October 03, 2019

(Almost) Live Japanese TV

As I've discussed in previous posts, back in early 2018, TV Japan (née NHK Cosmomedia) abandoned Dish and made DirecTV its exclusive satellite provider. But with the price of an a la carte subscription from DirecTV or Xfinity almost doubling from $40/month to over $70/month, I decided it was time to "cut the cord" and go over-the-top at a fraction of the cost. Seriously, Crunchyroll + Funimation + HIDIVE = less than $20/month.

The old-school content delivery model has since gotten turned on its head. Just three years after buying DirecTV, AT&T doesn't want to be in the satellite business anymore. "We've launched our last satellite," John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, stated in November 2018. AT&T chairman Randall Stephenson chimed in that AT&T was essentially "done" with satellites, and was "investing very aggressively" in OTT distribution.

The DirecTV NOW streaming service has already been re-branded as AT&T TV NOW (not to be confused with AT&T TV). Nobody would be surprised at this point if AT&T sold its satellite business to Dish. A lot has change since a proposed acquisition of DirecTV was shot down by the FCC in 2002. Dish would gain a subscriber base competitive with cable. And I would enjoy the irony of TV Japan leaving Dish only to end up back on Dish.

NHK Cosmomedia depends on satellite service to reach a worldwide market outside of North America and to provide programming to its legacy customers and hotels that cater to Japanese businessmen and tourists. To be sure, NHK Cosmomedia has diversified its distribution network, with TV Japan available on Xfinity nationwide. But cable television faces the same competition from streaming (though Internet-only is a profitable business).

This is hardly news to NHK Cosmomedia. NHK World has streaming apps for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku. Two years ago, NHK Cosmomedia launched dLibrary Japan, essentially a VOD service for TV Japan. But it has slow-walked the roll-out, and I mean at a turtle's pace. Aside from its web-based player, Chromecast came out a year ago and Apple TV is the most recent addition. Those apps constitute less than 20 percent of the market.

Both apps have been poorly received, the biggest complaint being the lack of content. If you're going to charge $10/month, you'd better be at least in the same programming universe as services like Hulu, Netflix, and Crunchyroll that charge less.

NHK Cosmomedia is naturally predisposed to favor its satellite and cable subscribers. And seems to be proceeding as cautiously as possible while waiting for another shoe to drop somewhere. A classic case of what Clayton Christensen calls the "Innovator's Dilemma," according to which companies put too much emphasis on the current business model and fail to anticipate or adopt new technologies to meet future needs.

Though AT&T may be trying too hard to adopt new technologies to meet future needs and has ended up aimlessly flailing around instead.

Though perhaps NHK Cosmomedia saw the writing on the wall and are using the roll-out to collect data about the technology and the user base, in anticipation of adding TV Japan to the platform. TV Japan targets exactly the kind of niche market that streaming was made for. Should the moment arrive that NHK Cosmomedia can't figure out where AT&T is headed next, streaming is one way to take a good deal of uncertainty out of the equation.

After all, NHK Cosmomedia already has NHK World, a proven live-television streaming platform. At the end of September, dLibrary Japan gave its home page a much needed makeover and announced that "New programs will be available every week from October!" so maybe they are finally getting serious. Though "serious" to me means a Roku app. So not yet serious enough.

For the time being, though, DirecTV provides the most almost-live television options to the Japanese language viewer, with a premium package that includes TV Japan, Nippon TV, and the NECO movie channel. That bundle costs $45/month plus a required "basic" package plus a boatload of taxes and fees. The whole thing would quickly add up to a cool grand a year.

Again, Crunchyroll + Funimation + HIDIVE = $21/month. Total.

Were money no object, the DirecTV package would be a no-brainer. But it is, so now I'm wondering whether AT&T can really back up all the big claims its executives are making about making DirecTV content available through a streaming set-top box. Then again, Nippon TV (the biggest television network in Japan) already owns Hulu/Japan. It may be the best positioned Japanese content provider to break out on the streaming front.

Related posts

dLibrary Japan
Nippon TV and NECO
Japanese media update
The streaming chronicles

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# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
11/16/2019 4:48 PM   
According to Nippon TV's press release, it's suppose to be available via IPTV and OTT (though some programs won't be available);


The press release mentions DirectNow as an ATT OTT service. Also Directv subscribers can live stream tv through the Apple or Driod app.  I wonder if they are referring to either of these services when they mentioned the availability of OTT and IPTV services? Anyhow at the moment, Nippon TV isn't available to live stream from the app and it's not available via ATT TV Now (Directv Now's new name) either. So perhaps this will be a future goal for Nippon TV?

Anyhow I have Directv and I'm subscribed to all the Japanese channels. Comparatively, Nippon TV and NECO International have less variety in their programming than TV Japan. Both of the newer channels still have a "work in progress" feel to them. So possibly their programming mix may change over time.

 Once in a blue moon, TV Japan programs will have English subtitles,  English dub audio available, or shows featuring people who speak in English. However Nippon TV and NECO International are solely in Japanese; with no subtitles or alternative audio options.    

At the moment, NECO International plays nothing but classic Nikkatsu movies. It's like the Japanese version of Turner Classic Movies. However the channel's mascot is a bright orange cat dressed like a rapper. Seems like an odd mascot to have for a classic channel. So it seems like they'll add some modern movies eventually. In fact today, they showed "Bamy", a 2017 Japanese indie Horror movie; the most modern movie, they've shown thus far.

 As for Nippon TV,  it mostly shows dramas and  variety shows. No news, no documentaries, no music shows, no sports (eventually it's going to broadcast Yomiuri Giant games though), no anime, or no talk shows. About 11 dramas series run each week. Every month features 2 simulcast dramas. Right now the featured simulcast drama are " If Talking Paid" and "Nippon Noir" .  Most of Nippon TV's dramas shown are fairly new, around 2018-2019, with a few dated ones (like older than 2017) mixed in. Dramas also include Hulu Japan exclusives and some Wowow versions. After the last episode of a drama has aired 2-3 times, it is replaced on the schedule with another drama. So that the lineup doesn't go stale. The variety shows are Tokuson Life Hacks, The Quest, Matsuko in the Room, Matsuko Roid, 2 Arashi shows ( Ninosan and Must be Arashi), Gochi Dinner is on you Season 16, Shot,  Monday Night Light Show, Celebrity Confessions to Ariyoshi, and some other talento/celebrity driven variety shows. Over the course a week, about 11-13 variety shows run through the channel.  

Nippon TV and NECO International repeat programming but it isn't done in an annoying way. It seems as if it is done in way to reach every US time zone. This gives many the opportunity to catch up on a show they missed.

I'm happy with all of the channels. These new channels compliment, rather than replace TV Japan. At least one new Nippon TV drama still simulcasts on TV Japan per month. This month it's "Our Dearest Sakura" , which is only on TV Japan at the moment. However "The Quest" , a variety show, and "Shoten" , comedy show, both airs simultaneously on TV Japan and Nippon TV.  However I think each channel aires different seasons. 

# posted by Blogger Eugene
11/17/2019 11:33 AM   
Thanks! I really appreciate your overview of the Nippon TV and NECO channels. AT&T's OTT services certainly are in a state of flux. The press release from Nippon TV suggests that AT&T Now could expand its international coverage at some point. For the time being, the only thing we know for certain is that Crunchyroll will be part of the HBO Max lineup.