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The Future of Television

President Obama gave his State of the Union address last week. It was seen on television by 33 million people, the lowest number in recent years according to the Nielson Corporation, the company that monitors television audience viewership. Now, an audience of 33 million might seem to be substantial, but these days there is much critical attention given to these matters.

The fact is that internet and mobile device viewing has changed the nature of media. Why bother with television when it is more convenient to watch on one’s iPad or iPhone? Facebook is said to have close to a billion user pages, and social media is the new buzzword representing a contemporary reality that many see as making television obsolete.

And yet, there is something deceptive about that. Facebook itself has announced that upwards of 100 million of those pages are either fraudulent or duplicates. Over and above that, many of those pages are actually commercially based, created by corporations trying to take advantage of the latest trends to boost sales. Walmart alone has 3,500 Facebook pages promoting various aspects of its business. That is to be expected in this country, where even the US government has close to 20,000 websites providing services to American citizens.

All the same, these trends bode ill for the world of television. The networks have always been ready to cancel shows if they did not achieve a desirable level of ratings, but these days there are trigger fingers ready to lower the ax. Many programs are taken off the air after only a couple of showings. It seems that there is little staying power except among reality programs, music or dance contest type shows or informercials. How dismal can television get?! Back in the bad old days television was called the “boob tube,” but it is hard to imagine how it could ever have been worse than it is today.

It is just as bad on Japanese television. A couple of years ago United Television Broadcasting (visit their website at www.utbhollywood.com to see information about their television line-up in both Japanese and English) started broadcasting 24 hours a day. That was an ambitious step, and many wondered how they could maintain such a demanding schedule.

But I was delighted. I thought that they would need programming content and I had some ideas about just what was needed. I made an appointment with a producer at UTB and presented my ideas. However, the meeting did not go as well as I had hoped.

I asked the producer if he had ever heard of Nigella Lawson. “Lawson? You mean the convenience store?” Now, for Americans this might seem to be a strange reaction, but remember that we were speaking in Japanese. In Japan, there is a chain of convenience stores called “Lawson” that everyone knows about. Of course, we are not in Japan, we are in America. So one would assume that a professional working in the media would know about the latest trends in the business.

I explained that Nigella Lawson is a lovely British woman who has been very successful performing on her own cooking shows. The trends pointed towards interest in such shows growing. I told the producer that I was friends with a Japanese nutritionist who was writing her own cookbook based on Japanese cuisine, but geared to nutrition and aimed at those who were overweight. Therefore, the work would double as a diet book. And it could be coupled with a television show and internet link-up.

The producer was interested, but he wanted to speak with his colleagues at the television station. That was March 7, 2011. On March 11, 2011 the tsunami hit Japan and UTB was thrown into chaos with it. I called the producer a year later, and he said that UTB was still trying to recover.

Now the television station is practically on life support. It survives only through liberal use of programs it receives at almost no cost from NHK, the national broadcast company of Japan. Times are so grim that it cannot even sell slots for informercials. Three hours every night are essentially dead time, filled with generic Japanese cultural programming.

As for Nigella Lawson, she is going gangbusters with her chain of convenience stores. Just kidding. Actually, she continues with her cooking show, has published a new book entitled “Nigellisima,” and is starring on a network reality cooking show called The Taste.

Perhaps I was on to something when I suggested that UTB produce the same kind of fare focused on Japanese cuisine. But it is hard to get one’s point across when the other side does not understand the culture or the future that is staring one right in the face.

Those who wish to comment on the opinions expressed here may send their thoughts to info@GoWizardry.com. The most interesting responses will be addressed in future postings.

Robert J. Terry

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