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Commercial Broadcasting in Japan


 Commercial broadcasting in Japan dates back to June 1950 with the enactment of the Three Radio Laws, which included the Radio Law and Broadcast Law. Airwaves that had been used exclusively by the government and the public broadcaster Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) were opened up to the private sector; by April 21, 1951, the first preliminary licenses were distributed to 16 commercial radio stations broadcasting on medium-frequency bands. Two of these stations - Chubu-Nippon Broadcasting Co., Ltd.(CBC) of Nagoya in central Japan, and Shin-Nippon Broadcasting Co. (predecessor of the current Mainichi Broadcasting System, Inc. [MBS]) of Osaka in western Japan - launched their services on September 1, 1951, marking the start of a dual public-private system.  Two years later in 1953, NHK Tokyo started Japan's first television broadcast on February 1, followed by Nippon Television Network Corporation (NTV) in Tokyo, the first commercial television broadcaster, on August 28. Commercial radio stations on medium frequency and commercial VHF television stations continued to open nationwide, but after Gifu Broadcasting System (GBS) and three other commercial UHF television stations were launched in 1968, UHF stations opened at a quicker pace than VHF stations. After FM Aichi Broadcasting launched in 1969 as a new type of audio broadcasting media, FM radio stations spread throughout the country. Thus both radio and TV terrestrial Commercial Broadcasters disseminated throughout the country.  Meanwhile, television broadcasting via broadcasting satellite (BS) started with NHK, and was followed by Japan Satellite Broadcasting Inc. (now called WOWOW), the first commercial broadcaster to provide pay-TV services, on April 1, 1991.  Digital satellite broadcasting for radio, television, and data services began on December 1, 2000, kicking off the era of full digitization for key broadcasters. The June 1989 amendment of the Broadcast Law separated content and carrier, and led to the launch of television broadcasting via communication satellite (CS) in April 1992 and pulse-code modulation (PCM) sound broadcasting in June 1992. Multi-channel broadcasting via the CS digital system started in October 1996 and CS digital broadcasting at 110 degrees east longitude started in the spring of 2002.  Digital terrestrial television was also launched in three major areas in Japan at the end of 2003, and is to be provided at all broadcasting stations by the end of 2011.  The National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan (NAB) has 202 members as of April 1, 2010: 194 terrestrial broadcasters consisting of 67 radio-only stations (13 medium frequency[MF], 1 High Frequency[HF], and 53 Very High Frequency[VHF]stations), 93 television-only stations (16 VHF stations and 77 Ultra High Frequency[UHF]stations), and 34 both radio and television stations (32 MF/VHF stations and 2 MF/UHF stations), and 8 satellite broadcasters (of which one is an audio broadcaster).



Medium Frequency (AM)

 The number of medium frequency radio stations increased from the first 6 at the end of 1951 to as many as 40 only six years later by the end of 1957, making it possible for people almost all over Japan to listen to commercial radio broadcasts. During this time, the cost of radio advertisements rose along with the rapid economic growth of postwar Japan, ushering in the “Golden Era” of radio. However, with the rise of VHF television stations from 1958, radio broadcasters headed into a slump. This prompted radio stations to explore and develop new programming styles, eventually coming up with live shows featuring personalities and shows covering wide-ranging local topics, taking advantage of their capacity to deliver real-time information in a versatile manner. These efforts, along with the spread of transistor radios and car radios helped the industry to recover from 1967. Radios have also become an essential means of conveying local news or detailed updates in the event of major earthquakes or other disasters. With five stations in Tokyo and Osaka starting medium-frequency stereo broadcasting on March 15, 1992, there are now 14 stations that provide this service.

High Frequency (Shortwave)

 High Frequency broadcast started on August 27, 1954, when Nihon Short-wave Broadcasting Co., Ltd. (NSB) was launched as Japan's first HF station for domestic audiences. On its 20th anniversary in 1974, NSB had been known for providing programs specializing in economic, educational, and religious content, but changed its programming policy, becoming a more general broadcast station. It was called Rajio Tampa (Radio Shortwave) after November 1978, but changed its name to Nikkei Radio Broadcasting Corporation in October 2003.

Very High Frequency (FM)

 Public experiments had already been conducted for nearly a decade before FM broadcasting actually started regular services in 1969. Because of this, there were already enough receiving sets in the metropolitan area by the time of the launch, and as stereo broadcasting was centered on music programs, FM stations proved popular with the young and achieved steady growth. After the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) announced its goal of setting up prefecture-wide commercial FM stations all over Japan in July 1978, new stations were opened everywhere, and second commercial FM stations were launched in the major cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Hokkaido mainly during the 1980s. The onset of globalization prompted the launch of the first foreign-language FM station for foreign audiences in Japan in Osaka in October 1995, and now there are a total of four similar stations broadcasting in Tokyo, Fukuoka, Nagoya, and Osaka.  FM teletext broadcasting also started on October 1, 1994, and is now provided with FM Tokyo affiliates (JFN), as well as J-WAVE Inc., and Yokohama FM Broadcasting Co., Ltd.  Community broadcasting via low power FM stations, which mainly cater to the needs of small towns and villages, also started in 1992, and 232 stations were broadcasting all over Japan as of October 1, 2009.

Satellite broadcasting

 BS (audio) broadcasting using TV audio multiplex technology began on September 1, 1991, with Satellite Digital Audio Broadcasting Co., Ltd. (St. GIGA) providing fee-based, high-quality PCM sound broadcasting services with WOWOW. With the start of BS digital broadcasting in December 2000, the number of broadcasters delivering digital audio services increased to 10 stations and 23 channels. But they all eventually withdrew from the business and shut down between 2004 and 2006.  St. GIGA merged and became a part of WireBee Inc. on March 31, 2003, passing its wireless license onto WireBee, but the new business also failed and the license was then transferred to World Independent Networks Japan (WINJ) on October 1, 2003. However, after several interruptions to its service after November 2006, the program provider license was subsequently canceled in November 2007. Meanwhile, Mobile Broadcasting Corporation with 2.6 GHz band satellite digital audio broadcasting for mobile reception started in October 2004, providing multi-channel services of sound, data, and movie clips, but these broadcasting services were also terminated at the end of March 2009.  Furthermore, as the 1989 amendment to the Broadcast Law separated content and provider, six stations began providing CS (audio) broadcasting services from June 1992. However, they eventually shut down or merged, leaving only one operator, Music Bird. With the shift to digital broadcasting completed in 1998, CS (audio) broadcasting services are now provided not only with Music Bird, but also with SKY PerfecTV! and other providers.



Terrestrial broadcasting

 When television broadcast started with NHK and NTV in 1953, television sets were extremely expensive and available to very few people. For this reason, most people watched television on street corners; sets were placed in train stations, shopping malls, or venues where crowds gathered, and screened professional baseball, wrestling, and boxing matches as part of a campaign to encourage people to buy their own sets. Following the launch of NTV, KRT Radio Tokyo (predecessor of the current Tokyo Broadcasting System Television Inc.[TBS]) was launched in April 1955, Chubu-Nippon Broadcasting Co., Ltd. (CBC), and Osaka Television Broadcasting (predecessor of the current Asahi Broadcasting Corporation [ABC]) in December 1956.  With increased demand, the former Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications gave 34 commercial broadcasting stations VHF television licenses in October 1957, and these stations opened one after the other from 1958. The media coverage of the wedding of the Crown Prince (The Present Emperor) in 1959 and the rapid economic growth of the postwar years accelerated the proliferation of television sets. In October 1967, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications announced its policy of allowing multiple commercial UHF television stations all over the country, with two stations per prefecture and as many as three to four in major cities. Meanwhile, black-and-white television broadcast started shifting to full color from 1960, and all commercial stations were providing color services by May 1968. Based on the January 1986 frequency allocation plan aimed at giving audiences at least four commercial television broadcasters per prefecture, measures were taken in stages from 1989 to achieve that goal across the nation.  Since 1997, technological advances in broadcasting inside and outside Japan have prompted the government to announce a nationwide switch from analog to digital terrestrial broadcasts. Full digital services started in three major areas in December 2003, and measures are now being taken to complete the full shift to digital broadcasting by July 2011.

BS Broadcasting

 Test broadcasts for analog satellite via BS-2 started in May 1984 with the main objective of resolving reception difficulties with NHK viewers. Regular broadcasting began in June 1989.  On April 1, 1991 Japan Satellite Broadcasting Inc. (predecessor of the current WOWOW), which had been established by parties including several commercial terrestrial broadcasters and a trading firm, became the first commercial satellite television broadcaster with fee-based services.  NHK also started testing analog high-definition television (HDTV) broadcasts from June 1989. The High-Vision Promotion Association continued with the test broadcasting, and further tests were conducted for practical application by seven commercial broadcasters and NHK. However, with the full launch of digital HDTV broadcasting, NHK once again became the sole operator, and the test broadcasting was eventually terminated in September 2007. Furthermore, overall BS analog broadcasting is scheduled to end in 2011 when the full digitization of terrestrial television broadcast is complete.  BS digital broadcasters providing mainly HDTV services were all launched on December 1, 2000. Five new companies established by key terrestrial commercial broadcasters, WOWOW, and NHK started diverse services including data broadcasts. In addition, Star Channel Inc., Nippon BS Broadcasting Corporation, and World High-Vision Channel Inc. were launched in December 2007.

Multiplex Broadcasting

 NTV, serving as a pilot station for practical application, started stereo broadcasts, bilingual broadcasts, audio description services for the visually impaired, and other sound multiplex broadcasting for television on September 28, 1978. These became regular services in December 1982, and have been provided with practically all broadcasters ever since.  NTV and NHK started regular television teletext broadcasting on November 29, 1985. This was followed by companies in Tokyo and Osaka, as well as third-party teletext broadcasters, who borrowed the facilities of television stations.  The October 1997 amendment of the Broadcast Law enabled broadcasters to provide multiplex broadcasting such as caption and audio description services that supplement television broadcast, without the need for licenses.

CS Broadcasting

 The Broadcast Law amendment of 1989 separated satellite broadcasters (carriers) and program providers (content), paving the way for individual reception via CS broadcast. (This content and carriage system also applies to BS digital broadcasting, which began in December 2000.) Thus, CS television broadcasting started in April 1992 with two analog program providers. The number of program providers offering fee-based services gradually increased, but with the shift to digital broadcast, analog services were terminated at the end of September 1998.  Meanwhile, digital compression technology enabled CS digital broadcasting to offer multiple channels, and 34 program providers started regular broadcast via the platform(customer management agency) of PerfecTV in October 1996, eventually shifting to pay-TV services in January 1997. DIRECTV Inc. also launched a full regular service in December 1997. PerfecTV later merged with JSkyB, which at the time was still preparing for launch, and the resulting entity changed the name of the service to SKY PerfecTV. SKY PerfecTV then merged with DIRECTV in 2000. As DIRECTV terminated its service in September 2000, SKY PerfecTV became the sole business provider, and further changed the name of the service to “SKY PerfecTV! (Suka-pa-!)” in October 1, 2008.  Since the spring of 2002, program providers including those related to key commercial terrestrial broadcasters have been providing 110 degrees east longitude CS digital broadcast via the communications satellite at 110 degrees east longitude as with BS broadcasting.




 Commercial broadcasting in Japan started with radio in 1951. In the early years, radio sets were precious items which were placed in the middle of living rooms, serving as an important source of information alongside newspapers. They enabled people to stay in touch with the news, as well as enjoy dramas and sports coverage. However, after television was launched in 1953, radios were soon replaced by television sets in the living rooms. Radios then evolved into a more personal form of media that people listened to in individual rooms or cars. Radio programs also became something to listen to while doing something else; for example, self-employed workers listening to the radio during business hours or women listening while engaged in housework.  As such, radio stations based their programs on providing live coverage or wide-ranging programs featuring personalities, and adopted a programming method called “audience segmentation,” focusing on listeners by age and occupation for each timeslot. This method, along with the concept of two-way communication where show hosts or personalities talk to the listeners and the listeners participate in the programs through letters and phone calls, still constitutes the basis of radio programming to this day.  AM and FM commercial radio stations each have unique programming styles. AM stations basically have talk shows which are hosted by personalities and cover a wide range of topics, including news, education, and entertainment. Another feature may be that a major portion of AM programs from April through to October involves sports coverage for professional baseball night games.  Meanwhile, FM stations since 1969 mainly used to offer music programs, taking advantage of their high quality stereo broadcasting. However, as more stations started providing services in major city areas since 1988, and new foreign-language FM stations and community FM stations added to the competition in the 1990s, FM stations began reviewing their programming, and started providing not only music, but also talk shows to distinguish themselves from rivals.  Owing to their capacity to deliver fresh community-oriented information to the listeners, it may be said that both AM and FM stations are not as dependent on network programs from key broadcasters in Tokyo as much as local television stations. Local radio stations all over Japan create and air their own programs, which are full of local color.  The role of radio is deemed particularly important in emergency situations of major earthquakes, typhoons, or other natural disasters, and people see it as a promising form of media that offers the advantages of acquiring real-time information in a versatile manner.


 Commercial television programs are planned based on the concept of comprehensive programming. The Broadcast Law (Act 3 Clause 2 Editing and other aspects for domestic broadcast programs) stipulates that terrestrial television stations should provide and maintain a balanced mix of cultural, educational, news, and entertainment programs.  Since the start of television through to the 1960s, owning a set was a major aspiration for households in Japan, and the television's main role at the time was to offer entertainment that the family could enjoy together. From the 1970s, major changes in the domestic and international environment as well as the establishment of new coverage and relay methods resulting from advances in technology meant that television broadcasts had huge potential as a means to provide information and news with vivid real-time images. Furthermore, the audience's diversifying lifestyles and values also made television explore and develop new ways of programming - from flexible programming to live programs, coverage of wide-ranging topics, and late-night programs - to maximize its capacity of providing both news and entertainment.  Program genres span from news to documentary, sports, talk show, dramas, variety, and quiz shows. However, as society has become more complex and audience tastes more diversified, recent programs tend to bridge several genres.  There are two types of television programs: network programs, transmitted from key stations in Tokyo, and local programs on local themes, created by the local stations themselves. Local programs focus on documentaries or shows featuring detailed information about the local community, and several of these documentaries have won awards, such as the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan Awards and Japan Broadcast Culture Awards. There are currently five networks as well as 13 independent (non-network) UHF stations, which air their own programs, in the major city areas of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka.  Technological development has also enabled the launch of sound multiplex broadcasting and teletext broadcasting in the 1970s, providing audio description services for the visually impaired on secondary audio channels, and caption services for dramas for the hearing impaired. Furthermore, terrestrial digital broadcasting, which was launched in three major areas in December 2003, provides program information, news, and weather forecasts with datacasting.  As with terrestrial broadcast, programs on BS digital broadcasting since December 2000 are based on comprehensive programming, though the genres for WOWOW and CS television pay-TV channels may be narrowed down to film, music, sports, or other specific genres for particular audiences.


 Commercial broadcasters finance their programs with advertisement revenues paid by sponsors. Sponsors purchase commercial break timeslots which are sold by the broadcasters, and promote their products and services to audiences through these airtimes.  Both television and radio have two ways of selling commercials: time ads and spot ads. These can be further differentiated in the way they are aired: 1. “Program commercials” are sponsor ads aired during the sponsored program; 2. “Spot commercials” are aired during station breaks between programs regardless of the program sponsor; and 3. “Participating commercials” are aired in commercial zones during programs.  In general, sponsors use these short timeslots - 15 to 30 seconds for television and 20 to 60 seconds for radio - to reach out to the audience and convey their corporate image and product information; as such, they see commercials as an extremely effective means of advertising. Meanwhile, commercials have also become an integral part of daily life or an essential source of information for the general public, sometimes even giving rise to new buzz words or social trends. However, in consideration of the social impact of the broadcast media on consumers, advertisers are required to exercise proper judgment when creating commercials, ensuring the same quality of the information and method of expression as programs.


 While the Broadcast Law guarantees the Broadcasters' Self-Restraint and Freedom of the Compiling of Broadcast Programs, it also obligates them to conduct programming that follows certain compiling codes and Standards of Broadcast Programs, and to set up Consultative Organizations on Broadcast Programs, so that they themselves can examine and make sure their programs are up to appropriate standards.  Thus, the NAB established the Radio Broadcasting Standards in October 1951 and Television Broadcasting Standards in January 1958 as common guidelines for all stations. The NAB requests its members to comply with these standards and has made efforts to raise awareness through coordinated efforts with related organizations. The radio and television broadcast standards were later merged in 1970 to become the NAB Broadcasting Standards, and with additional amendments, these standards are still effective today.  The foreword to the NAB Broadcasting Standards (revised version of January 2004) advocates the respect for basic human rights, freedom of speech and expression, and respect for law and order throughout all its 18 chapters and 152 articles. It also directs particular attention to 1: accurate and fast news coverage, 2: sound entertainment, 3: promotion of culture and education, 4: favorable influence upon children and youths, and 5: moderate and honest advertising. The standards encourage broadcasters to have a harmonious program symmetry and to broadcast hours, and pursue the enrichment of the contents that maximizes their capacity to deliver programs in real-time and with universality.  Each commercial broadcaster has drawn up a unique set of guidelines based on the NAB Broadcasting Standards. Broadcasters make sure all their staff are familiar with the guidelines and endeavor to improve their programs by listening to opinions from in-house Program Review Boards and audiences.  Basic Principles of Broadcasting Ethics, which applies to both the NAB members and NHK, was also established in September 1996 as the basic philosophy governing the broadcasting industry as a whole. In June 1997, the NAB established News Guidelines (revised in February 2003) to enhance journalistic consciousness of media coverage, and this serves as a common standard for all commercial broadcasters.  As a further effort on the part of commercial broadcasters, the NAB established the Broadcasting Standard Review Board directly under the NAB President in 1971. Besides formulating broadcasting standards and related material, the Board also holds training sessions and meetings to promote activities that ensure all member broadcasters are aware of ethical standards.  Meanwhile, for the broadcasting industry as a whole, the NAB members and NHK established the third-party Broadcast and Human Rights/Other Related Rights Organization (BRO) comprised of external experts in May 1997 to relieve human rights violations by broadcast media. In July 2003, the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization (BPO) was launched to oversee the three committees of the Programming Committee, Youth Committee (both of which used to be managed by the Commission for better Broadcast Programs), and the Broadcast and Human Rights/Other Related Rights Committee (BRC) (which used to be managed by the BRO).  While the BPO ensures freedom of speech and expression in broadcast, it also takes swift measures from a third-party point of view to protect the basic human rights of the audience. Furthermore, the Programming Committee was dissolved in stages to enhance its functions by establishing the Committee for the Investigation of Broadcasting Ethics in May 2007.

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