February 10, 2024

Whither TV Japan

NHK Cosmomedia once had a near monopsony and monopoly when it came to the cable and satellite TV markets in North America. Nippon TV briefly forayed into the business on DirecTV while cable providers only offered TV Japan.

As a result, NHK Cosmomedia became the primary buyer and distributor of live-action content from Fuji TV, Nippon TV, TBS, TV Asahi, TV Tokyo, and Wowow, with NHK World Japan relying largely on JIB TV.

Unlike anime, few other platforms have demonstrated a great desire to compete in this space. Even Rakuten Viki and Netflix focus most of their programming efforts in Asian on Kdrama. Japanese content is more of a side gig.

Which is why TV Japan has been able to levy a $25/month premium for the past three decades. By contrast, Kokowa, the Korean equivalent of TV Japan, charges $6.99/month for its streaming service (also available on Xfinity X1).

Nevertheless, I grudgingly paid the price when TV Japan was on DISH and the grand total came to $42/month. When TV Japan left DISH and went to DirecTV and Xfinity, the overhead almost doubled the total into no way territory.

By then, more affordable options had become available. Crunchyroll offers a vast library of anime for $7.99/month. You can stream NHK's domestic newscasts and Japan's commercial news services post their live feeds to YouTube. NHK World Japan is free.

In the meantime, streaming has been eating away at traditional cable TV like a hungry great white shark. As Luke Bouma sums up the bad news,

In just the first half of 2023, cable TV companies lost over 2,748,000 TV subscribers. All together, cable TV companies are losing about 15,000 subscribers every single day in 2023. If this trend continues, cable TV companies will lose over 4 million subscribers in 2023.

As things turned out, in 2023, Comcast alone lost over 2,036,000 TV subscribers and another 38,676 Internet customers to 5G home Internet and fiber.
As bad as things are for Comcast, the decline of traditional cable TV presents an existential threat to niche entertainment products like TV Japan.

This demographic reality first struck home in Europe, where NHK's home satellite service (JSTV) shut down on October 31, 2023, citing a decline in subscribers. In its domestic market, NHK merged BS1 and BS Premium into NHK BS on December 1, 2023.

Things that can't go on forever won't. The question is how long forever is. In this case, it may have already happened. A commenter points out that TV Japan is no longer in the international channel lineups on the Xfinity and DirecTV websites.

Indeed, while the TV Japan website still lists Xfinity as a provider, if you navigate to the international channels on DISH, Xfinity, Optimum, and DirecTV, the Japanese option is gone. TV Japan is also not available on any of the live TV streaming services.

Spectrum will formally bid TV Japan goodbye at the end of March.

TV Japan and TV Japan HD on channels 1500 and 2587 will cease programming and will no longer be available on the Spectrum TV lineup after March 31.

The obvious conclusion is that, after over three decades on satellite and cable, NHK Cosmomedia is abandoning traditional linear TV as the content delivery vehicle for TV Japan in North America, with a target date of April 1, 2024.

If so, NHK World Japan likely has a lot to do with the decision. NHK Cosmomedia launched NHK World Japan in 1998 and has since transformed it into a free livestreaming, video-on-demand, and (in some areas) over-the-air service.

So it has been there and done that and should know the ropes. Although since TV Japan only broadcasts the news and some sporting events live, it may not need to livestream at all.

In any case, this would explain why Jme TV is charging $25/month for new sign-ups. Because that's been the cost of a TV Japan subscription since time immemorial. Then why not host TV Japan on the TV Japan website? We should find out in April.

But let me wildly speculate. The first Jme TV signup email that NHK Cosmomedia sent out by accident suggested a tiered subscription model. What we could be getting in April is a livestream link to TV Japan.
The way the old dLibrary Japan website had a link in the masthead to NHK World Japan. I'm thinking something like that.

Related links

NHK World (Japanese)
NHK World (English)
TV Japan
News from Japan
Jme TV
Japan's phantom content boom

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# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
2/03/2024 8:17 PM   
Just wanted to leave a comment to say that I appreciate your post and the research behind it. I also received the JME emails and was perplexed by their strategy. People like to stereotype that Japanese businesses have been left behind in the past and it's hard to argue that when you see $25/month for non-subtitled service with an extremely limited library (if anything like Dlibrary Japan).