Japanese look for HDTV fare

Format will be hot as mergers and acquisitions continue

TOKYO – Hey buddy, do you have any HDTV?

If there is anything that the large but thrifty delegation from Japan will spend money on, it is programming in the high-definition TV format.

Japan’s webs are all set to launch a channel of programming each this December on a government broadcast satellite.

Although the programming skeds seem to be set for the launch, they may be looking to Mipcom to plug unexpected holes.

The satellite channels will all be broadcasting in digital format and the government is pushing for as much HDTV programming as possible.

The only problem is that the new channels such as BS-i, or BS-Fuji or BS Asahi do not have the deep pockets of their big brother networks and their services will at first only be seen by a small fraction of Japanese households that have spent a few thousand dollars on a digital TV, satellite antenna and set top box.

“We are not planning on sending anyone to Mipcom and we are planning to make as much programming in the HDTV format on our own as possible,” says a top programming official for BS Fuji, the new satellite channel for Japan’s top earning network Fuji TV.

Broadcast rights contracts for Japan may be a little more difficult to negotiate now that networks will be operating satellite channels. The satellite channels will also be broadcast on some cable services, which means that sellers have to think about prices for a network TV broadcast, satellite broadcast, a satcaster platform broadcast and CATV broadcast when striking deals with the big players from Japan.

In the past few months, Japan’s TV market has gone through a wave of consolidation.

Satcaster DirecTV Japan has vanished after being absorbed by Sky PerfecTV, which is the last satcaster platform standing in the country.

In addition, cablers Titus and Jupiter have merged to form the largest CATV company in Japan while electronics giant Fujitsu, trading house Marubeni, security company Secom and utility Tokyo Electric Power look ready to merge their CATV companies in the Tokyo region to form the second largest cabler.

“Some of the hot products for Japanese buyers for satellite and cable channels will be things in the HDTV format as well as food and fashion programs,” says Mina Sasaki of Vis a Vision, a company that operates channels on the Sky PerfecTV platform.

Although Fuji TV purchased the format for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” for its versions that started in April, Japanese commercial webs will not be looking for foreign formats or programming. Less than 1% of all programming on the webs is foreign and there are no foreign programs regularly broadcast in prime time.

Pubcaster NHK and subscription channel Wowow will be among the few broadcasters looking for hot programs from overseas.

Webs such as Fuji TV, TBS and NTV will be looking to sell their goods to Asian broadcasters and may have a few animated series and formats for the West.

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