The Japanese media market is characterised by a strong high-circulation newspaper sector and by five national television networks, including a licence-funded public broadcaster NHK.
Top Brands % Weekly Usage (TV, Radio and Print)
|Weekly use||Main source|
|Nippon TV news||46%||11%|
|TV Asahi news||44%||8%|
|Fuji TV news||38%||5%|
|Regional or local newspaper||21%||6%|
|TV Tokyo news||20%||2%|
|Commercial radio news||14%||2%|
Top Brands % Weekly Usage (Online)
|Weekly use||Main source|
|NHK news online||16%||5%|
|Nippon TV news online||10%||1%|
|Asahi Shimbun online||9%||1%|
|TV Asahi news online||9%||1%|
|TBS news online||8%||1%|
|Fuji TV news online||7%||0%|
|Mainichi Shimbun online||6%||1%|
|Sankei News online||6%||1%|
|Commercial radio news online||6%||1%|
|News websites of TV Tokyo||4%||0%|
|Local or regional paper website||4%||0%|
Overview of key developments
By Yasuomi Sawa
Journalist, Kyodo News, Japan and former Reuters Institute Journalist Fellow
Japanese newspapers remain some of the most read in the world, reaching around eight in ten households in 2015, thanks to a strong reading tradition and well-developed home delivery networks. Although in total around 44m papers are still sold every day, circulation has been falling steadily – down by 18% since 2000. 1 The left-leaning broadsheet Asahi Shimbun has been amongst the most affected. Recent controversies over the retraction of stories on so-called ‘comfort women’ in the Second World War and the Fukushima nuclear disaster have led to sustained criticism from conservatives. It has seen its circulation decline by around 600,000 copies in the last 15 months alone, and has been forced to cut wages. 2
Partly because print remains highly profitable, newspaper groups have been slow to develop online audiences and digital businesses. That is now changing and, with Mainichi Shimbun introducing a paywall in December 2015, all five national dailies finally have online pay platforms. The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, which has the largest circulation of around nine million copies a day, took the bold step this year of offering tablets for rent – complete with its own apps from ¥1,780 ($16) a month – exclusively for its newspaper subscribers. The most successful of the five, in terms of digital subscriptions, is Nikkei (Nihon Keizai: Japan Economic Daily), known for its £844m purchase of the Financial Times, with 450,000 paid digital subscribers. This number has doubled in three and a half years. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper has around 240,000 paid digital subscribers, which is just a fraction of its around seven million print circulation.
Digital-born players are beginning to make an impact, not least with the launch of BuzzFeed Japan in January 2016, a joint venture between BuzzFeed in the United States and Yahoo! Japan. The website’s launch team includes Founding Editor Daisuke Furuta from Asahi and Satoru Ishido from Mainichi; both well known for their work in digital journalism. Previously it would have been unthinkable for journalists to move from the privileged and secure position of a major newspaper to a media start-up. Meanwhile, Yahoo!, which is the top digital news brand in Japan (59%), is broadening its content mix with the creation of original stories in addition to aggregating news from traditional brands.
Competition amongst mobile news brands and apps is becoming intense. Key players are news aggregation apps such as SmartNews, Gunosy, Yahoo!, and Line News. The latter is growing fastest with 22 million active users in December 2015, up from 6 million in April 2014. 3 This growth is partly because Line itself is the go-to messenger app in Japan. This app has also has started to carry rich news timelines, taking advantage of regular access by smartphone users. Gunosy and Antenna, by contrast, seem to be prioritising infotainment and lifestyle content.
Although social media is popular in Japan, it is not used as a news source as frequently as in other countries. Japanese users also tend to be reluctant to participate in news by sharing stories, commenting, or ‘liking’. This trend matches the Japanese general public’s hesitance to openly discuss political or societal issues in their face-to face communication.
Ad-blockers have also not yet caught on in Japan. It is often the case that imported digital applications take time to be adopted into the unique Japanese linguistic and cultural environment.
Changes in media usage 2013–2016
Television remains a key source of news in Japan while print newspapers still play an important role in politics and society. Smartphones were slow to take off in Japan due to a strong attachment to legacy feature phones.
WEEKLY REACH PER DEVICE
SOURCE OF NEWS 2013–16
|TV||Online (inc. social)||Social|
Paying for news
Aggregators like Yahoo still offer a range of newspaper content free of charge. Strong print profit margins meant Japanese publishers have been slow to focus on paid content online.
Historically, Japanese news brands have been widely trusted, but during the nuclear disaster in 2011 it was suggested that the mainstream media failed to report the real truth behind the accident and instead became a mouthpiece for the government. More recently a number of respected TV news presenters with a reputation for asking tough questions have stepped down or not had contracts renewed after allegations of political pressure from the conservative government. 4
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