Japan TV segment thrives under strain

Jupiter Telecom sees subscriptions rise 16.9%

TOKYO -- A jump in cable and satellite subscriptions at two of Japan's major operators suggests that at least part of the nation's entertainment audience is proving recession proof: the stay-at-home part.

Even as Japan's economy gets slammed by recession and the industry braces for what are expected to be disappointing final 2008 boxoffice numbers, subscribers to the nation's biggest cable multisystem operator, Jupiter Telecommunications, rose to a record 2.56 million households in 2008, up 16.9% from 2007.

While 194,000 of the new customers at the company known as J:COM came via its purchase of four regional operators -- another 175,000 were brand new subscribers.

"We haven't seen any of the effects of the recession on our business so far," Yumi Takei, a J:COM spokeswoman said, noting an increased popularity in its VOD service. "It seems likely that, with people going out less, they are willing to spend more for entertainment at home."

And then there's Wowow, Japan's premier satellite cable pay channel. Wowow said that its subscribers rose above the 2.5 million mark for the first time in four years as its revamped schedule -- which will soon include the BBC comedy "Peep Show" -- attracted more customers willing to pay the monthly fee of 2,415 yen ($26.65) for its digital channel.

Spokesman Fumihiro Yamanuochi says that while it's hard to say for sure, the recession appears to be helping in some ways. "It's not the people losing their jobs who are signing up of course, but those who are tightening up on other spending," he said. "We get less than 1% of our revenue from advertising, so the company isn't affected by the downturn there either."

About a third of Wowow's content is imported, led by movies and dramas, then sports. U.S. dramas like "CSI: NY" are current favorites, but the company has been increasing programming from the U.K. since last fall and its production of original content is on the rise.

"We have to differentiate ourselves from terrestrial channels with quality programming," Yamanouchi said.