Like other public broadcasters in Asia, Japan’s NHK is fortifying its preschool children’s programming in the wake of increased competition from the private sector. It’s no surprise to the rest of the world that the highest-rated programs with Japanese kids are popular cartoon shows Doraemon, which airs at 7 p.m. on TV Asahi, and Pocket Monster, TV Tokyo’s hit show-both of which cater to the seven to 12 crowd. And it’s a tough act to follow.
So NHK has made the strategic decision to batten down the hatches and secure the preschool viewers. ‘We are focusing on education and not marketing,’ says Toyoko Hirata, head of the Family Programs Division of NHK. Hirata, however, has made one small concession to teenagers. In August, the station launched You and Me, a 45-minute series airing Friday nights at 6:45 p.m. The format marks the first real magazine show for the Asian teen demo that juxtaposes mini-documentaries with interviews with teenagers. NHK’s educational channel ETV currently airs 22 hours of programming a week for infants-that’s a full 15% of its total schedule. Other programs for children make up 7.3% of the total broadcast schedule.
NHK has two separate channels, but most children’s programming is concentrated on NHK ETV. As a result, there is a heavy emphasis on consultation with experts of developmental psychology and technology.
ETV cannot match the private broadcasters with their highly rated cartoon series, so Hirata has focused on preschool kids slots such as Programs for Mothers and Children, a block of programming that airs between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., and its With Mother slot between 8:35 a.m. and 9:35 a.m. With Mother, which once ran between 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., has been bumped back an hour. This recent change has meant the show has attracted more viewers between the ages of four and six. It has also translated into quadrupled ratings.
Due to the subtle change in the morning programming schedule, ETV is now slightly ahead of its competitors TV Asahai and Fuji TV in the preschool market. However, due to its focus on the younger end of the demo, ETV has lost its first place slot with four- to six-year-olds to TV Tokyo.
While Hirata says 90% of her acquisitions are new, the programming selection remains very conservative by Western standards. NHK still dips into old family catalogs from the U.S. and Australia, with such buys as Little House on the Prairie, and has also picked up Sesame Street, The Genie From Down Under, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, Growing Pains, Lassie and Full House. Most of the in-house shows are designed like Sesame Street with rotating segments, so this fare hasn’t actually changed, there are
simply new segments that have been
For its 6 p.m. Drama for Young People block, NHK has shuffled into its mix a few foreign progams including Koki (a five-minute series from Spain’s PPM Multimedia), Kitu and Woolf (26 x five minutes by Australian prodco Henderson Bowman Productions), Talpy (a one-hour clay-animated program produced by a Japanese animator living in Italy) and, most recently, Maisy, the cartoon series based on the character created by children’s author Lucy Cousins (52 x five minutes). Maisy has the generic look of the very popular Japanese character Hello Kitty-hence the possible attraction for Japanese kids.
On the co-production front, the only series NHK has invested in is Ketchup!, a series produced with Shanghai Animation Studio and Southern Star in Australia. While cartoons still rule the roost in homes where kids control the channel switcher, there is one educational highlight for ETV. Its pedantic 5:30 p.m. show Fun With English is ranked the number eight most popular show for kids across all stations, occupying an odd little island between the cartoon Ojarumaru and Mini-Cartoons.