NHK eyes online content offering

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TOKYO -- Public broadcaster NHK plans to be the first Japanese TV company to offer content online, beginning a limited service in 2008.

The initial plan, first revealed Wednesday, is to offer news programs and documentaries for a week after their TV broadcasts, in an on-demand downloadable format. The files will be installed with security functions that prevent copying and ensure they can be watched only for a set time period after download.

The range of programs available is set to rise once copyright issues are resolved, a company source familiar with the plan said late Thursday.

NHK, which is funded by a viewer license fee, will offer the service free to those who have paid their regular monthly ¥1,345 ($11) dues, and charge those that have not.

NHK has faced a surge in nonpayment rates in recent years after a series of high-profile scandals relating to misuse of funds tested the patience of the Japanese public.

At the height of the scandals, more than 1.25 million households were reported to be refusing to pay, though this has since fallen. NHK still expects to collect ¥613 billion ($5 billion) in viewer fees this year.

The question of whether the payment of the monthly fee is compulsory is a legal gray area as there are no legal sanctions stipulated for nonpayment.

NHK petitioned the government this year to introduce penalties for nonpayment in exchange for a 10% cut in fees, saying they could maintain revenue by cutting the army of door-to-door collectors they currently employ, while boosting payment rates.

However, Yoshihide Suga, the minister responsible for communications and broadcasting, demanded a 20% fee cut, citing public disenchantment with the organization following the financial scandals.

The broadcaster last week announced a proposal for a 10% cut in fees, as part of its next five-year management plan. This is likely to be implemented in April 2008, when the Internet service also is scheduled to start, a source said.
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