TV fast becoming irrelevant medium
“Historic shift,” “new era” – the boilerplate trotted out to describe July’s switch from analog to digital TV broadcasting was rich in hyperbole. Actually, says Shukan Post (Aug 19-26), TV is entering something of a new era – not one it will want to celebrate. TV is becoming irrelevant, or at best, “a medium for the elderly.” Young people increasingly find their attention absorbed elsewhere.
Ah, the good old days. For TV, these were the 1950s. Still in its infancy, it had the vibrancy of novelty. Older Japanese even today fondly remember gathering at appliance store windows where TV sets were displayed – few people back then had their own sets – to watch the wrestler Rikidozan trounce American opponents and show his fans that Japan’s wartime defeat was not the end of the story. The medium proliferated. It became a symbol of prosperity. It threw up a plethora of popular stars and personalities, from enka singer Misora Hibari to baseball legend Shigeo Nagashima.
“In the early days,” says TV producer Takaharu Sawada, “TV was fired by passion, ideas. Somehow that faded into an obsession with ratings. If a program on another station had high ratings, you’d copy it. Now, everything on TV is the same. In the old days, it would have been an embarrassment to copy what another station was doing.”
Standards were jettisoned utterly during the bubble economy of the 1980s, Shukan Post finds. TV was the industry to get into, if you could, with its 20-million-yen a-year salaries and its unlimited expense accounts. Easy money fuels a buoyant lifestyle but poisons creativity.
Something else it poisons is honesty. Current programming furnishes Shukan Post with a perfect example. Talk shows since the March 11 earthquake-tsunami-meltdown are abuzz with discussions of “setsuden” – saving electricity. Panelists offer tips – set air conditioners no lower than 28 degrees, turn off lights, unplug appliances not in use, etc. “The unspoken truth,” the magazine reports, is that the best way to save electricity is to turn off your TV. There’s research to back that up – by the Nomura Sogo Research Center, which found switching off the TV saves 1.7 times more power than raising air conditioner settings. And nobody suffers heatstroke from a turned-off TV. But don’t expect to hear that on a TV talk show.
The fading of television’s glamour was apparent long before the switch to digital broadcasting. NHK research released in 2010 and cited by Shukan Post shows that 11% of the general population watched no TV at all in 2005, up from 8% 10 years earlier. That’s a significant, though not a precipitous drop. But the same research shows young people increasingly uninterested in TV fare, with males in their teens and 20s watching on average less than two hours of TV a day as against an overall average of three hours, 28 minutes. TV’s enduring popularity resides with people aged 70 and up. They watch on average more than five hours a day.