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Sunday, March 13, 2005
Fuji TV in a Horie to distance itself from IT man
Next month, Fuji TV will launch another batch of up-to-the-minute trendy drama series. Among them is one called "Koi ni Ochitara/Boku no Seiko no Himitsu (Falling in Love/The Secret of My Success)" starring SMAP member Tsuyoshi Kusanagi as a young man who, after his small family-run factory goes bankrupt, becomes a money-making firebrand in a hip IT company.
Actually, the original title was "Hills ni Koishite," which translates as "Loving the Hills," the "Hills" being Roppongi Hills. However, according to the weekly magazine Aera, Fuji TV's publicity department says that the producers have now decided to stress romance, and that when they initially called it "Hills" before they actually wanted people to think of Beverly Hills, despite the fact that the drama really does take place in Roppongi Hills.
This PR tweaking fooled nobody. It will be obvious to anyone who tunes in that the series was inspired, at least in part, by Taka- fumi Horie, the president of the Internet service provider Livedoor, whose headquarters is Roppongi Hills. And it's also apparent that, prior to Horie's bid to buy controlling shares in Nippon Broadcasting System, which holds Fuji TV stock, the network was going to try its best to link the show in people's minds to the Horie brand name.
He's probably flattered. An ironic footnote to the not-dead-yet Livedoor/Fuji TV saga is that Horie has always admired the network he now has his eyes on. Several weeks ago he was interviewed by NHK about the fact that Horie had been dropped as a regular on one of Fuji TV's celebrity-stuffed variety shows, "Heisei Kyoiku 2005 Yobiko (Heisei Educational Cram School 2005)," in retaliation for his stock-buying spree.
"Maybe Fuji TV is no longer my favorite," he said. "I'm disappointed that they didn't take advantage of this story to boost ratings." In other words, why didn't Fuji TV, whose motto is "It's not TV if it's not fun," have some fun itself with the whole takeover drama? Cartoonist Katrina Oyako made a similar point when she told Aera that the new title of the Kusanagi drama "sounds like something from 20 years ago." She suggested a more Fuji-ish title, like " Money Is Everything," since to her, it sounds like something Horie would say.
And it very well may be something that Horie said, but if he did then it was likely misconstrued by those in the business world who want to paint the young entrepreneur as a money-grabbing trampler of tradition. Though the whole hostile takeover scenario he launched has been hailed as a welcome shot in the butt to Japan's sclerotic business culture, it's also made a lot of people fidgety, simply because they don't know what his intentions are.
NBS radio employees wrote an open letter saying that "Horie doesn't respect our listeners," without explaining what that could possibly mean. While the government is now scrambling to pass legislation that would make it difficult for anyone to attempt a similar type of acquisition, at the same time it expresses shock -- yes shock -- at Horie's capitalistic mindset. (Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, for once, has the right attitude, admitting that he'll be sad when the face-off is over, since he finds it so exciting.)
Fuji TV seems to have lost more than its sense of humor, implying that Livedoor is an evil company that wants to undermine the network's mission "as a public institution," which, though not an entirely hypocritical statement, is at least a laughably self-important one. "We don't really need to hear from Fuji TV that they're working for the public good," quipped media critic Yukichi Amano, effectively refusing to join in the debate as to whether supplying fun to the masses constitutes a civic virtue.
Nevertheless, the airwaves belong to the citizens, at least in theory, and according to surveys the public supports Horie more than it does Fuji TV. Horie's total disregard for anyone's opinion of him is part of his integrity. While Fuji TV and other media companies in the Sankei Group disingenuously spin their fear and loathing into righteous defense of their sacred obligation to serve the people, Horie shrugs and simply tells it like it is. He isn't doing anything illegal or unethical. He is simply exercising his options as a businessman who has big ideas and needs big resources to realize them.
Horie's enemies refuse to understand his proposed plans for the broadcasting entities, but economists point out that right now he has no obligation to tell anyone what he would like to do with NBS or Fuji TV. It seems obvious from remarks like those he made to NHK that he has no problem with the network's creative ideas, which is too bad. The programming on Japanese commercial TV is as stale as the business model that supports it.
It would be nice if the battle were about more than just business models and stockholders' rights. Why not a fight about the purpose and direction of media itself? Last week, after Fuji TV gained 36 percent of all outstanding shares in NBS, Horie told interviewers that he took issue with Fuji TV CEO Hisashi Hieda's claim that the Livedoor president thinks the Internet will someday supplant television as the central medium in people's lives.
"I never said that television is going to vanish," he commented. Does that mean that 10 years from now we will still have to choose between dramas like "Koi ni Ochitara/Boku no Seiko no Himitsu" and variety shows like "Heisei Kyoiku 2005 Yobiko?" Seriously, where's the fun in that?