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NHK's plan to nix online budget limit prompts concerns among broadcasters in Japan

The NHK Broadcasting Center in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward. (Mainichi/Akihiro Ogomori)

TOKYO -- Japanese Public broadcaster NHK released a proposal Sept. 15 to abandon the maximum limit of 2.5% of viewer fees for operating costs of simultaneous online broadcasts starting fiscal 2021.

    Although the proposal concerning NHK's internet practice standards say that it will "work to keep (costs) down," commercial broadcasters are worried about there being no maximum limit that will keep NHK in check.

    Going forward, NHK's proposal will be subject to public comments, after which the broadcaster will submit it to the Internal Affairs and Communications Minister for approval. The NHK Executive Board's Executive Director Chihiro Matsuzaka, who announced the proposal, told reporters, "We thought it was important to thoroughly evaluate our online operations within all of NHK's operations, and to show the necessary amount of money (and not the proportion of viewer fees)." He also emphasized that costs will be kept down, and added, "We would also like to provide careful explanations to commercial broadcasters."

    In the current fiscal year, NHK's online operations budget has been 17 billion yen (approx. $161 million), or 2.4% of viewer fees. With the additional 1.9 billion yen (approx. $18 million) budgeted separately for Tokyo Olympic Games related content, the budget came out to 18.9 billion yen (approx. $179 million), or 2.7% of viewer fees. NHK has announced that online operation costs, including those related to the Olympics and Paralympics, are projected to be 19.7 billion yen (approx. $187 million) for fiscal 2021, or 2.94% of viewer fees; 19.4 billion yen (approx. $184 million) for fiscal 2022, or 2.9% of viewer fees; and 1.93 billion yen (approx. $183 million), or 2.88% of viewer fees for fiscal 2023. NHK cited the increased hours of and increased broadcasts targeting regional areas as reasons for the increased costs.

    The Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association (JBA) has sought that the 2.5% maximum limit be maintained. In August, NHK announced a mid-term business proposal to cut back its scale of operations to about 690 billion yen (approx. $6.55 billion) from fiscal 2021 to 2023. However, sources from commercial broadcasters have responded warily, saying that on the one hand, NHK may be pressing forward with reforms, but on the other hand, it may be beefing up its presence online by getting rid of the maximum limit for operation costs.

    (Japanese original by Naoyuki Inukai and Tomonori Matsuo, Cultural News Department)

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