NHK must prevent operations from bloating as streaming services expand

The Yomiuri ShimbunConcern over the swelling of its business cannot be dispelled. As a public broadcaster, modest operations are desirable.

A bill to revise the Broadcast Law was passed in the Diet, lifting a ban that prevented NHK from offering live streaming of its TV programs online. NHK aims to launch such a service in fiscal 2019.

Currently, NHK is only allowed to simultaneously distribute its programs on TV and online to report on disasters and other big news events.

When the revised law comes into effect, the scope of the service will extend to all programs on NHK’s general and educational terrestrial channels.

While it is certain that live streaming of programs would provide more convenience to viewers, the question remains as to whether deliberations were fully made on the necessity of the service. As long as NHK is sustained by a “receiving fee” system, the broadcaster must continue to scrutinize the service’s cost-effectiveness and impact on the industry.

The role of NHK is to broadcast quality programs. Online distribution of its programs is a supplementary service. NHK has stipulated that spending on the online business “should not exceed 2.5 percent of revenue from the fees.”

The problem is that efforts by NHK to maintain this condition are nowhere to be seen.

Regarding the budget for fiscal 2020 and beyond, NHK President Ryoichi Ueda has repeatedly insisted that he would like to make an effort to “keep within the appropriate upper limit through strict management.” NHK should make efforts to maintain the current framework through strict cost management, without increasing its budgets little by little just because the system is changing.

Cost-cutting efforts needed

It is also indispensable to enhance the transparency of accounting for the service.

The revenue from receiving fees stood at ¥712.2 billion in fiscal 2018 and the balance carried over from the previous fiscal year exceeded ¥110 billion. Compared with private broadcasters that depend on advertising revenues, NHK’s fiscal situation is stronger.

Relevant committees in both chambers of the Diet approved an additional resolution at a separate meeting, calling on NHK to implement its live streaming services on an appropriate scale to ensure fairness. NHK needs to take the additional resolution seriously.

The revised law obliges NHK to make efforts to cooperate with private broadcasters when it expands its live streaming services. NHK should listen carefully to private broadcasters.

NHK plans to keep its fees unchanged when the consumption tax rate is raised in October 2019 and decrease them by 2.5 percent from October 2020. But, is that really enough? NHK should consider giving viewers further fee reductions by facilitating the consolidation of subsidiaries and thoroughly curtailing costs, including those for producing programs.

High-definition 4K and 8K broadcasting started in December 2018, which increased the number of TV channels NHK operates from four to six. Reducing the number of channels as early as possible is also an important challenge.

The number of people who watch programs on their smartphones and personal computers without owning TV sets will increase in the future. It is important to launch full-fledged discussions on how to manage households with such viewers as early as possible.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 13, 2019)Speech


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