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Japan: Internet head looks to shake up the broadcast biz

TOKYO — The Mip TV market will open just as an upstart new-media maverick intensifies his push into the old-media order.

Takafumi Horie’s cash-rich Internet service portal Livedoor is prepping a ¥300 billion ($2.9 billion) leveraged buyout of Japanese commercial giant Fuji TV.

Horie’s move comes hot on the heels of Livedoor’s acquisition of a 50% stake in Fuji’s much smaller affiliate, Nippon Broadcasting System. As NBS is Fuji’s biggest shareholder, this already gives him a major say in the TV net’s operation.

Horie’s offensive signals a big change for Japan’s staid TV biz.

Recent liberalization of Japanese law has made it possible for companies outside the traditional broadcasting biz, particularly Netcos, to get involved in hybrid media services.

The stated aim of Livedoor’s flamboyant chief is the transformation of broadcasting into an Internet operation. With broadband delivery of content becoming more common in Japan, his vision doesn’t seem farfetched. But current brass at the networks doesn’t subscribe to it.

The commercial broadcasters have responded by circling their wagons. The Commercial Broadcasters Assn., under the leadership of Hisashi Hieda, Fuji TV’s chair, is looking at industrywide measures that would foil hostile bids such as Livedoor’s.

And it isn’t just the island’s commercial broadcasters looking in the mirror. Accounting issues at pubcaster NHK led to a revolt by viewers, who withheld their license fees, and the resignation of prexy Katsuji Ebisawa in January.

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