Japan: farewell analog, welcome digital

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Japanese broadcasters completed the switch to digitized terrestrial TV broadcasting at noon Sunday, July 24, ending the analog transmission in 44 prefectures, except in the three prefectures – Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima – hit by the March 11 quake and tsunami, where the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Communications decided to put the switch off. Here the switch will take place at the end of March 2012.

Being aware that people nationwide have yet to prepare for the analog-to-digital, the Ministry of Communications has increased his staff to provide for technical help to the citizens. According to the broadcasting industry, fairly 100 thousand households haven’t bought essential equipment such as digital tuners and antennas yet. Furthermore, the Ministry of Communications distributed free digital terrestrial tuners to low-income families. Moreover, there are many unreported households that have refrained from making the transition, whether intentionally or for other reasons. Despite mass campaigning by the government and terrestrial broadcasters, there’s still concern that many senior citizens and those with disabilities have not made the transition.

Japanese analog broadcasting service began on February 1 1953 at 2 p.m. Although NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, Japan’s national public broadcasting corporation) beamed experimental television broadcasts in 1939, it wasn’t until more than 10 years later that regular TV programming started. The NHK opening program was the kabuki classic “Michiyuki Hatsune no Tabi”. The next day the inauguration of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was broadcasted. The first commercial broadcaster was Nippon Television Network Corp. and started its regular programming on August 28 1953, airing a baseball game live the next day. The first satellite broadcast was supposed to be a recorded message by U.S. President John F. Kennedy scheduled for the morning of November 23 1963.

As stated above, NHK is the public broadcasting corporation, but it is not the only Japanese broadcaster. Alongside to NHK there are five nationwide TV networks — Nippon Television, Tōkyō Broadcasting Television System, Fuji Television Network, TV Asahi, TV Tōkyō Corp. — all of which are affiliated with national newspapers, except for NHK. NTV is affiliated with national daily Yomiuri Shinbun, while TV Asahi is affiliated with its rival daily, the Asahi Shinbun. Besides the national networks, there are also independent terrestrial commercial stations, not members of the national networks but forming together the Japanese Association of Independent Television Stations.

The first step towards the digitalization of TV transmission started in 2001, after the Diet – on July 25 – passed revisions to the Radio Law to change the frequency of analog broadcasts, providing a 10-year window for users to make the switch to digital.

The first digitalized programs were transmitted in 2003 in Tōkyō, Ōsaka and Nagoya and nationwide in 2006. Until July 24th, 12 p.m., analog TV and digital TV have been simultaneously broadcast.

As in Italy and in other relevant countries, also Japan decided to switch from analog to digital since digital broadcasting provides higher quality images and sound. Moreover, broadcasters can transmit data in a compressed format using only two-thirds of the bandwidth needed for analog broadcasting, meaning that the extra bandwidth can be used for new types of broadcasting.

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