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Measuring the economics behind a shift to streaming

by and

Special To The Japan Times

An article in the Feb. 17 issue of the Asahi Shimbun describes a restaurant in Osaka where diners can watch J. League soccer games. The restaurant has three TV monitors hooked up to Sky PerfecTV, one of Japan’s satellite broadcast services. At the end of January, however, the J. League shifted its exclusive broadcast contract from Sky PerfecTV to a video streaming service called DAZN. The selling point of the restaurant was always J. League games, so now the business’ satellite setup is worthless.

The article doesn’t say whether or not the restaurant is going to switch to streaming, which would entail an investment in internet connections and other devices, but it does say that the restaurant is falling victim to a phenomenon called datsu-terebi, or “leaving TV.” Young people no longer watch television programs on TVs, if they watch them at all, preferring to use their mobile devices. And as streaming slowly catches on in Japan, people’s idea of visual content is changing, not so much because of the difference between reception modes (i.e., antennas and satellite dishes and cable services versus internet providers) but because of the convenience.

The Osaka restaurant’s dilemma is that with J. League games now available on a streaming service, a person who subscribes to that service can watch any J. League game anytime they want on any device that can connect to the internet. When J. League games were only available on Sky PerfecTV, the viewer had to have a satellite setup, which could be considered a waste of money if all you want to watch is soccer, so going to a restaurant or bar to enjoy games was a viable option.

But is streaming more economical? Sky PerfecTV contracts start at around ¥3,700 a month, not including registration and installation fees, or about the equivalent of three streaming services, so streaming seems to be cheaper. But then you have to factor in the internet connection — whether it be through a dedicated home-use provider or a mobile service — and any other equipment you might need to reproduce the image on your TV set.

In any event, the J. League switch has definitely changed Sky PerfecTV’s subscription profile — though, according to Nihon Keizai Shimbun, not its bottom line. On Feb. 1, the newspaper reported that the number of Sky PerfecTV subscribers shrunk by 3 percent between September and December 2016, after it was announced that J. League broadcasts would be moving to DAZN. The newspaper adds that the satellite company expects a further rash of cancellations now that J. League broadcasts have officially ended but doesn’t see the loss of users eating into profits since the company no longer has to pay ¥5 billion a year for the rights to J. League games.

According to media reports, Perform Group, the U.K.-based company that runs DAZN, paid ¥210 billion for those rights for 10 years, which means the company obviously has confidence in the viability of professional soccer in Japan, since they are only charging ¥1,750 a month for a wide variety of sports events, not just J. League. European professional soccer is available on the platform, as is Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NFL and the PGA tour; not to mention F1, tennis, boxing, rugby, volleyball and even darts.

If, as the Asahi Shimbun theorizes, sports content is quickening the switch-over from TV broadcasts to streaming in Japan, it could facilitate a similarly heated switch-over for other forms of content. According to the Digital Contents Association of Japan, the Japanese streaming market in 2015, the last year it has available data, was about ¥141 billion, a 12 percent increase over 2014. The association predicts that it will increase to ¥227 billion by 2020.

The main obstacle is the selection of services that offer a lot of overlap in content, which at the same time is limited when compared to streaming services in other countries. Japanese broadcasters are averse to streaming, thinking that it competes with their main business, so they have been slow to take up the streaming banner themselves and/or license content to other services.

DTV, a service affiliated with mobile carrier Docomo, is the most popular streaming service in Japan, mainly because of its low price — ¥540 a month. The content seems huge — 120,000 titles — but much of it requires an extra rental fee, especially if it’s a movie in a high-definition format, which runs about ¥300.

Hulu, the most popular foreign-based service, costs ¥933 a month before tax and offers about one-fourth the number of titles dTV has, and while you don’t have to pay extra to rent any of them, users may find the content limited. The movie selection, for instance, trends toward foreign and domestic box-office hits. U-Next is more expensive — ¥1,990 a month before tax — and focuses on Japanese variety programming and new movies, but it’s main attraction seems to be its adult content.

Since it’s relatively new in Japan, Netflix, the world’s largest streaming service, still lags in terms of subscribers, but it probably has the most eclectic selection of titles, especially for people who are used to content from abroad, and offers a range of prices from ¥650 to ¥1,450 before tax, depending on the number of devices used and the quality of the image.

Prime Video also has interesting content and is free to anyone who signs up to Amazon Prime, but, again, a lot of stuff you have to pay extra for. We have Prime but had to pay ¥216 per episode to watch the last two seasons of “Mad Men,” which at the time was only available in Japan on Amazon. Also, users should note that DVD rentals are still a thing in Japan and are sometimes more cost-effective when compared to streaming. Tsutaya tends to get new titles before the streaming services make them available. The fifth season of “Homeland” will cost viewers at least ¥216 per episode on Amazon, but DVDs of the show at Tsutaya with two episodes per disc are only ¥324 each.

So-called smart TVs have the capability to stream material straight from your internet router through dedicated software, but not every service is represented. Our Sharp TV, which was manufactured less than 18 months ago, was shipped with the ability to stream Hulu, but in mid-February that capability was discontinued. So now we use Chromecast to mirror Hulu from our mobile devices, as well as Netflix and Prime. The device is easy to install and costs between ¥2,000 and ¥3,000, but it tends to need rebooting quite often. In any case, if you want to watch streaming content on your TV set you may need such a device to do so, even if it’s a brand new model.

NHK, which usually leads Japan in broadcast technology, would be expected to provide superior streaming services, but so far its endeavors in that field have been half-hearted. Their On Demand service charges a per-title fee even for subscribers (which, remember, is mandatory for anyone in Japan with a pulse) and doesn’t offer everything in their library at all times.

Last fall, the public broadcaster conducted a two-month experiment during which programs being broadcast on the air were simultaneously available on the internet. According to Jiji Press, only 6 percent of viewers watched anything online during this period, though such a low result could be blamed on the fact that NHK hardly publicized the experiment. Reportedly, NHK will start regular internet broadcasts in a few years after they consider how to charge for it. Just because you already pay for something doesn’t mean you won’t have to pay extra for it.

Yen for Living covers issues related to making, spending and saving money on the second and fourth Sundays of the month.