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Japanese Digital Switchover Complete

02 August 2011

Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) announced in its July 29 newsletter that the country has successfully completed the complete analogue switch off for terrestrial television.

Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) announced in its July 29 newsletter that the country has successfully completed the complete analogue switch off for terrestrial television.

Japan switched its analogue television industry to ISDB-T, the Japanese standard for digital terrestrial television broadcasting, which MIC writes “is the best of such technology.” In addition, Japan has encouraged mobile broadcasting called "One-Seg."

Efforts by the country to complete the digital switchover were hampered by the terrible earthquake and tsunami on March 11, just before the analogue switch off was due to be completed. The mobile “One-Seg” was already partially in place, according to MIC, and this new service helped save lives during the natural disaster. Despite the effects of the disaster, however, Japan succeeded in the complete digitalization of terrestrial TV and terminated analogue broadcasts by July 24, 2011, except in some regions afflicted by the earthquake/tsunami damage.

In its newsletter, MIC offered a series of tips on how to manage such a transition with minimal confusion:

Success Tip 1: Maintain consultation offices close to citizens, working together with the government, broadcasters, manufacturers and electricians.

MIC says it created 51 support centers for digital terrestrial viewers, called "Digi-Suppo," in every prefecture to enable easy access by citizens. Question and answer booths were set up just before the switchover and volunteers contacted elderly people to confirm whether they had switched to digital service.

Success Tip 2: Implement measures together with a schedule and target

Japan announced its master plan well in advance, to inform the public that digital broadcasting would start in 3 metropolitan areas (Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka) by 2003 and in mid-size cities by 2006. The Digi-Suppos helped citizens solve reception difficulties and measures were taken to identify and solve areas of weak reception. Satellite signal delivery was arranged as a temporary safety network for areas where reception was especially a problem.

Success Tip 3: Measures for the spread of digital receivers

Japan standardized the minimum functional requirements for set-top boxes (STBs) in cooperation with manufacturers, leading to economies of scale and cheaper receivers. In addition, the government implemented an incentive program for consumers to purchase and switch to digital televisions (called the "eco-point" program). As a result, says MIC, there were 25 million shipments of flat panel televisions in 2010 (in the first year of digitalization, there were 10 million shipments). In particular, the amount of sales in November is more than 5 times the amount of November 2009 due to announcing the 50% reduction of eco-points in advance. As for a safety network for the people who had not yet purchased a digital receiver, STBs have been distributed for free to low income households since 2009.

Success Tip 4: Public announcements, including statistical results of the digital spread rate

The Japanese government shared statistical results with viewers via the media, and publicized household survey results. Broadcasters transmitted a promotional program notifying viewers of the July 24 deadline. The experience of one early switch off among the 10,000 households of Suzu city in Ishikawa was described. And from July 1, in the count-down to the switch off, broadcasters inserted a superimposed image showing the days remaining.

Success Tip 5: Develop a Media strategy

MIC stresses that industry supported the campaign, for instance by using an animal mascot, a famous entertainer as a promotion symbol and popular newsreaders as promotion ambassadors. Promotional clips were shown at professional baseball/football stadiums and horse racing tracks on public viewing systems with huge screens. According to MIC, “these measurements have created nationwide understanding of and familiarity forward "digitalization of Terrestrial Television Broadcasting" as the animal mascot … were great hits!”

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