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NHK enters political arena offering high-def coverage.

TOKYO Japanese pubcaster NHK will conduct live broadcasts of the Republican and Democrat conventions this summer and offer its digital high-definition feeds to any broadcaster in the world for free -- a global broadcasting first.

"We want to demonstrate to the world our Hi-Vision (NHK terminology for high-definition TV) technology by taking advantage of the universal interests in the U.S. presidential conventions," says Katsuji Ebisawa, president of NHK.

It was a coup for Ebisawa, who calls himself a missionary for Hi-Vision, in publicizing NHK's digital HDTV technology across the world. The company hopes to spur overseas program sales with it in an effort to improve an import-export imbalance of programs from over 7 to 1 in favor of imports.

Ebisawa has been the most vocal among local broadcasters about the early introduction of digital HDTV format and has no problems with an optimistic viewer forecast by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications -- 10 million households viewing digital HDTV satellite programs within 1,000 days.

He was instrumental in creating a consortium with commercial networks, appliance manufacturers and distributors to expedite the marketing of digital hardware and conducting Digital Fairs to publicize what the format can offer consumers.

Indeed, NHK has invested over 35 billion yen (nearly $330 million) in developing its Hi-Vision HDTV technology since as early as 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics, sharing the progressive know-how with commercial broadcasters.

Largest multichannel broadcaster

When the new digital HDTV satellite programs are launched by NHK and rival commercial networks in December as scheduled, NHK alone will have seven TV channels, two terrestrial and five satellite (two new digital, two existing analog and the continuation of the existing analog HDTV); four radio channels, two AM, an FM and a shortwave; and two global around-the-clock transmissions of its NHK World programs, to be the biggest multichannel broadcaster in the world.

The funding of all these NHK broadcasting operations comes 100% from subscription fees but unlike the BBC's license fees, there is no penalty for not paying for NHK's service. And yet, over 80% of Japanese TV households are paying the fee that totals more than 600 billion yen (almost $5.6 billion) a year, equaling the combined revenues of the two most prosperous commercial nets, Nippon TV and Fuji TV.

Consumer fees

Some of the Japanese consumers refuse to pay the fee on the ground that they do not watch NHK programs. Ebisawa, however, maintains that the fee NHK collects from consumers is designed to support the best quality, accuracy and speed available in the programs of the pubcaster in Japan and whether one watches NHK or not is irrelevant.

He resents if somebody dubs NHK a government-owned network because the government has no judicial controlling power over NHK.

"Our budget and management are approved, not by the government agencies, but by the Houses, members of which are directly elected by the people," he emphasizes, adding that NHK is owned and supported by the people.

"We deliver information and entertainment to the best interests of the public via all available means, whether that be over the airwaves, direct-to-home satellite transmission or Internet," Ebisawa insists.

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Comment:NHK enters political arena offering high-def coverage.
Author:OSAKI, TAD
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jun 12, 2000
Words:523
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