Business / Corporate | FOCUS

Competition between streaming services heating up in Japan amid pandemic

Kyodo

Online subscription-based streaming of films and television programs has seen an uptick in Japan in recent years, and with the coronavirus pandemic keeping more people at home, that trend appears to be intensifying.

The growth in the market is led by foreign companies globalizing operations on the back of their financial clout, with Netflix Inc. sitting on top as the hands-down market leader.

Netflix scored a huge success with “The Naked Director,” its first web drama television series produced in Japan and based on a nonfiction novel about a Japanese adult video director. With its unconventional plot and celebrity cast including Takayuki Yamada in the lead role, it was the most viewed Netflix original drama in Japan in 2019.

The California-based firm has since produced other works directed by popular Japanese directors, among them the director, writer and poet Sion Sono.

Netflix has more than 180 million subscribers worldwide, including over 3 million in Japan, and is said to be spending more than ¥1 trillion ($9.3 billion) per year on content production.

Netflix saw its subscriber numbers surge by almost 16 million around the world in the first three months of the year with lockdowns keeping people at home, the firm said.

Another popular series streaming on Netflix is “Midnight Diner,” a series produced by major entertainment agency Amuse Inc. that first gained a following on the TBS network.

It has been streaming on Netflix since 2016, starting with the fourth season. Behind the switch to the streaming service was the size of Netflix’s budget, which is “different by a factor of 10,” according to Amuse producer Hitoshi Endo.

A demonstration by Hulu is held at a Tokyo hotel in September 2011, when the provider launched the online video subscription service in Japan. | Kyodo
A demonstration by Hulu is held at a Tokyo hotel in September 2011, when the provider launched the online video subscription service in Japan. | Kyodo

Among other overseas providers, Amazon.com Inc. has gained a healthy subscriber base through a combination of electronic commerce and streaming services, while Walt Disney Co. began streaming its extensive library of popular films in Japan in June.

According to market research firm ICT Research and Consulting, the number of subscribers to flat-rate streaming services in Japan increased to 14.8 million in 2018 from 8.9 million in 2016.

Among Japanese operators, U-Next Co. and the Hulu service acquired by Nippon Television Holdings Inc. are seeking to attract more subscribers through original marketing strategies.

U-Next focuses on the procurement of domestic and foreign movies and TV dramas, and has some 200,000 videos available for viewing. Hulu, utilizing its connection with Nippon Television, aims to strengthen its productions of content such as spin-offs and webcasts of serialized TV shows.

In Japan, viewers in their teens watch TV on a real-time basis for an average 71 minutes per day, compared with 248 minutes for those in their 60s, according to a survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry in fiscal 2018.

“TV broadcasting is becoming less dominant in entertainment video such as movies,” said Koichi Yomoda, head of Visual Media Research Institute LLC.

Coronavirus banner