A growing number of people in Japan are turning to the internet as their main destination for entertainment. Younger folk in particular opt for YouTube and Instagram as a first choice over TV. So how is traditional media adjusting to this new reality?
In recent times, some media organizations have attempted to re-create a person’s online experience on their television screen.
The most obvious effort to date, which premiered on Nippon TV in mid-September and also appears on the streaming service Hulu, is called “#Watanabe Naomi no Yaba-stagram.” The show follows popular comedian Naomi Watanabe as she browses through Instagram to find interesting people, whom she then subsequently visits to learn more about the person behind the content.
“Yaba-stagram” isn’t the first TV show that has embraced social media as a means of attracting a new generation of viewers used to much smaller screens, and it remains to be seen whether this shift to web-centric programming can woo the younger set back to television.
Television and social media used to be viewed in a completely different light, with the prior being far more important than the latter as far as advertisers were concerned. Influencers such as Peco and Ryucheru initially developed huge followings on sites such as Instagram, but whenever they subsequently appeared on a variety show, they became just another celebrity. YouTube creators and Twitter titans can become successful personalities on their own platforms, but they’re typically just another face on broadcast TV.
However, as online destinations start becoming a real alternative to TV — and, in the process, attract a much younger demographic — social media stars have seen their status rise. One of the big turning points in 2018 came when the NHK documentary show “Professional: Shigoto no Ryugi” devoted an entire episode to Japan’s most popular YouTuber, Hikakin. Given how internet creators often feel like second-class citizens in the world of domestic entertainment, one going under the microscope and being treated with an air of respect marked a big moment.
Watanabe, meanwhile, has successfully managed to produce a show devoted to a social network based on images. She has appeared in movies, TV dramas and variety shows, but she’s best known online, and on Instagram, in particular, where she boasts the most followers of any celebrity in Japan.
“Yaba-stagram” taps into Watanabe’s Instagram fame. The first episode features Watanabe meeting interesting Japanese Instagrammers (getting a firsthand look at tricks they use when manipulating photos). She gawked at Instagram-friendly catering. There’s no paradigm shift here — it’s still just a variety show — but one that uses Instagram as bait for a new type of audience.
Television’s shift toward social media has also trickled over to educational programs. NHK’s “SNS English” has joined the national broadcaster’s lineup of language-learning shows, but this recent entry uses trending topics and hashtags from the Western world as lesson points. The concept itself has been a staple on YouTube for some time now, but an educational program built around such themes as “#StrugglesOfAMillennial” is a significant development for NHK’s regular stable.
Taking this development a step further is AbemaTV. CyberAgent’s free streaming TV network features a plethora of midday dreck. It’s “MTV Hits” corner is a soul-crushing loop of sub “Jersey Shore” reality shows — but the main draw is in its original programming, which sometimes incorporates a social media aspect, albeit one that rarely rises above “Let’s check Twitter for comments.”
After initially ignoring it, traditional TV is starting to allow social media closer to the world of Japanese entertainment. To date, however, the networks are simply showing off happenings on Twitter and Instagram, the equivalent of someone trying to explain a meme to you. A better example of a show fusing online and traditional formats came from Yahoo Japan earlier this year via the online series “Koi no Hajimari wa Hokago no Chaimu Kara” (“Love Starts when the End-of-school Bell Tolls”). The show itself is a typical high school drama, but the innovation comes from every adolescent character operating their own on-brand Twitter account. Whereas other networks treat social media like something to talk about weekly, the folks behind this one realize social media is always mutating, so they need to have a presence on those platforms updating frequently.
And the best part of airing this type of content online? They give viewers something worth tweeting. The most popular online shows in recent years — from “Kodoku no Gourmet” to “Nehorin Pahorin” (which returns next month) — don’t force Web-centric elements into their structure. Instead, they make good, creative shows that attract a following that wants to discuss it on social media while it airs.
Television networks might be better served trying to close the gap with online content by putting greater emphasis on quality.