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The Convergence of Broadcasting and Communications:
A Comparison of What is Happening in Japan and Abroad

JAMCO Online International Symposium

26th JAMCO Online International Symposium

December 2017 - June 2018

Internet Utilization of TV-Stations:Situations and Issues Faced by Individual Countries.

The Convergence of Broadcasting and Communications:
A Comparison of What is Happening in Japan and Abroad


 This commentary looks over the observations and the circumstances revealed by the other papers in this symposium about the initiatives being taken in the major European countries and the United States concerning internet television so as to draw out common events and developments and undertake a comparison with Japan. The aim of this comparison is to confirm the current position of Japan in the convergence of broadcasting and communications services, which can provide us with a guide for subsequent discussion. Although this article provides neither sufficient scope of the issues nor depth of perspective, one hopes this undertaking will lead to wider-ranging and deeper debate.

 Let us look, first of all, at the changes to television viewing in the major European countries, viz. Britain, Germany and France, as well in in the United States, which are being discussed in this symposium. In Britain, a study by OFCOM found that people watch an average of 3 hours 32 minutes of television in a day in 2016, or 4 minutes less than the previous year.1 The biggest decline was among people in the under 24-year age group, with them watching an average of less than 2 hours of TV per day. The figures were attributed to a growing tendency toward on-demand viewing, particularly among the young. From what we have heard about Germany, studies by public broadcasters looking at the average amount of time people spend on all types of media found a surge in the amount of time people spend on the internet. Among people in the 14-29 year age group, it far surpassed that for television in 2015. Furthermore, teenagers and young adults in the 10-29 year age group spend more time watching on-demand TV rather than real-time TV, and a considerably large proportion of them apparently do not use a TV set at all. In France also, people spent an average of 19 minutes per day watching TV programs on the internet in 2016, or 5 minutes more than the previous year, according to the findings published by a private research firm. Furthermore, 16% of households do not possess a conventional TV set, and 65% of people under the age of 35 only watched TV programs via the internet. If we look at the United States, news content is being viewed less and less via TV, according to the findings published by the marketing research firm Neilson in 2017. People spent an average of 2 hours 32 minutes on their smartphones in a day in 2016, which was double the figure for the previous year. Furthermore, the proportion of Americans who accessed news from mobile devices increased from 72 to 85%, according to the findings published by a separate non-profit research institute. Among people over the age of 65, there was a rather conspicuous 24-point increase to 67%; and the figure of 79% for the 50-64 year age group was double that for 2013. The adoption of new media devices by all age groups, and the spread of mobile devices among the elderly, have been cited as the factors for this.

 The situation with TV viewing is changing in Japan also. The NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute conducts a nationwide survey, The Japanese and Television, every five years. The 2015 survey found that the amount of TV being watched on any given day, apart from holidays and watching videos and DVDs on TV, declined compared to 2010. The amount of people who watched no TV at all, or very little, rose from 4 to 6%, while those who watch it for a short amount of time (30 minutes-2hours) increased from 35 to 38%, and those who watch it for lengthy periods (4 hours or more) declined from 40 to 37%. While elderly people continue to watch a large amount of television, people in most other age groups (20-59 years) are watching television for much shorter periods (the figures includes those who watch none or very little), which has caused the overall figures to decline. The previous surveys up to 2010 found elderly people watching TV for greater lengths of time, with the overall figures increasing on account of Japan’s aging society. But the 2015 survey found viewing times were shrinking owing to youngsters drifting away from television.

 On the other hand, if we look at the degree to which people access different media, the amount of daily contact with television dropped from 84 to 79%, while that for the internet (excluding emails) has risen considerably from 27 to 38%. The figures for the 20-29 year age group particularly stand out, with 64% accessing TV, and 68% accessing the internet on a daily basis, which we could say underlines the shift from television to the internet.

 Changes in the proportion of people who have media devices providing access to videos are a factor for this. In Germany, we heard how nearly 100% of people still have a TV, while the amount of people with a smartphone has surged above 70%. Furthermore, 46.8% of households have a TV set connected to the internet. In France, more people are using mobile broadband with the spread of mobile phones. The penetration rate was 64.7% as of December 2014.

 Japan has also had a marked increase in smart phones and tablets in recent times. In 2016, more than 50% of people had a smartphone, up from a figure of less than 10% in 2011, partly as a result of nearly all households having access to broadband.2 Among people in the 20-39 year age group, the figure was more than 90% (see Figure 1).3 Furthermore, there has been a considerable increase in tablet devices. A greater range of devices are appearing, mostly in the form of mobile terminals.

 On the other hand, the number of people without a TV set is slowly growing. The Japanese and Television survey for 2015 conducted by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute found 3% of people did not have one, up from 1% in 2010.4 Among people living alone, the figure was 10%.

 We can see that the changes in the media devices that people have in Japan are basically following the same trends in Europe and elsewhere.

Figure 1. Proportion of individuals in Japan who have a smartphone (by age group)

Source: Communications usage trend surveys conducted by the
Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications

 This kind of broadband environment and the changes that have taken place with the media devices in our possession have made it easy to watch videos at one’s own convenience. There are a growing range of services for this. So what kinds of video streaming are being provided? Let us begin with the situation in Europe and United States.

 First, the online services of TV broadcasters. In Britain, the BBC and all of the commercial terrestrial TV broadcasters provide programs on the internet. People can see simulcasts of TV programs and also catch up on them in an on-demand format. The youth-oriented BCC Three channel has shown a willingness to experiment by going off the air and offering content solely online in 2016. Germany’s public and commercial broadcasters began on-demand streaming in a serious way in the period 2006-2008, and they began simulcasts on a constant basis in 2013. The public broadcasters were given a special exemption to launch a solely online streaming service for young audiences in 2016. France Télévisions commenced video on demand, both streaming (viewing) and downloading (purchases), in November 2005 ahead of the other public broadcasters in Europe. In 2016, the 24-hour news channel France Info began digital terrestrial broadcasts and live streaming. The US broadcasters make up the world’s leading open market for content. They are striving to enhance their websites and the information they transmit online, and also supply content for online platforms. There is an effort on their part to develop content specifically for the internet, and they are searching for formats compatible with media devices other than television. In the meantime, the development of the internet and a greater range of devices have created a situation where content providers other than broadcasters are commencing and expanding into video streaming.

 In this symposium, we have heard how there is fierce competition in the United States owing to the flood of video content from the video services being started by subscription video-on-demand providers like Netflix, as well as by social media, and the likes of newspapers and magazines. The result is that people are increasingly cutting the cord, so to speak, canceling their contracts for cable TV and other pay services. Since 2017, cable, satellite, and telecom providers have been getting into pay broadcasters that offer fewer channels in cheaply priced skinny bundles. In Britain, BBC iPlayer was being heavily used in 2017, and while the appearance of US-based over-the-top providers has not had any direct impact, such as a decline in the accessing of the free services of terrestrial broadcasters or a decline in contracts for pay TV, indirectly, providers are being compelled to make their services more personalized and advanced.

 The number of people using subscription-based video streaming has also surged in Germany. Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Maxdome (a subsidiary of the German commercial broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 Media) are the prime examples. In France, the jump in the amount of people using Netflix and other US-based video streaming services is being countered by France Télévisions, which is moving ahead with preparations for a similar service, one actively offering French productions.

 In Japan also, Hulu began video streaming for Japanese audiences in September 2011, followed by the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime in September 2015. (See Table 1.)

 Since then, various TV stations, internet providers and others have also increasingly been providing streaming services, including AbemaTV and Paravi, in a range of formats.

Table 1. The major fee-charging video streaming services available in Japan
Provider Commencement Brief description of service
Netflix 1998 in the US;
2015 in Japan
Started off in online DVD rental in the US; now expanding around the globe, mostly in video streaming. Own distribution and also has own original productions. Has 75 million subscribers worldwide. Inside Japan, the fees can be paid with broadband charges or Softbank mobile charges.
Prime Video
2011 in the US;
2105 in Japan
Has been available in Japan since 2015. Subscribers can access music and other content apart from video, and are eligible for benefits when shopping online.
Hulu 2008 in the US;
2011 in Japan
More than 20,000 items of content available; has 1.3 million subscribers in Japan.
NTT docomo dTV 2015 in Japan More than 120,000 items of content available; biggest pay video streaming service in Japan.

Source: p. 14, Document 2-4 for the second meeting of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Review Committee Concerning the Promotion, etc. of Production and Distribution of Broadcasting Content. (Document in Japanese.) Also see IoT Jidai ni okeru ICT Sangyo no Kozo-bunseki to ICT ni yoru Keizai-seicho e no Tamenteki-koken no Kensho ni kansuru Chosa-kenkyu (A structural analysis of the ICT industry in the IoT era and studies and research concerning examination of the multi-faceted contribution to economic growth by ICT), Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan, 2016. (In Japanese.)

 Japan, despite something of a time lag, is experiencing changes in its broadcasting environment similar to those that have been taking place in the United States and the major European countries; and online-based video streaming is moving ahead in its own fashion as well, irrespective of whether the providers are TV broadcasters. NHK started up NHK On Demand in 2008, and the Tokyo-based commercial broadcasters spearheaded the commencement of the TVer catch-up streaming portal in 2015.

 However, the internet is not being used in Japan as routinely and to any major extent as in Europe for real-time viewing, which is a fundamental of broadcasting, providing the same information at the same time. Japan is considerably behind Europe in this aspect of the convergence of broadcasting and communications services.

 So what are factors behind this? Let us look at the legal arrangements for public and other broadcasting.

 In this symposium, we have heard how the passing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 effectively removed the boundaries between broadcasting and communications in the United States, and how in the first decade of this century, the major European countries have put in place and also subsequently amended legislation on the convergence of these two sectors. Britain’s Communications Act of 2003 has been regarded as one such law, and from 2016, BBC iPlayer has also been subject to TV license fees, irrespective of whether it is being used for livestreams or catch-up viewing.5 In Germany, amendments in 2008 put the internet within the remit of public broadcasts, and a broadcast contribution fees scheme was adopted in 2013.6 In France, a 2007 legal amendment defined program streaming via telecommunications as a television service, and digital initiatives have been part of the remit of France Télévisions since 2009. The major European countries have been making full-scale legal changes for the convergence of broadcasting and communications, and the funding arrangements for public broadcasting have also been the subject of reform.

 So what has been happening in Japan in the meantime?

 Serious discussions about the relationship between broadcasting and communications services got underway in Japan at the turn of the millennium, in 2001, in conjunction with the spread of broadband in the internet, and after the IT Regulatory Reform Expert Committee inside the IT Strategic Headquarters, which had been set up by the government of Prime Minister Jun-ichiro Koizumi, came out with its recommendations on where regulatory changes in the IT sector should be headed. The Council recommended the following to the government:

If Japan is to make IT a driving force in its economic revitalization [. . .], it should foster competition and convergence in communications and broadcasting by being a global forerunner in the fundamental shift from vertical regulation of the two sectors to function-based, horizontal arrangements conducive to competition.

 Setting up an environment to enable NHK to provide its programs via the internet were among the Council’s recommendations.7

 Amid this current of regulatory reform, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry announced in 2005 that it was setting up a group of experts under the Minister Heizo Takenaka to consider communications and broadcasting (the so-called “Takenaka Study Group”). Takenaka raised issues at a press conference on December 6, 2005, saying, “Many people no doubt wonder why they can’t see TV broadcasts live on the internet. And at this point of time, the overall turnover in Japan’s broadcasting industry is probably smaller than that for the single firm of Time Warner.” In June the following year, the Minister’s study group came out with a set of recommendations. It said there should be legal arrangements for the separate layers of transmission, platforms, and content, so that new providers could offer a diverse range of services. But the premise was that the concept for core broadcasts and that the broadcasting regulations remain the same. It also said NHK’s transmitting operations could be loaned out to other broadcasters, spun off into a subsidiary, or else subject to separate accounting, so that they could earn profits in services blending communications services.8

 In the meantime, in the same month, a communications and broadcasting industry subcommittee inside the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Research Commission on Telecommunications came out with a report. There were quite a few differences between it and the Takenaka Study Group.9 The issue of convergence subsequently went through twists and turns. Among other things, the government and ruling coalition parties drew up an agreement on the issue.10 In addition, a research panel inside the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry concerned with legal arrangements for the two sectors came out with a set of recommendations. It advocated that the existing laws shift from vertical divisions to a layered structure, and that they should be combined into what it tentatively called an Information Communications Act.11 However, there were further twists and turns when a separate committee inside the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry’s Information and Communications Council produced its recommendations. It said any new laws should be restricted to broadcasting and that communications should be dealt with separately. It felt there should be no change to the concept and what is meant by the term “broadcasting”, and proposed the consolidation of the four laws relating to it.12 Although the Broadcasting Act was amended in November 2010, the debate in Japan has not yet tended toward any thorough overhaul of the legal system for convergence.

Trends in legal arrangements for broadcasting and communications
Japan Britain, Germany, France, US

2001The IT Regulatory Reform Expert Committee inside the government’s IT Strategic Headquarters puts out its recommendations on where regulatory reforms in the IT sector should be headed

December 2005Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry Heizo Takenaka asks in a press conference why it is not possible to watch broadcasts live online.

June 6, 2006Report by the Study Group Concerning the Arrangements for Communications and Broadcasting (Takenaka Study Group)

June 20, 2006LDP’s Research Commission on Telecommunications (subcommittee for advancing the telecommunications and broadcasting industries) produces proposals on the future of the two sectors.

June 2006Agreement between government and ruling parties concerning communications and broadcasting services.

1996US passes Telecommunications Act of 1996, which brings together broadcasting and communications services.

2003Germany passes legal amendment stipulating online services should relate to broadcast programs.

Britain passes Communications Act 2003 for bringing together broadcasting and communications services.

2004Britain’s Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 stipulate that TV receivers are not limited to broadcasts.

2005Amendment to French General Tax Code (Code Général des Impôts) makes the digital medium subject to the Contribution à l’audiovisuel public (TV license fee), but they are not actually collected.

December 2007Report from Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry study group concerned with legal arrangements for communications and broadcasting.
Recommends existing laws shift from a vertical to a layered structure, and that existing laws for the two sectors be combined into an Information Communications Act.

2007France’s Broadcasting Act amended to define television services that distribute programs on communication networks.

2007In Germany, personal computers and mobile terminals also subject to license fees.

2008Legal amendments in Germany put the internet within the public broadcasters’ remit.

August 2009Report from Examination Committee Concerning the Overall Body of Law for Communications and Broadcasting, Information and Communications Council, Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.
Recommends that any new laws should be concerned only with broadcasting, no changes to the existing concepts and terms, and that the four laws relating to broadcasting should be consolidated.

2009France’s Broadcasting Act amended to make digital part of the public broadcaster’s remit.

November 2010Broadcasting Act amended.

November 2015Internal Affairs and Communication Ministry’s Study Committee on Issues in Broadcasting begins discussions on issues in broadcasting in light of changing viewing environments (e.g. online streaming of broadcast programs).

2013Germany introduces broadcast contributions scheme.

2016In Britain, users of BBC iPlayer must have a TV license.

 Since 2015, there has been serious debate in the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry’s Study Committee on Issues in Broadcasting about whether to allow online streaming of TV programs on a constant basis. NHK wants to achieve this by the 2019 financial year (April 2019-March 2020) prior to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and is asking for legal changes and other necessary arrangements to be worked out.13 The Ministry is of the view that NHK needs to reform its online services and other operations, receiving fees, and management.14 Hiroshi Inoue, the President of the Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association, meanwhile expressed the following opinion:

Our fundamental position is one of continuing to strive to adapt to workable devices. [. . . ] There are a lot of things about the constant live streaming of NHK’s telecasts requiring public discussion, such as how it would fit within the Broadcasting Act, and whether it is compatible with NHK receiving fees, as well as what sort of role NHK should play in cyberspace. There have been no clear explanations on these points. [. . . ] NHK’s expansion of online operations increases the likelihood of rivalry not only with the commercial broadcasters, but with newspapers and other private operators as well. This requires serious discussion.15

 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the following comment at a meeting of the “Investing in the Future Conference” which took place at his official residence on February 1, 2018:

The airwaves are a public asset, and if we are to make effective use of them at a time when technical innovations are eliminating the boundaries between communications and broadcasting, we also need a bold review of the manner in which frequencies are allocated and of the arrangements for broadcasting operations.16

 Furthermore, on April 16, 2018, the experts making up the Working Group on Investment, etc. in the government’s Regulatory Reform Promotion Council mapped out points for discussion. It said it would look at where business models should be headed, the provision of content of greater diversity and quality, global expansion, as well as arrangements for the effective use of the airwaves. It said it would focus on the future of broadcasting given its convergence with communications, and come up with a policy for using the airwaves that would also duly bear in mind the role that broadcasting has played to date.17

 Twelve years has passed since the Takenaka Study Group recommended that people in Japan should be able see TV broadcasts live online. The question is whether Japan will also ultimately get regular online simulcasts. Would it be accompanied by major legal changes and an overhaul of the funding arrangements for public broadcasting of the kind that have already taken place in Europe? Or will there be a different approach involving a minimum of legal changes? The debate will continue into FY2019.

 In this symposium, we have seen how the major European countries in this century have pursed legal reforms for the convergence of broadcasting and communications and the differing ongoing discussions in Japan. Why has Japan taken a different path? What are the factors behind this? Until now, the regulation has been grounded on the scarcity of the airwaves and the direct and strong impact on audiences. Furthermore, the discussion on broadcasting has focused on its public nature. But how does broadcasting fit in with the world of the internet, which is relatively open owing to the ease of transmission? What path should Japan be pursuing amid the convergence of broadcasting and communications and the debate on legal changes? And what kind of media society awaits us on that path? What impact will it have on the way people procure information and think, and what impact will it have on structure of modern society? There are among the many issues that need to be clarified.


  1. Office of Communications, an independent regulatory authority.
  2. WHITE PAPER 2016 Information and Communications in Japan, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan.
    (Japanese version)
    (English version)
  3. WHITE PAPER 2017 Information and Communications in Japan, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan.
    (Japanese version)
    (English version)
  4. “Terebi Shicho to Medeia Riyo no Genzai – Nihonjin to Teribi 2015 Chosa Kara” (Television viewing and media use today: From “The Japanese and Television 2015” survey) in Hoso Kenkyu to Chosa (The NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research), August 2015, p. 26. (Article in Japanese.)
  5. The BBC iPlayer is a video-on-demand service that enables people to access all BBC programs through a range of devices, including TV, personal computers, and smartphones. See article by Takanobu Tanaka in August 2017 edition of Hoso Kenkyu to Chosa (The NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research), NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute.
  6. This scheme funds public broadcasting in Germany by having all households and businesses pay contributions, irrespective of whether they have a TV set, on the grounds that such broadcasts are accessible to all and that society benefits from them. See article for JAMCO Online Symposium by Yusuke Sugiuchi, Trends in German Broadcasting in the Video Streaming Era.
  7. IT Bunya no Kisei-kaikaku no Hokosei (Where regulatory reform in the IT sector should be headed), IT Regulatory Reform Expert Committee, IT Strategic Headquarters, December 6, 2001. (Document in Japanese.)
  8. Report from the Study Group Concerning Arrangements for Communications and Broadcasting (Tsushin-Hoso no Arikata ni kansuru Kondankai), Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, June 6, 2006.
    (Report in Japanese.)
  9. Naoki Shimizu, “Tsushin-Hoso Seisaku no Kadai – Tsushin-Hoso Seisaku no arikata ni kansuru Kondankai wo Megutte” (Issues for communications and broadcasting policy: In regard to the study group concerning arrangements for communications and broadcasting), Issue Brief No. 551, National Diet Library, Japan, October 12, 2006. (Document in Japanese.)
  10. Tsushin-Hoso no Arikata ni Kansuru Seifu-Yoto Goi (Agreement between the government and ruling parties concerning arrangements for communications and broadcasting), June 20, 2006. (Document in Japanese.)
  11. Main points of the report produced by the Study Group Concerning the Overall Body of Law for Communications and Broadcasting (Tsushin-Hoso no Sogotekina Hotaikei ni kansuru Kenkyukai), Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, December 6, 2007. (Article in Japanese.)
  12. Report by the Review Committee Concerning the Overall Body of Law for Communications and Broadcasting (Tsushin-Hoso no Sogotekina Hotaikei ni kansuru Kento-i-inkai), Information and Communications Council, Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry (August 19, 2009) (Report in Japanese.)
  13. NHK’s comments at the 9th meeting of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry’s Study Committee on Issues in Broadcasting, June 24, 2016. (Document in Japanese.)
  14. Media briefing by Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi, September 16, 2017. (Comments in Japanese.)
  15. Press conference by Hiroshi Inoue, President of the Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association, September 21, 2017. (Comments in Japanese.)
  16. Comments made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a meeting of the “Investing in the Future Conference”, February 1, 2018. (Comments in Japanese.)
  17. 17. Document 1-2, Tsushin to Hoso no Yugo no shita de no Hoso no Arikata ni tsuite (Arrangements for broadcasting amid its convergence with communications), for Working Group on Investment, etc. of the Regulatory Reform Promotion Council, April 16, 2018. (Document in Japanese.)

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Graduate of the University of Tokyo. Previously worked for NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), serving as Chief Editor of the News Department, Deputy Head of the Programming Department, and Director General of the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute. Also served as Executive Managing Director of Japan Media Communication Center (JAMCO).

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