for Sky PerfecTV on rival satellite operators — JCSAT-3 and JCSAT-4 — are much cheaper and therefore more people probably would subscribe to BBC Japan if one of those were used.

The BBC said it chose the current platform as other providers offered limited capacity, particularly in the long term.

However, the corporation said it will keep the platforms under review and look into broadband and cable distribution options.

The channel is so far attracting a near equal mix of men and women.

The most popular shows include “Keeping up Appearances,” a comedy poking fun at English middle class snobbery, “The Weakest Link,” a quiz show hosted by a presenter deliberately rude to contestants, and “Ground Force,” a garden makeover program.

Sambrook said the primary intention is to make money for the BBC so it can invest in programming, but he realizes there may also be benefits for Britain as a whole in terms of shedding stereotypes and showcasing new talent.

“It’s particularly true with the news service (BBC World and BBC World Service radio) that part of our role is to try to bring some credit back to Britain for the quality of what we are broadcasting,” he said.

“If the entertainment channels help bring attention to the quality of British talent and creativity then that’s all for the good. It’s certainly true with BBC America that we have been able to show contemporary British television. This helps different cultures understand each other.”

The BBC has also recently launched BBC Prime in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and the Philippines. Analysts see it as acting as a competitor to News Corp.’s Star World entertainment channel.

Sambrook admits that News Corp. has been successful and to some extent the BBC needs “to make up some ground.” He said News Corp. has tended to regionalize its television channels whereas the BBC has traditionally gone for a global model, based on the World Service.

“That debate as to what works at the BBC, in terms of whether it’s one pan-national service or whether you go into various regionalized markets, is a very active debate,” Sambrook said.

“I think that part of what is going on with BBC Japan and BBC America is saying that we need to take a more regionalized approach in the future.”

Sambrook said the BBC is currently looking at how it can enter into the Chinese market and was encouraged by its recent weeklong series of programs from China.

“China is a market which the BBC is putting a lot of thought into at the moment, about what we could offer and how we should go about doing it,” he said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.