Digital Cellphone TV Broadcasts to Begin April 1

Japan is gearing up for the roll out of digital cellphone TV. A consortium of major public and private broadcasters announced Tuesday that service over much of the country would start April 1 and would be called “One Seg(u).”

The Tuesday event, which included presentations delivered by female anchors from each of the major broadcasters, marked the start of a publicity campaign introducing “One Seg(u).”

“One Seg(u)” gets its name from the fact that one of the 13 segments of the 6 Megahertz of spectrum allocated to terrestrial broadcasting of digital television in Japan will be directed to cellular telephones.

The service will be offered without charge to anyone with a special tuner-equipped cell phone, personal computer or car navigation system. Programming will match what is offered on the other 12 digital TV stations.

Along with the announcement, NTT Docomo and KDDI also demonstrated prototypes of handsets that can be used to receive One Seg(u) Tuesday. Docomo’s P901iTV, for instance, will come with a rectangular screen that can be turned horizontally so that one can view the screen as a normal TV screen, while allowing simultaneous access to the keyboard to change channels or use the Internet. A special feature of One Seg(u) is that it allows users to view receive video and audio in the upper part of the screen, while receiving data in the lower half.

As digital TV does not consume much power, viewers can use the Docomo handset for two and a half hours continuously. However, those who wish to view analog stations instead will only be able to watch for an hour and a half.

According to a report in Forbes, the Docomo model is expected to cost some 10,000 yen ($89) more than a standard cell phone.

Terrestrial broadcasting of digital TV began in December 2003. By the end of this year, 90 percent of the Tokyo metropolitan region – which is home to nearly a third of Japan’s total population – will be able to receive the broadcasts, according to TV Asahi’s Tamayo Marukawa, as quoted in the trade publication Keitai Watch.

Sankei Introduces New Electronic Edition

A pioneer in electronic newspaper delivery, the Sankei Shimbun announced Wednesday it would be offering a new electronic version of the newspaper that closely replicates the look of the print version.

Called NetView, the new electronic edition will be available Oct. 1. It is being priced at a mere 315 yen ($2.83) per month, substantially less than the 2,950 yen ($26.47) it costs to have the morning edition delivered monthly, or the 2,100 yen ($18.84) it costs to subscribe to the Sankei’s current electronic version, Sankei Web–S.

The Sankei can offer NetView at such a low price because users can only view that day’s morning edition. No archives are available for searching; nor can articles be saved. They can be printed, however.

Still, there was apparently considerable dissension within Sankei as to whether NetView could be profitable at such a low price. According to Shizuo Kobayashi, head of the Sankei’s digital media division, as quoted by CNET Japan, “Much content on the Internet is offered for free, and users tend to resist paying for content. So we decided that we could just get away with pricing it at 315 yen.”

The Sankei is targeting the new electronic edition particularly at young readers.

Though TV listings, stock prices, and full-page ads have been eliminated, NetView looks exactly like the Sankei’s paper copy. Even ads appear just as they are printed in the paper edition. Content unique to the electronic edition includes video and sound files. Created in Flash, NetView can be viewed using any Web browser.

The first Japanese newspaper to create an electronic edition, the Sankei in 2001 launched Newsvue, which like NetView, attempted to copy the exact look of the paper edition. For a monthly fee of 1,995 yen ($17.90), users could print, search archives and jump to related articles. According to CNET, Newsvue never took off, partly because it required a special Acrobat-like viewer to read it, and because it had been launched before broadband was widely available. Sankei discontinued Newsvue in March of this year. (For a description of Newsvue, see Japan Inc.’s “A New Way to Read the Morning Paper”.)

Softbank to Create Online TV Portal: Report

Softbank is reportedly in final talks with each of Japan’s five national commercial television networks to create a new portal site for viewing television programs online, according to a Nihon Keizai Shimbun report last Friday.

The Nikkei said the site would host more than 1,000 programs from each of the networks and would be mostly supported by commercials rather than viewer fees. Softbank expects it to begin operating by next spring.

However, Softbank would not confirm details when queried by multiple other media outlets. A few of the broadcast networks told Reuters, however, that they had been approached by Softbank but had not made a final determination.

The Nikkei said the talks concern which programs Softbank will be given access to as well as how much it will pay for them. The new site is expected to initially contain mostly news and sports shows, because their copyrights are relatively easy to deal with.

Though Softbank owns a controlling stake in Japan’s most popular portal, Yahoo! Japan, it told the Nikkei it will create a new company to launch the Web site. The firm will likely cooperate with Yahoo Japan, however, possibly relying on it for access to its customer database, the Nikkei said.

Softbank’s move comes as each of the broadcast networks has separately sought ways of offering their programming online (see this report by JMR: “TV Networks Considering Pay-per-view Online”).

In contrast to Softbank, the individual broadcasters plan to offer their programming for a user fee. In July, Fuji Television Network Inc. began offering sports programs and concerts online, for about 300 yen (about $2.70) per program. Similarly, Nippon Television Network, for instance, said it would release up to 10,000 programs online beginning in October, including both dramas and variety shows, and would charge 100 yen ($0.90) for a 15-minute program segment.

Softbank itself has already been broadcasting video over the Internet since 2001 through its BBTV video-on-demand service. BBTV now offers more than 5,200 video-on-demand movies for rent and 28 live broadcast channels, which, among other things, broadcast games played by the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, a professional baseball team owned by Softbank.

The Nikkei said Softbank’s future plans extend to developing a 1,000-channel service that will receive programming from Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, regional TV stations and foreign broadcasters – in addition to the five private networks it is reportedly in negotiations with now.