Biz slowly limps back after quake

The post-quake situation in Japan remains far from normal, but television skeds are beginning to normalize five days after the 9.0 magnitude temblor and tsunami hit, and other communication modes are gradually being restored.

The five commercial nets aired regular programming on Wednesday, punctuated by frequent news updates, while pubcaster NHK is still covering the situation 24/7.

The focus now includes the growing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor crisis, but since the imposition of ever wider evacuation zones around the complex — now 18 miles — reporters and camera crews have had to keep their distance.

Coverage is largely limited to interviews with experts and info from officials, especially chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano. The restrictions on reporting have led to complaints from press and public that the flow of info is not as free and detailed as it should be.

The blanket coverage of previous days has been particularly costly to commercial TV groups, which pulled advertising breaks. They don’t have NHK’s cushion of compulsory fees paid by homes that receive TV.

The constant reports were vital in the first 24 hours when the networks’ terrestrial and satellite strands were the only source of info for many in the affected areas since cellphone services, unable to handle the sudden upsurge in traffic, started bouncing calls and text messages.

Those with working Internet connections traded info and updates on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites, but stranded Tokyo commuters huddled around TV screens in tiny shops, watching NHK.

Almost immediately after the quake hit, NHK was not only broadcasting its location and intensity but issuing tsunami warnings using data from the Japan Meteorological Agency. The commercial nets were not far behind and, soon after the tsunami hit, viewers could see shocking footage taken from helicopters or on-the-scene cameramen of entire communities being swept away.

The networks continued to cover the quake around the clock for four days, with the exception of TV Tokyo, which aired a toon in a latenight slot Sunday.

Events have been too intense and fast-changing for the nets to mount their own fund-raisers, but aid for the victims has been pouring in from all sectors of the Japanese biz, as well as abroad.

Nippon Television Network’s “24-hour Television,” a charity telethon aired every August since 1978, had raised $2.5 million from 55,000 contributors to its website by Wednesday.

Avex Group Holdings, which reps some of Japan’s biggest pop music acts, announced the same day that it was donating $1.25 million to quake relief, while TV talent shop Watanabe Prods. pitched in $1.25 million and has skedded an Internet charity auction for Friday, with all its talent participating and all proceeds going to quake victims.

Individuals have also stepped forward, including Cyndi Lauper, whose three-city Japan tour started Wednesday despite the cancellations of dozens of other entertainment events. Collection boxes for quake relief will be placed at every venue.

Lady Gaga designed and made a Japan prayer bracelet sold through her website; sales raised a reported $250,00 over 48 hours. She also called on fans to donate to Citizeneffect.org, a Japanese fund-raising org.

A more unusual contribution is that of singer-actress Sayuri Kokusho, who announced Tuesday that she was donating all her coin from a winning lottery ticket — $12,500 — to quake relief.

Elsewhere in the local media scene, gasoline shortages have slowed the delivery of film prints to provincial theaters not yet set up for digital projection.

Anthony Hopkins shocker “The Rite” has had its Saturday bow pushed back by distrib Warner. And Paramount Japan is struggling to deliver prints of “True Grit” to theaters by the pic’s skedded Saturday opening. Meanwhile, the opening for Sony’s “Battle: Los Angeles,” skedded to open April 1 under the title “World Invasion in Japan,” is on hold until further notice.

The Japanese B.O. last weekend was down 41% from the previous weekend, according to figures compiled by Rentrak.

Opening on the day after the quake, the security police thriller “SP Kakumeihen” topped the chart with $3.6 million from 239 screens, half the take of the previous “SP” pic released last year, after exhibs closed theaters in quake-stricken northern Japan.

Also bowing at the weekend was the Disney toon “Tangled,” which ranked third with $1.77 million on 370 screens.

The only other newcomer to the top 10 was “Nintama Rantaro,” a local toon released by Warner Japan. Ranking ninth, it earned a weak $257,105 on 90 screens.

Other Hollywood pics in the top 10 recorded steep week-on-week drops, including 66.2% for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (fourth at $1.43 million), 63.9% for “Twisted” (fifth with $1.38 million) and 72.5% for “The King’s Speech” (sixth with $449, 371).

The dismal figures are likely to continue into summer, as exhibs close theaters and cut back on screenings in reaction to power blackouts, transportation stoppages and fuel shortages.Normally with the nation’s schools closing for spring break, this is a peak B.O. season, but the local biz has instead gone into survival mode.

Meanwhile, cancellations of media events mounted. The Tokyo Anime Fair, the largest mart of its kind for toon content, has scratched its 2011 edition, due to be held March 24-27. A competing event, Anime Contents Expo, is still skedded for March 26-27 in Tokyo. Exhibitors include Kadokawa, Aniplex, Animate, Amusement Media, Dentsu, TV Tokyo and Osaka Broadcasting.

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