Media Mix, Jan. 23, 2011

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about NHK’s appropriation of commercial TV’s programming strategies. In the print edition of the Japan Times it appears next to Mark Schreiber’s report about the potholes on the road to all-digital television, which starts in July. Mark didn’t mention NHK in his piece, though, as implied in mine, it has a huge stake in the changeover. Yesterday, Asahi Shimbun published a letter from a reader that said pretty much the same thing that I did, though the person took a more critical attitude toward the kind of owarai tarento that dominates television nowadays, saying that they don’t know how to talk and use “bad Japanese.” The impression I got from the remark is that it’s somehow acceptable for such incoherent yokels to appear on commercial TV but NHK has a reputation to uphold. (See example above from the Kansai NHK TV show West Wind) The comment clearly shows what NHK is up against in trying to convey greater relevance to its audience so that viewers won’t feel they are paying for nothing: you’re damned if you do give people supposedly what they want, and you’re damned if you don’t. But, of course, a better old saw would be that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and NHK would probably be more successful in making a case for mandatory subscriptions if it just concentrated on quality programming. What is quality programming? That’s a difficult question to answer, but in any case it sure ain’t Shibuya Deep A.

The letter writer also brought up another point that I didn’t elaborate on in the column. This person seems quite angry with NHK’s concerted effort to promote the digital changeover on the air, especially with relation to the soon-to-be-overhauled BS channels. NHK isn’t just copying commercial TV style, they have in effect become a commercial enterprise, if commercial enterprise describes an endeavor that promotes something for the purpose of getting people to spend money. A good deal of NHK’s “resources,” says the letter writer, are obviously being used to promote itself. (S)he points out that a 60-minute show is now 55 minutes, because 5 minutes of every hour is reserved for “commercials” for NHK digital content, many of which feature celebrities singing the praises of BS channels.

Also, in the column I mentioned that NHK seems to be partnering with some business entities in the production of programs, and focused on a 30-minute “documentary” about the Italian espresso maker Illy. I happened to be in a grocery store this morning and saw a display for green tea from Kakegawa, Shizuoka Prefecture. In big, bold type, the display called attention to the fact that Kakegawa green tea was recently covered “on TV.” Though the display didn’t mention NHK, two weeks ago the science/health quiz show Tameshite Gatten did a whole show on the health benefits of green tea, and mostly covered the production process as it’s carried out in Kakegawa. In fact, the morning of the day that program was aired there was a flyer in the Asahi Shimbun promoting Kakegawa green tea mentioning that its virtues have been confirmed “on TV.” Coincidence? Certainly not. Since NHK wasn’t mentioned in either the display or the flyer the broadcaster obviously can’t be directly linked to them, but the report on Tameshite was nevertheless pretty flattering.

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