December 09, 2023

What's in a name

NHK Cosmomedia has done a good job establishing NHK World Japan as its free overseas streaming and VOD service. It uses the TV Japan brand for its cable and satellite channel in North American and NHK World Premium outside North America.

Were I the marketing consultant for NHK Cosmomedia, I'd go with TV Japan as the brand for all linear TV programming. NHK World Japan would continue as the free service and the subscription streaming services would inherit the NHK World Premium brand.

Or it could follow the herd and call it Plus. And, in fact, NHK's domestic streaming service (geoblocked outside of Japan) is called NHKプラス (NHK+).

Along with the recent removal of geo-blocking from NHK's flagship news programs (branded as NHK World Premium content), the noticeably improved video quality also hints at a possible integration between NHK World Japan and NHK World Premium.

NHK World Japan had always compressed the heck out of its video feeds. So while relatively still images delivered the full HD quality, any motion (such as during a sumo tournament) resulted in on-screen pixelation and artifacting.

But watching the November 2023 sumo tournament, I couldn't help noticing how much the video quality had improved. We're talking leaps and bounds. Almost no image distortion at all. Crystal clear HD even with full motion.

Raising the bar like this may be a first step to a tiered unification of NHK's online services. Another clue is that two of NHK's domestic satellite channels, BS1 and BS Premium, merged into NHK BS on December 1, 2023.

Going forward, content consolidation will become the name of the game as NHK faces an aging and literally shrinking audience, with the population of Japan predicted to drop another 10 million by the end of the decade.

Once upon a time, I subscribed to TV Japan. Were money no object, I still would, but it is only available on cable and DirecTV and is insanely expensive to boot.

The actual TV Japan subscription by itself still costs the same $25/month it has for decades. That price is dear enough, and doesn't include the ever growing mountain of taxes and fees Xfinity piles on top of even its "Limited Basic" tier.

South Korea's closest counterpart to TV Japan is the streaming service Kocowa, a joint venture between the top three Korean broadcast networks. A basic (ad-free) subscription to Kocowa runs $70/year.

That's about how much TV Japan costs a month on Xfinity. Cost alone is a big reason why live Japanese content has little chance of achieving the same market success outside Japan as anime or Kdrama.

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