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JAMCO Online International Symposium

19th JAMCO Online International Symposium

February 1 to February 28, 2010

International Exchange in TV Drama Productions

Summary: TV Drama and International Understanding - The Potential of Japanese TV Drama

Yoshihiro Oto
Professor, Department of Journalism, Faculty of Humanities, Sophia University, Tokyo.

Japanese pop culture has drawn great overseas attention in recent years, represented by the term “cool Japan” used to express admiration by its fans in other countries. Yet, Japanese TV that is the principal force in pop culture from the domestic perspective has not won similar worldwide recognition. Needless to say, television broadcasting in Japan advanced alongside postwar development of the country’s economy and has fulfilled a major function in the postwar mass consumer society as a key driving force of its popular culture.
In terms of international spread and appreciation of Japanese culture, however, it has failed to this day to create a presence similar to what it enjoys domestically as the leader of Japanese pop culture. On this issue, there had been criticism of the Japanese government’s failure to provide sufficient support in promoting TV program distribution as part of the drive to promote recognition of Japanese culture, as well as its lack of awareness in taking a cultural strategy approach to promote Japan to the world. At the same time, there had been little attention paid to examining what potential Japanese TV programs have in the international TV program market that is based on the principles of free competition. The lack of interest and effort may have been due to Japan’s TV industry and media researchers, as well as the general public, being convinced from the start that Japanese TV programs can never be competitive in the international market.
But, there is no doubt that Japan’s TV production system, operating in the world’s second largest economy in GDP scale, is adequately sophisticated and refined vis-à-vis the world. Assuming this to be true, I believe that a study into identifying the causes of the Japanese TV programs not being marketed actively for profit is likely to uncover clues to promoting their international distribution and fostering international understanding through TV culture.
Based on this awareness, the Symposium had seen the discussions proceed by examining into the current state of and the issues involved in international TV program distribution in recent years, with due attention to the change in the media business but focused on the international marketing of Japanese TV dramas, in order to prevent divergence from the main theme to other issues. We have had not only media researchers but also the people actually involved in international TV drama distribution to present their respective views and arguments on the issues and problems involved and on the future potential of the business.
Previously, Mr. Shigemura highlighted the structural issues in Japan’s TV business, which had been self-sufficient in the domestic market, and presented practical suggestions on action that must be taken to invigorate distribution of Japanese TV dramas in overseas markets. Mr. Toizumi gave a report on the international business activities that Hokkaido Television Broadcasting had experienced as a regional private broadcasting station. Despite the harsh business conditions, a local private broadcaster has continued to boost exposure of its TV programs, including its own drama productions. By bringing to the world an “image of Japan” with a difference from the image of the country broadcast from Tokyo, he reported a dramatic rise in Taiwanese visitors to Hokkaido and boost in recognition of the island to the world at large.
Professor Hwang, on the other hand, looked back to the steep rise in distribution of Korean TV drama chiefly in Northeast Asia since the latter half of the 1990s—the so-called Korean Wave, or Hallyu. Through his presentation of the distinctive characteristics of the Korean content industry that triggered the Hallyu boom, he conducted a comparative study of the content power that Japanese TV drama has in the international market vis-à-vis the Korean productions. Professor Cui examined into the potential of Japanese TV dramas in the Chinese TV market, with attention to the state of the rapidly growing Chinese TV industry. Both media researchers note that Japanese TV programs, wielding influence in the Northeast Asia region, holds a variety of potentials in this cultural sphere. Ms. Muranaka reported on the process of TV program market development in the United States, spurred by the creation of a wide variety of program distribution schemes represented by the syndication market and cable TV broadcasting, presented an assessment of the distinctive features of the American market regarding its potential in embracing foreign-produced programs. Founded on these evidences, she observes the rise in demand for overseas programs in recent years and argues the possibility of Japanese TV drama productions entering the US TV market.
Ms. Shim, who is both media researcher and an expert actively involved in TV program distribution, observed the theme from a perspective different from the other speakers in her discussion of the effectiveness of the administrative policy approach to boost international distribution of TV programs and of the possibility of and issues in restructuring the program distribution system resulting from changes in the media environment led by the sophistication of broadband networks. Looking back, the deliberations in the Symposium have revealed that conditions had persisted under which Japanese TV dramas suffered structural obstacles that kept them weak in terms of distribution power, persuasive market appeal and market strategy planning. For Japanese TV productions to compete in the international market, structural change of the TV business may be necessary. Naturally, this observation had been reported in hope that such distribution will contribute to political, economic and cultural exchange and development.
Notwithstanding this, the discussions here are not restricted to arguments aimed exclusively to the growth of the Japanese TV market. Rather, they in fact presented many hints for development of the international TV program market—where American TV dramas have maintained overwhelming market competitiveness—with wider range in diversity and scope and greater freedom in economic activity. Still, the Symposium was not able to reach adequately into discussion of the TV drama acceptance process through international distribution. Popular culture including TV dramas is multifaceted in definition and perspectives. It is part of the reason why it is attractive. Let alone the arguments in cultural studies that had attained the status of academic boom in the 1980s and later, the fact that the examination of the political and social values of popular culture, not to mention its cultural value, leads to unraveling part of the structural problems of modern society is winning wide recognition. In the area of TV programming that represents an aspect of popular culture, research is under way in various countries to delve into the structure issues in modern society through analysis into the context of TV programs—thanks in part to the dissemination of VTR technology.
In international distribution of TV programs, each program will generate a diversity of interpretations, due to the differences in cultural background among the viewers. Especially because of this, I believe that the study into how Japanese TV drama, as a product of expression of Japan’s cultural background, is accepted in what type of cultural background and how these productions are interpreted will very likely offer many clues into the examination of the Japanese society itself, as well as into the society of each viewing audience. I look forward to having another opportunity to deliberate into these acceptance processes.

Lastly, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the guest speakers and, equally importantly, to the people around the world who had shown interest in the discussions here and presented their views by taking advantage of the Web-based features of this event, for their participation in the Symposium. Thank you very much.

Yoshihiro Oto

Professor, Department of Journalism, Faculty of Humanities, Sophia University, Tokyo.

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