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The Battle Is On

May 1, 1998

Broadcasters are getting ready for more channels and more competition. (Photo: Kyodo)

Two of the three companies in Japan that operate digital broadcasting using communications satellites are set to merge in May of this year. The merger is being made in anticipation of intensifying competition in the communications satellite (CS) broadcasting business. At around the turn of the century, both satellite and terrestrial broadcasting will switch from analog to digital and enter an age of multichannel broadcasting. Furthermore, other new forms of media, such as the Internet, are sure to join the fray. The twenty-first century looks likely to become an era of media megacompetition.

Priority on Reorganization in the CS Business
Japan's television broadcasting, which has a history of nearly half a century, consists mainly of terrestrial stations. There are also two types of satellite broadcasting--by broadcast satellite (BS) and by CS.

BS broadcasting, which uses an analog format, started with test broadcasts carried out by the semigovernmental NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) in 1984. Three channels are now in operation, including two NHK channels.

CS broadcasting was launched in 1992 with six analog channels. PerfecTV was the first satellite operator to use a digital format, suitable for multi-channel transmissions, debuting in October 1996 with approximately 100 channels; it was followed by DirecTV, which started in December 1997 with about 60 channels.

Japan Sky Broadcasting Co. (JSkyB), meanwhile, which was scheduled to commence with about 100 channels in April 1998, has agreed to merge with PerfecTV. Both companies are afraid of excessive competition in the limited CS market, which could lead to business failure for both of them. The new company will be called Sky PerfecTV.

If the reorganization of the CS business is the first stage in the battle to win over viewers, then the second stage is going to come with the digital era after 2000. With the beginning of digital-format broadcasting after 2000, the number of BS channels will increase from the current 3 to about 10. The selling point of BS digital broadcasting is the high quality of the picture, so broadcasters seeking to enter the field can be expected to compete by producing programs that utilize this feature.

Internet Also a New Rival
While the diversification of broadcasting media advances in this way, a new Internet service has appeared in Japan that transmits programs on a regular basis. This company dubs itself a "general Webcast" operator; the programming spans 10 genres including art, music, news, and sports. Some of the programs consist of documentary footage previously aired on television, or press conferences of famous foreign actors held during their visit to Japan.

This service differs from television broadcasts in that the programs are retrieved on demand rather than aired on a set schedule, but closely resembles broadcast service in that information is beamed to an unspecified number of recipients. Monthly access through this Internet service is said to exceed 1.5 million.

Other Internet services using satellites to transmit information have also been sprouting in Japan. Satellite communication is capable of transmitting a huge amount of data up to several hundred times faster than that of normal telephone lines, enabling users to send and receive large-volume data in a very short time. One used-car trader based in Chiba Prefecture, neighboring Tokyo, has started a service using this satellite data-transmission technology to send out information on used cars. The company plans to set up satellite communication terminals for this purpose in 500 gasoline stations nationwide by May 1998.

Faced with the diffusion of such high-speed communication methods, television companies must now include among their competitors not only other broadcasting companies but also other forms of media. TV broadcasting is indeed entering an age of warfare.

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Trends in JapanEdited 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.

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