NHK only exception to homegrown programming trend

Territory report: Japan

TOKYO — The Japanese television market is both big — with nearly 48 million TV households — and lucrative, with ad spend reaching $17.5 billion in 2004.

In addition to the five commercial webs (Fuji TV, NTV, TV Asahi, TBS and TV Tokyo), viewers can tune into the five channels (two terrestrial, two satellite, one Hi-Vision) of pubcaster NHK.

The five commercial webs buy little foreign programming beyond the occasional film or sports and doc segments. Series from the U.S. and elsewhere mostly disappeared from the webs’ schedules three decades ago, and the prospects for return are not bright.

The biggest exception to this local-programming-only rule is pubcaster NHK, which broadcasts to nearly every home in Japan via its terrestrial general and educational channels, and to nearly 13 million subs on its BS1 and BS2 satellite channels. The satellite strands devote nearly a quarter of their schedules to foreign programming, including sports, dramas and docs.

Korean dramas got big play on NHK following the smash success of “Winter Sonata,” a drama of star-crossed love. The pubcaster has broadcast five more Korean dramas that have pulled down solid, if not spectacular, numbers.

“We’re still looking for good Korean dramas,” says NHK buyer Aki Shibata.

But the sheer amount of Korean programming “has made the selection process difficult,” he adds. “You need the right know-how to make the right choices.” High ratings in the Korean markets don’t always translate into high ratings in Japan.

American series also get strong play on NHK. This year the pubcaster has broadcast “Full House” and “Mentors” on the educational channel, “ER,” “Monk” and “FBI” on BS2, and oldies but goodies like “Combat,” “Rawhide,” “The Fugitive” and “I Love Lucy” on BS2.

“Japanese baby boomers saw these shows in the 1950s and 1960s and still remember them fondly,” says NHK acquisitions head Seiji Miyamoto.

The NHK fall lineup includes the second season of “Desperate Housewives,” Korean drama “Spring Waltz,” BBC series “Doctor Who” and, back by popular demand, “ER.”

NHK is even eyeing reality shows, “as long as the protagonists grow and develop. We don’t want to show people fighting with each other or degrading themselves,” Miyamoto adds.

1. “Junjo kirari,” NHK
2. “My Boss, My Hero,” NTV
3. “Enta no kamisama,” NTV

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