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Japanese pay-TV is fun to be reckoned with.

Japanese Pay-TV Is Fun to Be Reckoned With

Pay TV in Japan is lots of fun, especially for its 30,000 or so subscribers. But, it is also fun to read about it, a fun business to be in and a fun shigoto to work with. Or so it seems. To begin with, there are only two non-compatible pay-TV services, but only one is fully operational. The pay-TV services are transmitted over two separate satellites, requiring different de-scramblers or decoders.

Services are available through cable-TV hook-ups or master antenna systems. In order to qualify for the latter, a minimum of two would-be pay-TV subscribers have to apply for an MATV license. The government doesn't allow individual (single) subscribers to be licensed for direct satellite pick-up.

A combination tuner-decoder costs some 150,000 [Yen] or about $1,100. For now, this unit has to be purchased from SkyPort, a clearing house-type of service-center for StarChannel pay-TV service, or from Japan Satellite Broadcast (JSB), the other pay-TV operator now offered on an experimental basis only.

While SkyPort offers an eight-channel service, comprised of StarChannel and seven basic TV services, JSB, nicknamed |Wowow,' has only one pay-TV channel. However, the JSB service is on the satellite that carries the controversial government-owned NHK's two non-commercial DBS services. In effect, JSB subscribers can receive a total of three TV channels. Recently, NHK's non-scrambled DBS TV services were criticized for its spill-overs over other parts of South East Asia. Criticism came from program distributors and affected countries, such as South Korea.

StarChannel officials conceded that SkyPort services also cover good portions of adjacent countries and that it is impossible to monitor viewers from other countries who obtain decoders illegally or legally by using a Japanese address of convenience.

Japanese pay-TV subscribers pay 2,500 [Yen] per month, plus the cable TV fee whenever applicable. The basic ad-supported TV services are free on SkyPort, while on cable they are part of the basic cable rate of 3,000 [Yen] per month.

Currently, 400,000 Japanese households subscribe to basic cable nationwide.

But, payments for Japanese TV viewers don't stop here. There is an additional government-mandated universal fee of 2,000 [Yen] a month to support NHK's over-the-air broadcasts. NHK's satellite TV services cost an extra 900 [Yen] per month for those who request it.

One can therefore calculate that, in order to receive a single pay-TV service via cable, a Japanese household is confronted with a total monthly fee of 7,000 [Yen], while a full service can run as high as 11,000 [Yen] or about $80 per month. A full DBSJSP/Sky Port service can require a first year investment of some $3,300, excluding NHK's government fee.

Even though StarChannel is, for now, the only gemu in town, it suffers from jitters, especially when confronted with JSB's recently reported non-exclusive three-year deal with Warner Bros., worth $40 million, on top of the non-exclusive five-year $250 million deal with UIP. JSB is currently negotiating yet another similarly mammoth deal with Disney and other majors.

It is pointed out, however, that JSB's $350 million initial funding is virtually spent even before its service is fully operational.

According to Banjiro Uemura, Tohokushinsha's uayaku, current license fees paid for pay-TV rights range from $.10 per subscriber, to as high as $.60 per sub for big "A" titles. Basic cable TV rights range from $1,000 to $2,500 per hour. StarChannel is a joint venture between Japan's Tohokushinsha and America's UIP, while JSB is a consortium of some 190 companies, largely commercial broadcasters, and including a small share from Tohokushinsha.

StarChannel operates 22 hours a day, seven days a week with about 36 movies per month.
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Title Annotation:Video Age in Japan
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:Int'l Emmy Awards: more than just prizes for British shows.
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