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HOME > 17th JAMCO Online International Symposium > Presenter 3: NHK’s International Broadcasting

JAMCO Online International Symposium

17th JAMCO Online International Symposium

February 1 to February 29, 2008

Trans-border TV Broadcastings of Non-English-speaking Countries

Presenter 3: NHK's International Broadcasting

NHK International Broadcasting Bureau
International Planning & Broadcasting Department, NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), Tokyo

History of International Broadcasting

NHK’s international broadcasting began on June 1, 1935, with shortwave radio broadcasting. Although broadcasting time totaled 60 minutes a day for Japanese and English broadcasts combined, the length increased to 33 hours and 5 minutes per day in 24 languages during World War II. After the war, the GHQ of the Allied Forces prohibited shortwave radio broadcasting. However, it was resuscitated as Radio Japan in February 1952. Today, it offers 49 hours and 20 minutes of broadcast in 18 languages.

NHK’s international broadcasting that had resumed after World War II has been aimed at promoting the correct understanding of the country in the international community and winning trust of other countries, under the basic editorial policy of “objective reporting,” rather than propaganda designed to communicate only information that benefits the country’s itself-interests.

In the 1990s, international broadcasting underwent dramatic changes in many countries, spurred by the spotlight on CNN gained by its activities in the Gulf War. Broadcasters offering international TV broadcasting service began to appear. NHK also began program transmission to its subsidiaries in Europe and North America via satellite to serve Japanese living in these areas. The two companies began subscription-based broadcasting service in Japanese via cable TV and local satellite communication.

With amendment of the Broadcasting Law in 1994, international television broadcast became a function that is required of NHK. With this change, it began free, unscrambled television broadcast for three hours per day in Europe in five hours per day in North America, starting April 1995.

By April 1998, NHK introduced NHK World TV, an international TV broadcasting service, and the TV program transmission service NHK World Premium, based on the C-band digital transmission scheme for the Asia-Pacific for 18 hours per day. In October of the same year, service area expanded into Southwest Asia, Middle East, Northern Africa, Europe and the Americas. In October 1999, broadcasting and transmission by the two channels expanded to 24 hours a day. In August 2001, these channels became viewable also in southern Africa, making NHK international television service available in virtually all parts of the world.

After the turn of the century, advancement and digital technology and increase in satellite circuits lead to the rapid increase in the number of nations offering international television broadcasts. This marked the start of global competition in international video broadcasting. NHK has also launched a new international broadcasting strategy in a three-year plan that began in 2006. It has decided to undergo the transition in radio broadcasting to satellite radio, while maintaining shortwave broadcasting in areas where it is effective, and has decided to discontinue services in German, Italian, Swedish and Malay languages. At the same time, it has decided to strengthen information transmission via TV and the Internet. Furthermore, it is planning to make NHK World TV 100% English language service by the end of FY 2008 to upgrade the service for foreign nationals and to dedicate NHK World Premium exclusively for Japanese viewers.

While these activities are under way, the Japanese government has conducted review into improvement and upgrade of international broadcasting. Based on government coalition party agreement of June 2006, the Broadcasting Law was amended in 2007. This amendment allows the establishment of NHK subsidiary for international broadcasting service, and broadcasting is scheduled to begin under a new organization led by NHK by end of FY 2008.

International broadcasting service area & broadcast technologies

NHK World TV, the international TV broadcast service, is capable of covering virtually all over the world with the 3 Intelsat C-band satellites and is viewable via an estimated 39 million households in roughly 180 countries and territories. In North America and Europe, local subsidiary is running Japanese-language pay channels use the Ku-band satellites to offer free and non-scrambled broadcasting for approximately 6 hours per day to some 33 million households. Starting in June 2007, terrestrial digital and cable TV services have resumed in Washington, DC, area targeted to more than one million households. In other areas, free retransmissions by cable TV stations, etc., is being approved. Counting those that have submitted applications to NHK alone, 17 services are broadcasting to 150,000 households in 13 countries and territories today. However, the actual figure is unavailable.

In the future, there are plans for buying satellite channels of each country on loan and develop an environment for easier viewing gradually. At the same time, studies are being conducted for improvement in content and resolution for international broadcasting by making maximum use of achievements in IP technology and other technical innovations and developing a new network system that effectively combines satellite and optical fiber networks.

Target viewership and languages

When NHK World TV began in 1998, broadcasting was in Japanese alone. Since 2000, programs in English were increased gradually for better understanding by foreign viewers. At present, English-language service rate has grown to as high as 91% (97% planned starting April 2008). Under the amended Broadcasting Law, international broadcasting has been set for separation between foreign viewers and Japanese viewers. With the changes, NHK World TV is expected to become 100% English-language service for foreign viewers by October 2008 as a general rule. However, some have expressed opinion that Japanese-language programming time should be created to promote the Japanese language and also that broadcasting in languages other than English should be made available.

Although there are, among those starting international broadcasting newly, broadcasting stations that planned to focus on the elite for “viewing by 2000 influential opinion leaders around the world” such as France 24, NHK has not taken any special measure to narrow down its viewership. Because Japan has content that is attractive to foreign viewers, from pop subculture such as manga and animation to business and economic news, NHK’s policy is to promote NHK World through programming catering to a wide range of viewers.

Programming strategy and production

English-language programs are divided into programs for the domestic market converted into English by dubbing and programs that have been produced in English from the planning stage.

Because programs that have been converted into English were originally developed for the domestic viewership, they are difficult to understand for some foreign viewers, due to the absence of explanation of basic information (understood implicitly by the Japanese). For this reason, they are regarded programs that are highly informative for foreign viewers that have some measure of knowledge regarding Japan. From the production standpoint, the advantages are the high level of perfection and the possibility of reusing domestic programs on a wide range of genres. However, something that is common sense to the Japanese cannot be understood by a foreigner without information on the background. For this reason, careful explanation and commentary must be added to gain the understanding of many viewers.

On the other hand, programs that have been produced in English are planned for foreign viewers from the start. Therefore, programming can easily present Japan from the foreign perspective. However, foreign viewers are diverse in background, among those living in Europe, America, Asia, Africa, etc. The impression that a program makes varies widely, causing apprehension on what perspective should be adopted in production.

In the argument on how to develop programs for foreign viewers, the common argument is “to conduct market survey on what foreign viewers want.” NHK has assigned monitors in various countries to gather such information on an everyday basis. However, a complete monitoring system is difficult to build, both technically and financially. In product development in general, a wide range of market surveys are being conducted, and innumerable products are being launched into the marketplace. Still, the formula for success in creating a bestseller based on market survey has yet to be found.

To produce programs that are received favorably by overseas viewers, it may be necessary also to have the inspiration of developer (creator) with outstanding ability to “read the times,” rather than receiving reports from monitors from around the world.

In the case of Japan, it has its unique culture and economics/business information that attract worldwide interest.

In culture, Japan has its traditional culture backed by its historical heritage and its popular subculture. They have resulted in the production of the English-language programs “Begin Japanology” and “Tokyo Eye.” J-pop is also popular chiefly in Asia and is featured in programming as “J-Melo.” With interest in health gaining momentum on a worldwide scale, interest toward Japanese cuisine has also spread. “Your Japanese Kitchen” that have been designed to offer easy ways of preparing Japanese dishes with ingredients that are easily available in other countries attract a lot of inquiries from foreign viewers.

In business news, “Japan Biz Cast” introduces a variety of new products in each installment.

New products that have been introduced in the program have attracted inquiries to the manufacturer from the foreign country, demonstrating that interest in Japanese manufacturing remains strong.

In the next fiscal year, two regular programs are in development — “imagine-nation” and “Tokyo Fashion Express” which offers Japanese animation and fashion that are highly acclaimed in other countries. There are quite a few genres that are not easily possible for overseas programming. Because the Japanese are commonly hesitant to engage in debate, debate programs that are commonly seen in foreign programs have not taken root. Also, sports programs are difficult due to expensive licensing fees. Development of programs in these areas will become major issues in the future.

In addition to Japanese information, NHK’s international broadcasting has launched “Your Window on Asia.” NHK has well over 10 major bureaus in the Asia-Pacific and is pouring energy into information gathering through them. The broadcasting station wields strength in its capability in communicating information on Asia. By mobilizing its information-gathering network to the full, NHK plans to communicate news and information on Asia.

Seven years have passed since English-language news and programming have started for foreign viewers. Today, there are 15-minute news programs aired in 18 different time slots per day, as well as 30-minute headline news aired once a day and 15-minute news program on Asia. Programs developed in English for foreign viewers now number 9 and are expected to increase to 14 next year.

Acquiring human resources

Of the essential resources in any organized enterprise, “manpower,” “material” and “money,” recruiting talented manpower is an extremely importance requirement, since people are directly involved in news and program production and the person’s character and capability will ultimately determine content quality. Especially because it is a new field of operation, it is urgently necessary to recruit competent external production staff, including foreign nationals, in addition to training employees to serve as key personnel in international broadcasting.

News in NHK World TV is produced in English as a general rule, based on a script for domestic broadcasting. Of the domestic script, material that has been determined to have news value as information from Japan is translated into English new script at the English Center, adding information to foster better understanding among foreign viewers. Such news is broadcast by combining with video, computer graphics, etc.

Personnel consist of NHK employees, former employees and staff organized by external contractors. The employees have been recruited from various divisions within NHK based on their English competence. In recruiting external staff members, screening is conducted, based on English competence, understanding of information and experience and mastery in news program production. In hiring news anchors and announcers, voice, expression and personality are also taken into account.

In English competence, there is a basic competence standard that must be satisfied, but English competence alone does not guarantee hiring. Despite the fact that English studied as a requisite from junior high school and increase in the number of bilingual speakers who grew up in English-speaking countries amid growing international exchange, these developments have not led to availability of abundant manpower in this area. In addition to language competence, journalistic acumen is essential in broadcasting. Manpower possessing both cannot be found easily.

With awareness of international TV broadcasting from Japan growing in the future, expectations are high for more talented people being attracted and looking to work for NHK’s international broadcasting.

Operation funding and budget

In FY 2007, NHK has strengthened its music programming for communication of the latest news from Japan and the rest of Asia and created a section for domestic and international economic news and global weather within the news program slot, in order to strengthen its international TV broadcasts. Furthermore, conversion of domestic programs into English has been promoted further, alongside increase in the number of English-language programs developed internally by the International Broadcasting Bureau. In order to realize new international broadcasting service adapted to contemporary times, NHK is making its shift in management resources from radio to television. Expenditures for international TV broadcasts (expenses for program production, planning & development, technical and management, reception environment improvement, etc.) are planned at \6.88 billion for FY 2008, making a dramatic increase of \2.8 billion over the previous year. International radio broadcasting budget is \4.23 billion, reduced by approximately \260 million over the previous year.

The total cost on international broadcasting in general, including TV, radio, Internet, etc., (including manpower cost and depreciation) stands at \15.09 billion, of which national treasury appropriations account for \3.32 billion for both television and radio.

Ownership and sponsorship

NHK is a special incorporated entity that is managed with viewer subscription fees as its main financial resource. Public-service broadcasting in Japan is free of advertising and does not have revenues from sponsorships. Also, ownership of the service is nonexistent.


In response to the amendment of the Broadcasting Law in late 2007, NHK’s international broadcasting in its new form will begin in early 2009. At present, preparations are being made in a hurry to realize the plan. The first major issue is recruitment and training of manpower. In order to broadcast news in English for 30 minutes on the hour every hour in Japan where English is not spoken, it is urgently necessary to recruit as many as is possible many news reporters who can speak English and directors able to produce programs for overseas markets.

For this purpose, a new subsidiary is scheduled to be set up. However, information exchange and discussions are being held with the private sector through a study group, regarding how to make it effective and useful and how to make use of private-sector expertise through the new company. In view of the general belief that international broadcasting is not financially feasible and the growing competition on the global scale, new ideas and approaches are required on how to communicate news and information from Japan effectively and efficiently.

International broadcasting does not spread only by improving programming quality. It is necessary also to develop the reception environment. It is necessary to put NHK World TV on channels that are easily viewable via satellites and cable channels in various nations and territories.

The goal is to make NHK World TV viewable in English-speaking nations and territories, chiefly in Europe, America, Asia, Oceania and Africa, by the end of FY 2008. In 2009 and later, work will proceed on building good reception conditions in other parts of the world as well. Action is also being planned for program distribution not only via TV but through reinforced action on the Web and on mobile terminals.

Broadcasting in languages other than English is also expected to put to review in the future. Programming in English alone is not considered adequate.

Furthermore, it is also necessary that NHK World TV can be viewed by foreign tourists and residents in Japan. With some 2 million for residents in Japan and more than 9 million tourists visiting Japan each year, the movement of people and information is accelerating in speed. This has resulted in internationalization and Japan is no exception. It is urgently necessary to make improvements so that international TV broadcasts become viewable for foreigners in Japan.

NHK International Broadcasting Bureau

International Planning & Broadcasting Department, NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), Tokyo

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