Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, is making significant leaps in technological innovation while trying to maintain relevance with its audience

In this Focus on PSM, we take a look at the latest developments at Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai (NHK) and explore some of the initiatives taking shape across Japan’s media landscape in recent months.

» TV-capable phone owners must pay licence fees → On March 13, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that owners of cell phones with TV functionality must pay a subscription fee to NHK, rejecting appeals from complainants. It is still not clear how mobile phone usage will be monitored in accordance with the ruling.

» Simultaneous streaming → At the beginning of March 2019, the government approved a bill that will allow NHK to start simultaneous online streaming of its programmes. This will help to meet growing audience demand to watch programmes via their smartphones, especially ahead of the 2020 Olympics. Up until this ruling, NHK’s simultaneous streaming was only limited to disaster and live sports coverage.

» World’s first 8k channel  In December 2018, NHK announced the launch of its BS8K channel, the world’s first broadcasting at 8K definition. The channel will broadcast high quality programmes specifically produced for the channel for twelve hours a day. The home audience will initially be small, as 8K television sets are only available at high costs.

» Artificial Intelligence → On March 12 2019, NHK announced ‘News no Yomiko’ – an artificial newsreader that, making use of artificial intelligence technology,  will try to compose senryu poetry following current affairs and event programming. Yomiko read her first work live on March 13 and could become a regular appearance on NHK TV’s News Shibu 5.

» Collecting fees turns threatening → When Japan’s government gave the responsibility of collecting licence fees to NHK, the broadcaster employed a team of ‘fee collectors’ to travel house-to-house and remind people to pay their dues. However, this practice has recently taken a negative turn – the conduct of fee collectors has been tarnished by accusations of threatening behaviour, harassment and in extreme cases, sexual assaults. The collectors are notorious for leaving notes outside people’s doors, which have recently included threatening messages in some cases.

» Providing multilingual disaster info → Ahead of the 2020 Olympics, it is becoming increasingly necessary to provide essential information in a variety of languages. Municipalities across Japan are introducing multilingual emergency information services and the public broadcaster is doing the same. NHK World – NHK’s international service – is already offering news on disasters and emergencies in English as well as breaking news broadcast from local channels with simultaneous English translation. Additionally, in 2018, the channel’s flagship app introduced a feature that delivers emergency warnings and breaking news alerts in English and Chinese.

» Cutting fees → In order to meet government-set criteria for the online simulcast of TV programmes, NHK’s board approved a plan to cut the TV viewing fees by 4.5% by 2020. Initially, NHK will lower the fees by 2% in October 2019. These will then be reduced by a further 2.5% in October 2020. This means that the standard terrestrial licence fee will drop by ¥59 from the current ¥1,260 per month, and the satellite services fee will fall by by ¥102 from ¥2,230.

In other news

» Against fake news → In January, the government announced its plan to develop a series of initiatives aimed at preventing the spread of disinformation, especially in the run-up to elections or during and after disasters and emergencies. The government is hoping to get major technology companies and information providers involved, by committing them to a code of conduct. The government reportedly expressed its commitment to respecting freedom of expression throughout the process. This set of initiatives should be published in June.

» NHK in the world  Japan’s international 24-hour, English language TV Channel, NHK World-Japan, will be available in the US, in the Salt Lake City area, after a partnership with KUEN, a service of the Utah Education Network.

“NHK WORLD-JAPAN’S mission is to present the rich culture of Japan and Asia and to provide global news from the Asian perspective,” said Mr. Masaru Shiromoto, Japan International Broadcasting president and CEO. “It matched perfectly with Utah Education Network’s mission to enrich lives and strengthen communities through the power of media.”

In addition, at the end of January 2019, the public broadcaster announced that NHK World would join the streaming platform Roku in order to attract a wider range of audiences.

» More and more people watch commercial TV – but they don’t trust it as much A poll published by the Japan Press Research institute in October 2018, suggests that 91.8% of people in Japan use commercial TV to get their news. 79.8% of respondents cited NHK programmes as a news source, followed by newspapers (70.1%) and the internet (66.5%). Using the internet to access news, according to the survey, is becoming increasingly popular among older users up to 49-years old. However, according to the data gathered by the survey, NHK still scores at the top for reliability (70.8 out of 100), followed by newspapers (69.6), commercial television (62.9) and the internet (49.4).

» Towards a more collaborative publishing space → In April 2015, Kyodo News Digital and Yahoo Japan – two of the country’s largest news companies – joined forces to create Nordot: a publishing and content-sharing platform that offers articles from a variety of publishers in Japan.

The platform claims it is attempting to correct the balance between local news and larger media organisations, by allowing local newspapers to search for popular topics in the country’s media and then add stories to their website, without having to worry about negotiating agreements and advertising revenues. The platform is now also available in English and it’s trying to expand outside of Japan.

The links above are to original stories, which are not produced by PMA. ‘Focus on PSM’ brings together stories from regions experiencing periods of heightened debate about the role of public media, media independence and media freedom. PMA does not necessarily endorse these stories nor do they necessarily reflect the view of PMA.


Header Image: NHK Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. Credit: mizoula/iStock