August 17, 2021

dLibrary Japan update

NHK Cosmomedia operates NHK World, NHK World Premium (TV Japan in North America), and dLibrary Japan.

NHK World has free streaming apps and is available over-the-air in some markets (UEN-TV in Utah). dLibrary Japan is a subscription streaming service. TV Japan is live television available only as a premium from DirecTV and most cable providers.

I didn't follow TV Japan to DirecTV when NHK Cosmomedia dumped Dish and the price of an à la carte subscription almost doubled (Xfinity is no better). Especially when I found I could subscribe to the big three anime streaming services and Netflix and dLibrary Japan for less.

In the meantime, dLibrary Japan improved its app and catalog, so much so that I've dropped the big three and still get more anime than I have time to watch from Netflix and Tubi. Funimation acquired Crunchyroll from AT&T and AT&T spun off DirecTV to private equity firm TPG while remaining the majority owner.

In one of those comically understated corporate press releases, AT&T admitted that "It's fair to say that some aspects of the [DirecTV acquisition] have not played out as we had planned, such as pay TV households in the US declining at a faster pace across the industry than anticipated back in 2014."

"Not playing out as we planned" means "we took a $15.5 billion impairment on the business in 4Q20."

A boutique content provider like NHK Cosmomedia illustrates the problem in miniature, as it tries to embrace new technologies while not drawing customers away from its premium live television business that launched in 1991. The hospitality industry is one of NHK's biggest international customers and satellite is often the only way to serve them.

But North America is a big market too, and that delivery model is dying on the vine. Elon Musk may soon deliver the coup de grâce with his low-orbit satellite Internet service.

To give NHK credit where it's due, it's been doing a good job hedging its bets, steadily building out its streaming catalogs and providing decent apps. The rudimentary dLibrary Japan Roku app does what it has to do well enough. It does inexplicably lock up once in a blue moon (losing horizontal sync like an old tube TV), but is fine after a reboot.

NHK Cosmomedia has also added content like the monthly Kiyo in Kyoto from powerhouse anime studio J.C. Staff to the (free) NHK World lineup.

The one curious disappointment with dLibrary Japan has been NHK's flagship Asadora and Taiga dramas. dLibrary Japan had a respectable lineup when the service launched, and I expected that they'd continue to get series a year or so after running on NHK and TV Japan. But that hasn't happened.

By the end of August, they'll all be gone from the service.

On the bright side, Aibou ("Partners") is finally on dLibrary Japan. It's one the best police procedurals in the genre, now in its eighteenth season. Yutaka Mizutani plays Detective Ukyo Sugishita as a mix of the persistent inquisitiveness of Peter Falk's Columbo and the fastidiousness of Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes.

The only caveat is that they're starting with seasons one, eight, eleven, fourteen, and eighteen. I guess the idea is to give us a one-season sampler of each of Detective Sugishita's partners.

Yasufumi Terawaki as Kaoru Kameyama, Sugishita's Watson, left the show after seven seasons. Mitsuhiro Oikawa and Hiroki Narimiya stepped in for three seasons each before Takashi Sorimachi took over the role in 2015 and I think created a character that truly filled Kaoru Kameyama's shoes. I've got to hope they'll get around to filling in the gaps.

The scripts were solid from the start, so it's fun to see a young Yasufumi Terawaki in a rough-around-the-edges season one in all its 4:3 SD glory. Most of the supporting cast was already in place, like Kazuhisa Kawahara playing an ornery Lestrade, Seiji Rokkaku as the CSI guy, and veteran character actor Ittoku Kishibe in the Mycroft Holmes role.

Also on dLibrary Japan, Ittoku Kishibe is great as the managing partner of a big law firm in 99.9, a police procedural about a team of eccentric criminal defense lawyers.

dLibrary Japan has a good deal of high quality content. Its biggest weakness in the North American market is that most of the television series aren't subtitled (most of the movies are), though I've noticed that more and more now have machine-translated subtitles (which are useful though of questionable quality).

dLibrary Japan licenses shows for a year or so, and thus has no backlist to speak of, but acquires new titles at a steady clip.

dLibrary Japan's only real competition in live-action scripted television is Rakuten Viki. Unlike dLibrary Japan, subtitling is standard. The programming on Rakuten Viki tends to target a teen to twenty-something audience, while dLibrary Japan appears aimed at an ex-pat forty-plus demographic.

Pretty much the same difference between the domestic audiences for NHK and its commercial competitors in general. Unlike public broadcasters like PBS and the BBC, NHK strives to be about as artistically cutting edge as a butter knife (though it prides itself in its technological prowess).

Related posts

Tubi (update 1)
(Almost) Live Japanese TV
dLibrary Japan (another update)

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