Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the recent tabloid coverage of Becky and SMAP. The headline chosen by JT is perhaps misleading in that it conflates the two “scandals” along the same lines, but if you read the column you can see that while both “acts” have the same provenance within the Japanese show business world, their respective problems have nothing to do with each other. Becky’s is a typical sex scandal, while SMAP’s is mainly existential—Should I stay or should I go?
But they are similar in the sense that, regardless of how deeply the problems affect Becky and the members of SMAP personally, it all comes down to money. Becky’s value to her management company is dependent on maintaining her pure image, so if that image is damaged in any way her value is diminished, and various media reports are now saying the scandal could cost Sun Music upwards of ¥500 million in lost revenues for TV commercials and penalties paid to the companies who use that image. With SMAP the money trail is a bit more circuitous but the numbers are nevertheless impressive. Shukan Bunshun, always a thorn in Johnny Kitagawa’s side, reports that SMAP’s fan club, which has close to 1 million members, brought in ¥4 billion in 2014 in membership fees alone. Tickets sales for concerts amounted to ¥9.5 billion; CDs and DVDs ¥2.3 billion. And then, of course, there’s the TV appearances, which grossed ¥6 billion. As a distinct business enterprise, SMAP made Johnny’s & Associates ¥22 billion in 2014, and that doesn’t even include licensing for SMAP-related merchandise, which is probably another ¥3 billion. Though Arashi is currently the most in-demand group in the Johnny’s stable, in 2014, at least, SMAP was the most profitable, accounting for one-fourth of the company’s revenues.
One of the questions still hanging in the air following the group’s well-documented decision to stick it out “for the fans” is what are they going to do about their 25th anniversary dome concert tour, which was originally scheduled to take place between August and November of this year. According to some reports, Johnny’s had already booked at least Tokyo Dome last fall, and then when internal problems came to a head in December, cancelled the booking. Likely they lost at least part of their deposit, but, more to the point, they lost the chance to reserve the venue. In other words, the flip-flopping cost the company money in this regard, though certainly not as much as Becky’s faux pas cost Sun Music. And in any case, as the above-mentioned numbers attest, Johnny’s can easily absorb the loss, and the excitement occasioned by the news that the group will stay together could make tickets for a resumed tour even more valuable.
But what about the group itself? Takuya Kimura came out smelling like roses because he was the only one who remained loyal to Johnny through the rumored split, and the tabloids are saying that he’s now the leader, usurping that role from Masahiro Nakai, the oldest member and, more significantly, the best paid. Bunshun estimates that Nakai made ¥500 million last year, with Kimura earning ¥300 million. (The other three are in the ¥100-¥200 million range) What’s important to note here is that Kimura made 60 percent of what Nakai did with a much smaller workload. Nakai has at least three regular TV series, while Kimura does the occasional acting gig. His main cash-generating activity is commercials, which are still the most cost-effective jobs for “talent” in Japan. TV shows, even those that pay well, require a lot of time and labor, while commercials require much, much less. Nakai famously has downplayed his singing and dancing skills for years, and Bunshun says he was the most keen to quit Johnny’s so that he could devote all his work time to being an emcee, which he does seem to be good at. He obviously is sick of being a member of a boy band, and as long as he remains with Johnny he will have to perform with SMAP. Certainly the fans know this, and while most cynics have complained about SMAP’s caving in to pressure from their paymasters and those paymasters’ tyrannical hold on their chargers, someone should say something about the fans’ insistence that their idols stick together. To paraphrase an old adage, if you love them, you should let them go.