Sunday marked a nationwide transition to digital terrestrial television broadcasting, bringing to an end over five decades of analog transmissions in Japan.

The history of television broadcasting in Japan parallels the nation’s postwar economic growth.

As Japan recovered from World War II, increasingly prosperous consumers could begin to afford TV sets, which quickly became household fixtures.

Despite the rise of the Internet and mobile phones, not to mention cable and satellite broadcasts, as sources for news and entertainment, terrestrial television broadcasts have nevertheless stood the test of time to survive well into the 21st century.

Below are questions and answers regarding television broadcasting in Japan:

What is the history of TV broadcasting in Japan?

Although NHK beamed experimental television broadcasts in 1939, it wasn’t until more than 10 years later that regular TV programming kicked off.

At 2 p.m. on Feb. 1, 1953, when there were fewer than 3,000 TV sets in Japan, NHK began its first regular television broadcasts with the kabuki classic “Michiyuki Hatsune no Tabi.”

According to The Japan Times the next day, a broadcast of the inauguration of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower proved popular with the public: “A great number of enthusiasts of all ages braved the biting cold to flock to public halls, elementary schools, or radio stores and see for themselves what they had heard so much about.”

At the time, NHK, which relies in part on viewer license fees to fund its operations, had 866 subscribers paying ¥200 a month.

Most of the television sets on sale during the period were imported, and a 17-inch set made by RCA, a U.S. manufacturer, cost around ¥250,000. This was at a time when the average worker was bringing home around ¥15,000 a month.

The first domestic set, a 14-inch black-and-white model, was put out by Sharp Corp. the same year and was priced at ¥175,000.

The first commercial broadcaster, Nippon Television Network Corp., started its regular programming on Aug. 28, 1953, and aired a baseball game live the next day.

The first satellite broadcast, supposed to be a recorded message by U.S. President John F. Kennedy scheduled for the morning of Nov. 23, 1963, was replaced by the news of his assassination.

How many broadcasters are there?

There are six nationwide TV networks — Nippon Television, Tokyo Broadcasting Television System, Fuji Television Network, TV Asahi, TV Tokyo Corp. and NHK — all of which are affiliated with national newspapers, except for NHK.

NTV is affiliated with national daily Yomiuri Shimbun, while TV Asahi is affiliated with its rival daily, the Asahi Shimbun.

Besides the national networks, there are numerous independent terrestrial commercial stations that are not members of the national networks but together form a loose group called the Japanese Association of Independent Television Stations.

How much revenue do broadcasters generate?

According to a communications ministry white paper from 2010, the broadcasting market, or the total proceeds of NHK and other commercial broadcast media including radio and satellite and cable TV networks, in fiscal 2008 was approximately ¥3.98 trillion, down from ¥4.12 trillion in 2007.

The majority of revenue earned by terrestrial commercial broadcasters comes from advertising, although this figure has been steadily declining.

In fiscal 2008, terrestrial commercial broadcasters’ revenue was ¥2.45 trillion, down from ¥2.61 trillion in fiscal 2004. Of that, ¥2.06 trillion was from advertising, down from ¥2.23 trillion in fiscal 2004.

Recent trends show that while terrestrial broadcasters are still in the black, their market share has been slowly eroding as satellite and cable TV broadcasters increase their presence.

The total revenue of satellite and cable TV stations in fiscal 2008 was ¥857 billion, up from ¥669 billion in fiscal 2004.

However, terrestrial broadcasters still maintain a very high profit margin.

According to the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan, in fiscal 2009, 194 member commercial broadcasters recorded pretax profits of ¥73 billion, a 13.4 percent increase from the previous year.

What are recent viewer trends?

Recent statistics reveal that an increasing number of viewers in the younger generation have been drawn away from television, instead turning to the Internet as a source for news.

According to NHK’s National Individual Audience Rating Survey from June 2010, the average viewer watches three hours and 35 minutes of television a day.

By age group, those between 7 and 29 spent an average of two hours per day watching television, far less than the five hours of viewing time spent by those aged 70 and above.

A February press release by Research and Development, a market research agency, meanwhile revealed that out of its respondents, 46 percent of men and 37 percent of women aged between 18 and 24 said they “wouldn’t particularly be troubled without a television.”

Over 50 percent of the respondents from the same age group also said they get information on the latest news from the Internet, rather than from TV.

The same survey suggested the Internet has taken over as the main source of news, leaving television to function mainly as a source of entertainment.

Have all households made the switch to digital terrestrial TV?

Despite avid campaigning by the government and terrestrial broadcasters, there’s concern that many senior citizens and those with disabilities have not made the transition.

Disaster-stricken Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures have received a one-year extension to make the transition, but the remaining 44 prefectures switched over as of Sunday.

NHK announced July 7 that as of late June there were 290,000 households that have yet to prepare for the move to digital terrestrial broadcasts. Meanwhile, the communications ministry has been distributing free digital terrestrial tuners to low-income families to help out such “digital terrestrial refugees.”

The communications ministry and NHK received over 140,000 calls Sunday from viewers with questions on the shift to digital.

There is also concern that there are many more unreported households that have refrained from making the transition, whether intentionally or for other reasons.

During a July 19 press conference, communications minister Yoshihiro Katayama asked such households to swiftly make the transition, saying there were many merits in switching over to digital broadcasts.

“(The switch to digital terrestrial broadcasts) was decided by law 10 years ago after much debate, and people must abide by that decision.”

On July 25, 2001, the government approved revisions to the Radio Law to change the frequency of analog broadcasts, providing a 10-year window for users to make the switch to digital.

Katayama said that the switch will free up frequency bandwidths for other technologies, such as mobile phones, to vitalize communications in general.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp

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