The Beginnings of Television
Japanese television broadcasting will celebrate its 60th birthday on February 1 of next year. It began in 1953, with the anchorman Seijun Shimura of NHK as its first ever voice. Five years ago, I had the privilege of conducting Mr. Shimura’s last ever interview. Mr. Shimura had joined the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) before the war, and was responsible for a large number of historical broadcasts. Perhaps he is most famous for his broadcast of a send-off ceremony for drafted students on October 21, 1943. On that day, the planned live broadcaster was the famous anchorman, Nobukata Wada. However, Mr. Wada was unable to handle the pressure of broadcasting these students going off to war and perhaps he had drunk too heavily the night before, because he took a very long time to finally appear in the anchorman’s chair. Mr. Wada eventually arrived two minutes before broadcasting and it was Mr. Shimura, who was his sub and there as standby who took on the role of pinch hitter. He was suddenly sat in the broadcasting chair, and was responsible for live broadcasting in the Meiji Jingu stadium stuffed with 50,000 people on that rainy day. It is still possible to see his impressive performance as anchorman from the archives of the time.
This is a completely different topic, but there is a legendary book of television studies called You are nothing more than just the present [Omae ha tadano genzai nisuginai]. It was jointly written by Haruhiko Hagimoto, Yoshihiko Muraki and Tsutomu Konno, who also established the TV Man Union, Inc. The book was published in 1969, but it still has not lost its poignancy and relevance. This book is strewn with various aphorisms, and represents a view on television that is “You (television) are nothing more than just the present.” That is, the essence of television is that it is live. After NHK began its television broadcasts, it was followed by commercial television such as NTV and KRT (now TBS), and in the 1960s to 1970s, enjoyed the Golden Age of television. I joined TBS in 1974, and at that time the live workplaces of news, drama programs and variety programs had all the atmosphere of the vigorous activity you might see in a building that was on fire, they were so lively.
I remember clearly how, on the evening of the day the welcome ceremony for me and other new employees joining TBS was held, NHK television’s News Center 9 was first launched with the newscaster Hisanori Isomura as its first newscaster. It was the pioneer program in terms of newscaster-centered news programs on NHK. News reporting changed dramatically from the latter half of the 1970s with the advent of recording with ENG video cassettes. Film footage was replaced by video footage.
The Golden Age of Television
The writer Nobuhiko Kobayashi has written that the Golden Age of television began in around 1961 or 1962, and “The Golden Age ended in 1971, if you are harsh, or 1973 if you are forgiving in your judgment.” This assessment is a personal and subjective one based upon Mr. Kobayashi’s experience as a television writer in the entertainment field, to be sure, but it is certainly probably true to say that period of what has been described as the “Youth of television” (Tsutomu Konno) ended after about 20 years from the commencement of broadcasting and, similar to the Japanese economy, it then went through from the era of rapid growth to the era of steady growth. Commercial television was a venture business in the 1950s and early 1960s, but by the 1970s they had developed into powerful and respectable companies and popular prospective employers for soon-to-graduate student jobseekers. Television overtook newspapers to become the top media in terms of the volume of advertizing fees handled in 1975. Japanese people tend to watch a lot of television, but it was 1979 when they watched the most. The Households Using Television (HUT) rate was 77.8% for Golden Time (7pm to 10pm). What about today? Now, it is around 63% for the same time of day, representing a decrease of about 20% from the peak of 1979. In those days, when the arrival of an age of satellite broadcasting was still a distant dream, among those running commercial television at the time, the prevalent thinking was that no matter how many television programs commercial television companies produced, there was only 24 hours in which they could screen them, so they were working with a limited sales floor and thus it was a limited industry. However, the era of satellite broadcasting arrived in the 1980s and from then on it became an age of large numbers of channels. This has produced a situation where it is no longer possible to set out enough products in time on the expanded sales floor. This is one reason why so many shopping programs and Korean drama programs can be found on BS broadcasting.
Furthermore, from the middle of the 1990s, a revolution in the media environment took place and PCs and mobile phones made their big break. Whatever the age, revolutionary new products take hold of members of the younger generation first of all, and then later on the item becomes a thing for all generations. Today, the current revolution is occurring with the construction of SNS (Social Networking Services).
Is Television still “Live”?
Due to my line of work, I always ask students “How much television do you watch?” and it is clear from their responses that their viewing time is decreasing. They often are not at home for Golden time, and are instead spending time with friends, or at their part-time job etc. Their Golden time is instead a brief period after 11pm. This trend is also one that they share with young salaried workers (salarymen) and women who work in offices (OL). Commercial television tends to produce programs for Golden time which assume that viewers will include young men and women and have a line-up that they presume will reflect their preferences (whether or not this is actually the case) but, in fact, the reality is that the customers they have in mind are not watching. It is true that there are also a considerable number of young people who come home earlier, but the first media that they choose to connect to seems to be SNS. Have you heard the expression time robber? There are only 24 hours in a person’s day. At most we may spend 3 to 4 hours of that time connecting to media. In the old days, that was television, but now it seems that it is SNS. SNS is the ultimate media for robbing people of their time. Many people also use SNS as well as watching television.
However, there is hope for television too. Immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the media that people depended on was, first and foremost, television. According to the magazine Nextcom, it was television that people turned to first when they needed information relating to the earthquake, tsunami, nuclear accident and radiation issues. The thesis that “Television is live” has not, after all, lost its poignancy or relevance. As such, on this, the 60th anniversary of television, the key to its rejuvenation perhaps lies in returning to the basics.
Visiting Professor, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Broadcasting culture studies
Born in Urawa City (now Saitama City), Saitama Prefecture, in 1949. Graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University.
Entered TBS in 1974. Spent over 30 years making drama television programs. His main television programs include the drama series The Representatives’ Wives [Daigishi no tsuma tachi) and The Section Chief’s Climacteric [Kacho-san no yakudoshi], as well as dramas by Seicho Matsumoto such as Straying Map [Meiso Chizu], Tower of Wave [Nami no to], the special project Personnel Affairs of the Political Clique [Habatsu Jinji] (winner of the Galaxy Incentive Award), etc. From 2004 to 2007, he was Chairman of the Élan d’or Prize committee of the All Nippon Producers Association.
Since 2007, he has been editor of the TBS’s Survey Information [Chosa joho] magazine. His main papers include “What can be seen from the 1970s, what we know now from the 1970s [70 Nendai kara mietekuru mono, mietekita mono],” etc.