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The use of television for purposes other than broadcasting, such as checking on the well-being of seniors living alone, is increasing in Japan.

A consortium of TV Asahi Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and other entities, including the government-backed Urban Renaissance Agency, is undertaking an experiment in Yokodai Kita Danchi, a residential complex in Isogo Ward in Yokohama, that makes use of TVs and the Internet to surveil residents’ television viewing habits.

The experiment involves a computer system that monitors where in the complex people tune into TV Asahi programs and when. If residents do not watch any programs over a certain period of time, telephone calls are made to check on their well-being. If the calls are not answered, the neighborhood community association is notified and visits can be made to the home to confirm whether anything is amiss.

“The system may prevent ‘unattended deaths’ among elderly people living alone,” said Kuniaki Takaoka, a leader of the association. Solitary deaths are rising within Japan’s rapidly graying society as more elderly end up living alone.

As part of the experiment, a data broadcasting site exclusively for the complex was set up to enable the transmission of highly localized content. This also lets residents share such things as photos and poems.

Residents “feel excited when they appear on TV,” Takaoka said.

People can receive new services merely by connecting their TVs to the Internet, said Hiroshi Oba, a TV Asahi official involved in the experiment. The combined use of TVs and the Internet was made possible by the nationwide conversion to terrestrial digital broadcasting in July 2011.

In another example, Shikoku Broadcasting Co., Nippon Television Network Corp. and local governments have teamed up to launch Jointown, a disaster preparedness project, in a coastal district of Minami Town, Tokushima Prefecture. Experts say the district could be hit by tsunami as high as 17.5 meters under the Nankai Trough earthquake scenario.

The Jointown project is designed to transmit evacuation warnings to each household if a major disaster occurs.

During an emergency drill held in January on the assumption of a big tsunami hitting the district, a written evacuation message appeared on the TV screens of homes in the area, telling people by name to flee to higher ground.

Since the system also recognizes which families were watching TV at any particular time, rescue workers can be dispatched if they collapse and rescue those inside.

Residents who register with the project also receive electronic ID cards so their whereabouts can be readily confirmed when scanned at a shelter.

Tokushima Gov. Kamon Iizumi said the system should be further developed to save lives in the event of disaster.

NTV plans to carry out similar projects in other locations, including northeast Japan, which was heavily damaged by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, and the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Other services making use of Internet-linked TVs include a health management program devised by Hiroshima-based RCC Broadcasting Co. that lets viewers check their health data on their own TV screens.

But mechanisms for making many of the new applications work are still pending.

“An industry-government-academia study panel should be established to promote (the “Jointown” format) as an open platform” for other firms to use, said Shinsuke Wakai, head of NTV’s Media Design Center.

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