Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS), one of Japan’s five major commercial networks, and state-operated Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) have inked a cooperation pact encompassing news and programming contents.
The deal with MRTV is a first for a Japanese commercial broadcaster and symptomatic of a larger drive by Japanese companies in a range of sectors to broaden their presence in the growing Myanmar economy.
Since the 2010 elections that installed a military-backed government, Myanmar has shifted from being one of the world’s most closed and repressive societies to greater tolerance of dissent, as symbolized by the 2010 release of opposition leader and long-time democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. The government has also become more open to foreign companies eager to do business in a largely untapped and underdeveloped market of 57 million people, with the Japanese, who quietly kept up ties with Myanmar during years of Western sanctions, in the forefront.
MRTV also has a cooperative relationship with Japanese pubcaster NHK, as well as with other foreign broadcasting entities.
According to the agreement, the partners will supply each other with news footage, while TBS will provide as-yet-unspecified programming for broadcast in Myanmar. The shows will be sponsored by Japanese companies active in the country and TBS and MRTV will share the ad revenue. The partners will also cooperate in program production.
TBS signed a similar pact with Vietnam’s state broadcaster last year as part of a corporate policy to export more of its contents abroad. By the end of next March the network plans to have broadcast 100 of its shows in the country. Overall, its goal is to double its program export revenue to $40 million by fiscal 2015.
The Myanmar broadcaster can trace its history back to a radio service started by the British colonial government in 1936. It started regular TV broadcasts in 1981 and by 2005 had 195 relay stations throughout the country.
In 2004, in cooperation with the Yangon-based media company Forever Group, MRTV launched MRTV-4, a terrestrial and satellite service with 12 local and 14 foreign channels, including Fox Movies Premium, Fox Family Movies and other U.S.-sourced channels. In 2011 MRTV-4 started an HD service.
Among the Japanese companies that have taken Myanmar plunge are Toyota, Nissan and Honda, with service centers in the country, while others such as telecoms NTT and KDDI, are planning to invest or open branch offices.
Japan is also taking a leading role in building a special economic zone outside Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar’s largest city, that will feature a new port, roads and other infrastructure.
The Japanese government has supported these corporate investments with the pledge of a $500 million loan to the Myanmar government for infrastructure and other projects.
Sticking points include inadequate transportation and communications, weak rule of law, rampant corruption and still-omnipresent censorship, with Myanmar ranked 151st in the global Press Freedom Index as of 2013, about the same as Singapore.