Tokyo: Streaming Video Still Flowing Slowly in Japan

Following the Japan debuts of Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video and Bonobo last month, an already crowded Nippon video-on-demand market has become even tighter. Yet when representatives from five VoD services gathered Tuesday at Tokyo’s Japan Content Showcase 2015, there was little animosity.

“We’re not trying to lure customers (from other platforms),” said Toru Kato of PacketVideo, which manages new electronic sell-through service Bonobo. “We want to expand the total market.”

Bonobo launched on Sept. 30 with 260 titles available for rental and purchase from distributors Shochiku, Toei, Kadokawa, Disney, Toho and Tokyo Broadcasting System. Rights holders are free to set their own prices, with many charging $4.16 (JPY500) for rentals and $20.8 (JPY2,500) for purchases. Kato said that Bonobo plans to expand its catalogue to 7,000 titles and 50 distributors by Mar. next year.

James Farrell, head of content for Amazon Japan, struck a more competitive tone, deeming his company’s VoD service “the best value in Japan.”

Amazon Prime Instant Video launched on Sept. 24, offering over 10,000 titles for an annual fee of $32.49 (JPY3,900). Some 70% of the content at launch was Japanese, including more than 200 concert videos of chart-topping idol group AKB48. The slate of upcoming originals includes 20 Japanese-language titles, the first of which will premiere before the end of the year.

The newcomers were joined on stage by three established players from the Japanese VoD market: Hulu, Gyao and dTV.

Gyao, a free, ad-supported video streaming service, was started by Yahoo! Japan in 2009. It currently has around 60,000 titles, ranging from films and TV dramas to variety shows and sports.

CEO Naohito Miyamoto said the aim is to maximize exposure for content, including back catalogue titles: “Even if it comes with adverts, we can have more people watching it.”

“I think there’s a lot of content that, maybe there wasn’t a home for it before, but now there is a new way that people can watch it,” said Amazon’s Farrell.

Participants were also in agreement on the importance of targeted recommendations to help users navigate their catalogues. “Japanese people are not so good at making selections, especially in terms of video,” said Hulu’s Masashi Funakoshi. “Also, people hate to have content pushed onto them.”

Originally launched in 2011, Hulu’s struggling Japan service was acquired by Nippon Television Network in April. Since then, it’s taken a more local slant. Japanese-language originals include “The Last Cop” and “Fujiko”, an upcoming drama starring Machiko Ono (“Like Father, Like Son”), are due for release next month.

Rieko Muramoto from dTV, the VoD service owned by Avex Broadcasting & Communications, admitted that there’s substantial crossover between the catalogues for each service. However, she cautioned that exclusive original content “is not necessarily the key to attracting a large number of viewers.”

dTV, with 4.8 million subscribers, charges JPY500 per month for access to its catalogue of 120,000 titles, which include music promos and karaoke videos. Since relaunching in April, the company has pursued tie-ups with high-profile movies, including an “Attack on Titan” spin-off drama.

The company also screened serialized segments of Sion Sono’s “Shinjuku Swan” prior to the film’s theatrical release in May. According to Muramoto, 70% of viewers went on to watch the film in cinemas.

“It’s not just about creating a spin-off,” she said. “You need to have a strategic aspect.”

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