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Monday, Oct. 8, 2012

EDITORIAL

NHK's gamble with fee cut

NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corp.) on Oct. 1 implemented a reduction in its television-viewing fees, but the decision does not appear to be a wise one. There is the risk that a decrease in revenue could cause a decline in the quality of NHK programs.

NHK's management plan envisages its balance falling into the red in 2013. Depending on economic conditions, fee revenue may be even lower than planned. Revenue shortfalls would reduce spending for producing quality programs.

In 1968, NHK abolished its fee for radio listeners while keeping the fee for TV viewers. For those viewers who pay the bimonthly fees through direct debit account arrangement or by credit cards, the amount charged will fall ¥120 a month. For those who pay the fees at convenience stores, the amount will go down ¥70 a month. Under NHK's management plan covering fiscal 2012-2014, the broadcaster will lose ¥116.2 billion in revenue.

In 2004, instances surfaced of an NHK employee swindling fees that had been collected. As one irregularity after another involving NHK employees came to light, the incidents led to the refusal by some NHK viewers to pay fees. This put political pressure on NHK to reduce them.

In 2008, Mr. Shigetaka Komori, head of NHK's Board of Governors, the broadcaster's decision-making body, who was close to then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, decided to return 10 percent of revenues from collected fees to viewers from fiscal 2012, although NHK's Executive Board opposed his plan.

Last year, in working out its management plan for fiscal 2012-2014, NHK decided to allow a 7 percent dent in fee revenue in view of bad economic conditions.

To make up for the expected loss of ¥116.2 billion, NHK will push measures to raise ¥81 billion as well as cut back on spending. Measures to offset the loss in revenue will include having more people subscribe to both terrestrial and satellite TV broadcast. Fees for this type of subscription is ¥945 higher a month than fees for subscription to terrestrial TV broadcast only.

NHK aims to produce TV programs that will attract more viewers to satellite TV broadcast. But this is a tricky approach. This strategy could lead NHK to concentrate on producing programs that are popular with viewers, but rather shallow in content. If viewers' tastes are allowed to be the main factor that dictates the types of programs that NHK produces and broadcasts, the quality of its TV programs could decline.

NHK should not forget that its task as a public broadcaster is to provide a variety of programs that not only entertain viewers but also help widen their knowledge and enlighten them about various social problems.

NHK also should consider how it will adapt to the Internet age. It should consider broadcasting programs through personal computers and smartphones as well as through TV sets, thus widening the base from which it collects subscription fees.



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