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Olympics Fuel Development of New TV Technology

August 10, 2000
On September 1 test transmissions of digital television via broadcasting satellite (BS) will begin in Japan. To coincide with these tests, home electronics manufacturers are beginning production of digital BS receivers. Soon after the broadcasts begin, on September 15 the Sydney Olympic Games will open, and TV viewers around the world will sit down to witness this festival of sport lasting more than two weeks. The Japanese electronics industry is hoping that consumersŐ desire to see clearer, digital pictures of the Olympics will push them to spring for the new technology.

Big Events and New TVs
The home electronics market has levelled off, with none of the major manufacturers seeing much growth. For that reason they are all harboring great expectations of BS digital television, a product whose future looks bright, and competition for share in the digital market is hotting up.

The history of television in Japan is inextricably linked to coverage of big events. Demand for black-and-white TV sets reached a peak in 1959, when people were keen to catch a glimpse of the wedding of Japanese Crown Prince (now Emperor) Akihito. Likewise, the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 caused color television sales to skyrocket. Looking to such events as a precedent, the home electronics industry sees the 2000 Sydney Olympics as a not-to-be-missed business opportunity that may give rise to a third wave of frenzied TV-buying and spark the full-fledged take-off of BS digital TV.

BS digital broadcasts are a step up from the analog BS broadcasts that have been around since 1989. Digital broadcasting entails converting pictures and sounds into digital signals for transmission. Digital transmissions represent a considerable advance in picture and sound quality from analog ones, allowing viewers to enjoy interference-free reception even in cars. Large amounts of data, for example text or diagrams, can be transmitted alongside the pictures and sound, giving viewers access to news and weather reports, program guides, and ticket-reservation services. Digital TV also enables viewers to interact with programs by, for example, casting votes in polls or answering quiz questions.

Experimental Transmissions Underway
On June 24 digital broadcasters began daily experimental transmissions, lasting from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends, with the aim of allowing home electronics manufacturers to check that their digital TV receivers functioned correctly. People who own digital televisions or sets with special tuners can watch the programs broadcast during these test periods. One maker has timed the release of its BS digital TVs to coincide with these experimental broadcasts, which included coverage of the G8 Kyushu-Okinawa Summit that took place from July 21 to 23.

From September 1 test broadcasts of BS digital TV will begin, lasting for 17 hours every day from 7 a.m. to midnight. In preparation for the start of full-fledged transmissions in December, the program content of these test broadcasts will be more rich and varied than the experimental transmissions. The prime attraction will be live coverage of the Sydney Olympics.

Current TVs Soon Obsolete?
Terrestrial television stations are also scheduled to begin digital broadcasts in 2003, and all land-based analog transmissions are scheduled to come to a halt in 2010. That would mean viewers could not use their current televisions without installing a tuner for digital broadcasts.

In other words, in the not too distant future almost all televisions currently in use in Japan may have to be replaced or upgraded. Since the number of TV sets currently in use is about 100 million, the anticipated surge in demand when that time comes is a very big incentive for electronics makers.

The home electronics industry, looking for a trailblazing product to lead it out of the doldrums, is anxious to get the digital-TV ball rolling now and see the benefits as soon as possible. That is why firms are so excited by the prospect of entering the BS digital TV market.

Industry predictions suggest that the demand created by people replacing their current TV sets with digital televisions will total 10 million sets over the next three years. Based on the price of BS digital TVs that have recently come on the market (400,000 to 500,000 yen, or 3,860 to 4,550 U.S. dollars at 110 yen to the dollar), that amounts to a huge sum in the region of 4 trillion yen (38.6 billion dollars). Of course cost-cutting is bound to bring the price of the sets down, but according to calculations by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, in 2005 the value of the market for BS digital televisions (including tuners) will reach 1.7 trillion yen (15.5 billion dollars).

In order to make such a lucrative market a reality, broadcasters will have to improve the content of their programming. Since the number of channels is set to rise substantially, it will be no easy matter to produce enough programs to fill the slots and attract viewers. For that reason, TV stations and program makers are increasingly merging or otherwise pooling their resources in order to develop content more efficiently.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.