Mip Territory Reports

TOKYO — The Japanese economy is sinking like a sumo wrestler in quicksand and taking the TV industry with it.

According to Dentsu, Japan’s biggest ad shop, TV’s total ad spend fell 4% in 2008 to $21 billion. For the July-September period, with the recession biting harder, spot ad sales plunged nearly 10% year-on-year.

As a result, sales revenue for terrestrial TV stations, including the five commercial networks, slid 5% for 2008, according to figures from the National Assn. of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan.

The outlook for 2009 is even gloomier, according to the NAB, which forecasts a 6% decline in revenues — the third straight annual drop. The only bright spot on the horizon is the 2% revenue gain, to $359 million, predicted for the five broadcast satellite stations operated by the networks.

As if reaching for comfort food in hard times, Japanese viewers are tuning in familiar shows, some of which have been around for decades.

For the week of Feb. 16-22, the top-rated scripted show was NHK’s “Tenchinjin” a drama based on a historical theme that is broadcast weekly from January to November. Coming in second was Nippon’s “Shoten,” a Sunday half-hour show featuring popular rakugoka — kimonoed comic storytellers — that launched in 1966.

The most popular toon show was Fuji TV’s “Sazaesan,” a family sitcom that first aired in 1969. Based on a newspaper comic that ran 1946-1974, the show celebrates traditional Japanese family values, while its mental clock is permanently stopped in the optimistic postwar boom days.

Whether those days return or not, Japanese are likely to keep watching shows, new or old, that offer escape from the economic storms raging outside.

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