Japanese viewers tuning out, turning off their TVs
“The necrosis of television,” is the title Shukan Post (Nov 11) gives to five articles about an industry in trouble.
Looking for evidence that the broadcast media is fading fast? Just turn on the telly between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m., and see for yourself. The so-called “evening news” involving actual news-making events such as wars, disasters and financial panics has dumbed down to the point that roughly one-half of broadcast time is typically given over to “gourmet” topics, such as coverage of ramen restaurants or camera crew visits to the food sections at department stores; profiling the antics of cute animals; and spots focusing on the world of entertainment.
Whether for these or for other reasons, the members of Japan’s younger generation are fast losing their interest in viewing the boob tube. Networks across the board are noticing that even the shows capturing the highest viewer ratings in any given time slot report increasingly lower figures.
The White Paper on Data Communications issued last August by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications broke down duration spent viewing TV by age segments. These were then compared with viewing practices of the same age groups five years ago.
Among teens and people in their 20s, the declines were startling. Teens in 2005 had viewed TV for an average of 106 minutes per day; in 2010, the figure had dropped to 70 minutes, a decline of over 30%. For the 20 to 29 age group, viewing time fell from a daily average of 104 minutes to 76.
Japan’s younger generation, long criticized for “watching too much TV,” had apparently managed to pare half an hour a day from their viewing time without further nagging from their elders.
Research by other organizations is reaching similar conclusions. In March 2010, NTT Communications released the results of a survey about TV viewing habits. Among respondents age 29 and below, 14.7% said they “almost never” watch TV. An additional 17.3% said they sometimes record programs for viewing later; only 0.5% says they engage in “one segment” viewing on their mobile devices.
It also appears that after the switchover to digital broadcasting last July 24, a considerable number of households ceased watching TV entirely.
A survey by the Cabinet Office saw this coming. In 2005, the number of all TV units, including analog models with cathode ray tubes, per 100 households was 255—in other words, 2.5 TVs per home. In March of this year, the number had declined to 239. When the switchover from analog arrived, some people made the decision to “graduate” from TV and dispense with their sets entirely. Some 98,000 households notified NHK that they were canceling their subscriptions.
Transposing the results of a survey by the Jiji news agency showing that 2.1% of respondents did not make the switchover to digital suggests that approximately 2.5 million Japanese may have abandoned TV for good.
A key factor influencing the overall trend may be the loss of trust in television. Following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the Nomura Research Institute conducted a survey in which the subjects were asked to name the institutions in which their trust had declined when it came to providing disaster information. Topping the list, with 28.9%, were national and local governments. Second was commercial television, with 13.7%.
Taken together, Shukan Post concludes, the TV industry now faces a triple whammy of fewer people owning TV sets; those who have ceased watching even when they own sets; and those whose trust in what they view on their screens has dropped off the charts.