Japan’s broadcasters fight for a fickle teen demo

Despite other distractions, including long school hours, obligatory weekend and evening cram sessions, and other leisure activities, Japanese teens still watch a lot of TV. Ratings generated by Video Research Co. (Japan's version of Nielsen) show that boys ages 16 to...
March 1, 2000

Despite other distractions, including long school hours, obligatory weekend and evening cram sessions, and other leisure activities, Japanese teens still watch a lot of TV. Ratings generated by Video Research Co. (Japan’s version of Nielsen) show that boys ages 16 to 19 watch two hours and 20 minutes during the almost seven hours that they’re at home and awake each day, while girls in that cohort watch just over two hours in their seven hours and 12 minutes. At the younger end of the teen spectrum, boys ages 10 to 15 rack up an average of two hours and 40 minutes of TV during their nearly six ‘at-home-and-awake’ hours, and girls that age watch just shy of two hours.

Japanese teenagers’ tastes in TV are extremely fickle, and broadcasters have to scramble to keep up with the changing market. However, one category of programming that continues to do well is anime. Most anime is ostensibly targeted at kids, but teens devour it too, and production houses are developing concepts with that demo in mind.

Nippon Animation, the number two anime house in Japan in terms of sales and volume of output, has recently produced several new series designed to appeal especially to the Japanese teen market. One of them, Cooking Master Boy, centers around the adventures of a young chef in 19th century China. This half-hour show appeals to the Japanese passion for cooking/adventure shows, which are extremely popular with people of all ages. Airing every Sunday in a 7:30 p.m. slot on Fuji TV, the series has achieved ratings as high as 12%. Several other Nippon teen series are already enjoying respectable runs on the tube in Japan. Hunter Hunter, a 30-minute monster- and treasure-hunter adventure series targeting the younger teen set, started airing last October on Fuji TV in a Saturday 6:30 p.m. slot, where it is scoring a decent 8% to 9% rating. Like many of Japan’s successful anime shows, Hunter is based on a hit manga (Japanese comic book) series, which brings a ready-made teen fan base to pump up the TV incarnation’s ratings.

Dentsu Inc., Japan’s largest advertising agency and a major TV production house, is getting ready to launch a new teen animation series on Fuji TV in April, when the new TV season begins in Japan. Sakura Taisen (Cherry Blossom Battle) stars a group of young women, members of a ‘takarazuka’ (all-female musical) group, who perform ditties and fight bad guys in Meija Era (late 19th century) Tokyo. The show’s Fuji TV debut will be bolstered by the popularity of two Sega Dreamcast video game titles based on the property. Dentsu’s anime has proven enormously successful with Japan’s teens, particularly series like Detective Kindaichi (co-produced with Toei Animation), which since it began airing in 1997, has racked up a 16% to 18% rating in its 7 p.m. Monday slot on Nippon Television; and Monster Farm (co-produced with TMS-Kyokuichi), which is now enjoying a successful run in the U.S.

In contrast to anime’s enduring popularity with teens, live-action fare for this demo has recently undergone a drastic makeover. Dramas ruled the roost until about 1998, but teenagers now seem to be looking more to the escapist laughs provided by comedies, which topped dramas as the most popular teen genre for the first time ever last year. Variety shows are still quite popular with Japan’s teens, as are music magazines and game shows.

NHK, Japan’s big public broadcaster, is trying to reach out to younger viewers by shedding its earnest, conservative image. The company is planning a new three-hour teen slot on Saturday nights at 10 p.m., starting in April. A comedy will figure into the slot’s schedule, as will a music show and a foreign drama, according to a spokesperson from the channel. Currently, NHK’s most popular shows for teens are: Pop Jam, a 40-minute music show airing in the 11 p.m. Saturday slot that has scored ratings as high as 9%; and Bakusho On-Air Battle, a half-hour variety show that airs at midnight following Beverly Hills, 90210. Garnering a 4% to 5% rating, this show charges a studio audience with rating the skits of 10 comedians, the top five of which get aired.

Fuji TV, Japan’s number two commercial broadcaster, is especially strong in dramas, and took a hit in the ratings when the comedy boom began last year. However, Fuji TV has responded with a host of innovative new variety shows, while keeping spots open for the best of its dramas. SMAP-SMAP, which garners an average 12% rating in its 10 p.m. Monday night slot, is a popular hour-long variety/music show featuring boy band SMAP engaging in typical teen-idol activities like drinking tea with pretty girls, driving around in fancy cars and, of course, singing and dancing. GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka), a drama that Fuji TV started airing last year, stems from a well-established property that has already transcended several formats with great success. The show, which gets ratings as high as 12%, began life as a manga series from Kodansha, was made into a dramatic series in 1998, became an anime series on Fuji TV (co-produced with Studio Pierrot), and was finally made as a live-action movie, which debuted last December.

For the last year and a half, TV Asahi has been making a serious push for teen eyeballs by significantly beefing up its teen lineup to about 40% of the channel’s total hours, most of which is produced in-house. The efforts have paid off with popular series such as Challenger On Fire, an hour-long game show in which people try to win a million yen by completing a difficult task in a set time, such as building a house of cards or crying on cue. Challenger on Fire nets a 12% to 13% rating in its 7 p.m. Tuesday night slot and is followed later by Ninki Mono de Ikou (rough translation: Let’s Go to the Stars). Ninki Mono is a 60-minute variety show that attempts to put a human face on big pop stars by, for example, sending them among the hoipolloi to see how long it takes before they’re recognized. The show rates a high 18% to 19% in the Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto) region, and 13% to 14% in Tokyo. Ratings for variety and comedy shows are often higher in Osaka, incidentally, because a lot of Japan’s popular comedians hail from the region. The hour-long Pa-Pa-Pa-Puffy, one of a new breed of talk shows hosted by cute teenage girls, scores an 11% rating in its 11 p.m. Wednesday slot and is particularly popular with teenage boys ages 15 to 19.

TV Tokyo aims 25 hours a week at the teen cohort, 80% of which airs in the slots around midnight, says Yukio Kawasaki, manager of the channel’s program promotion and international operations division. One of TV Tokyo’s most popular teen programs is Asayan, an hour-long ‘music audition’ show that has become a major starmaker. Each week, a famous music producer auditions teens and debuts a select few on the show. In its two years on the air, the talent show has spawned numerous big-name acts, notably Ami Suzuki and Morning Musume. Asayan has become such an important hit-maker that in a recent week, five of the top 10 best-selling hit singles in Japan had debuted on it. Almost every act that appears on the show gets radio airplay. For teen viewers, TV Tokyo has become synonymous with Asayan, just as it has with Pokémon for the younger set. The Asayan format is sparking interest as a new source of exposure for TV broadcasters suffering amid the industry’s cutthroat competition, and for record companies, who are hurting as teens stay out of CD shops in droves.

Another TV Tokyo hit is LondonBoots, a mildly ribald variety/comedy show that nets a 12% to 13% rating. Airing Tuesdays at 10 p.m., the show lets teenage boys quiz teenage girls on their talents, their friends and, inevitably, their sexual experiences, real or imagined.

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