The most dramatic and progressive of developments to hit Japan
recently is the mobile internet. The 11 March issue of The Economist
carried a provocative article on the mobile internet that bid America to
hurry up if it wanted a piece of the pie.
But why? The Japanese people, whose confidence has been deflated in this
post-bubble era, are less than enthusiastic about the mobile internet
and its rapid growth. They do not have a sense of being a global leader
in this area. What is true, however, is that many people can be seen in
Japanese cities walking the streets while talking on their mobile phones
or using them to make airline reservations, read the news or check their
Mobile internet services began in February 1999 in Japan and in less
than a year acquired eight million users - growing by more than one
million new users a month, or between 30,000 and 40,000 a day. These
figures far surpass any trends related to electronic products that have
taken place in the past. Some forecasters even estimate that 45 million
mobile internet devices will exist in Japan by 2003.
One phenomenon of particular interest regarding the use of mobile
internet services in Japan today is that these services have not been
taken up by the highly educated, techno-literate, high-income users of
computers. Instead, it is youths and people in less prestigious
employment who have been more aggressive in seeking out these
Internet access from the home is not rising as dramatically.
Today, a computer can be found in 38 per cent of Japanese homes - and
just 15 per cent have access to the internet. But two factors indicate
that a steep rise in internet use is about to occur. One is that mobile
internet users are craving more content-rich services; the other is a
new call-rate system for internet access.
This August a new ’fixed internet protocol service’ will start up in the
Tokyo area. It will cost 4,500 yen (pounds 28) per month for 24-hour
ISDN access. Even an average household could afford to use the internet
at this price. Internet advertising generated just 24 billion yen in
1999, but this is expected to grow at a rate of between 50 per cent and
70 per cent a year over the next few years.
There are also significant developments in broadcast media. In 1988, NHK
(and WOWOW, a private movie broadcasting company) began satellite
broadcasts in Japan. This has been the driving force toward a
multichannel era for the past decade. This three-channel analogue
broadcast service today reaches approximately one-third of all
households in Japan, including CATV reception. (The number of households
receiving service through CATV is approximately three million.)
In digital satellite broadcasting, which began in 1996 and now has the
potential for about 100 channels, a fierce battle has been raging for
the past three years between the News Corporation and the Sony-backed
SkyPerfecTV and DirecTV.
In March this year SkyPerfecTV came out on top and absorbed DirecTV.
The service now has a subscriber base of two million.
The next major change to hit the broadcasting world is expected at the
end of this year when five leading commercial terrestrial networks, in
addition to NHK and WOWOW, begin new advertising-based digital satellite
Expensive new equipment must be purchased to receive these
Electronics manufacturers have high hopes for the demand but the jury is
still out on how fast it will disseminate.
Regardless, the digitalisation of satellite broadcasting will be a key
direction for Japan ahead of the digitalisation of terrestrial
broadcasting which will come later.
In terrestrial broadcasting, supply and demand for advertising slots has
been very tight until now. Many clients therefore welcome an expansion
of choices. Up to this point, Japan has been the global exception in
that its commercials are mainly 15-second spots, but the new satellite
broadcasting is more open to accepting 30- and 60-second
What effect will the emergence of all this new media have on traditional
media? The fastest means for people to get news will increasingly be the
mobile internet. As predicted in many advanced nations, the newspaper
industry is likely to be hit hardest by the development of the internet
and digital broadcasting.
It remains to be seen, however, how well the magazine industry, with
such frequent start-ups and closings, will be able to respond to such
changes. Radio, meanwhile, might turn into a medium carried over phone
wires and cellular wireless instead of radio waves.
The advertising industry has hopes for the expansion of mobile access
which will have a direct effect on out-of-home advertising. The industry
believes that people will no longer keep phone numbers in their heads
but will store them on their mobile devices and use them to connect.
The next time you visit Tokyo, take a good look at the buses. Buses
today - more than 1,000 of them - are decked out in colourful
advertisements, brightening the mostly grey landscape of the city.
It is easy to imagine that in the near future these outdoor ads will
contain important new elements - internet addresses.
Nozomu Yoshida is a senior manager, Research Department Media & Contents
Strategy Planning Division, Dentsu. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published on Campaign