Japanese broadcasters, including the five commercial networks and pubcaster NHK, have long had an Internet presence, though monetizing online content is a mystery they have yet to solve.

But as young viewers continue to turn away from conventional TV to tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices, broadcasters know they either must adapt to the cyber-reality or dwindle away together with their aging core aud.

TV ad revenues rose 1.1% to $21.3 billion in 2010, but earnings for many broadcasters fell in the first half of 2011, with the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor disaster a contributing cause.

The result has been a flurry of initiatives designed to attract online viewers with not only new services, but also the crown jewels of network programming skeds.

In December, Nippon Television Network, Tokyo Broadcasting System and Fuji Television Network joined with ad shop Dentsu and distrib Toho to launch My Theater D.D., a service that streams network-produced pics, including recent blockbusters, via 30 Internet partners, including major streaming sites GyaO and Hikari TV.

This month, NHK’s Internet streaming site NHK Online will launch a special unlimited viewing pack that allows subscribers to enjoy new content three months ahead of its regular release. Another new service will give smartphone and tablet users access to all NHK Online content.

NHK Online’s viewer-generated revenue grew 180% in 2011. With the new services in place, NHK hope to spur this growth further.

“NHK plans to expand services for PC and mobile devices,” says NHK corporate planning exec Keiya Motohashi. “This is so that users can enjoy our programs in a more intimate way than conventional broadcasts. These services are also important for communicating vital information to people in environments where they can’t receive (terrestrial broadcast) signals.”

Also, the pubcaster’s overseas service NHK World now offers an Android app so that viewers around the world can stream its news, docu and cultural programming free of charge. NHK plans to make the app available in Japan as well.

“The know-how we acquire from providing this service will be useful for NHK’s Internet services as a whole,” says Motohashi.

Finally, NTV, with Facebook as a partner, launched a service March 14 called Join TV. When viewers with Internet-connected digital TVs log on to the service they can see, on the right side of their screens, the names of their friends watching the same show. They can also click an onscreen “like” button when a particular scene appeals to them, which all users of the show’s Facebook page can see.

The object is to spread good word-of-mouth about the show and, not incidentally, make it “sticky” enough that viewers will stay around for the ads. It could be a win-win for the online service users — and the old-line broadcaster trying to make money off them.

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