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FMH continues to lead Japan’s content-media industry

Interview - September 29, 2016

Continually producing content full of originality and creativity, from TV and internet channels to silver-screen blockbusters, printed publications or museum exhibitions, Fuji Media Holdings , Inc. (FMH) has been at the head of Japan’s content-media industry for decades. Chairman and CEO Hisashi Hieda provides an in-depth look at Japan’s media industry and the huge range of areas where FMH has not only made a contribution but excelled in its execution.



Could you please tell us your thoughts on the role and contributions of Fuji Media Holdings (FMH) group in terms of Japan’s cultural aspect? Are there any projects to be highlighted in the entertainment world?

FMH is Japan’s largest and most prominent multimedia conglomerate that encompasses broadcast, production, video and music, catalog/TV/online shopping, real estate and urban development, as well as newspaper and museums. A wide array of media outlets for our contents—nationwide terrestrial television network, broadcast satellite (BS) free-to-air channel, communication satellite (CS) pay-TV channel, and internet distribution—allow us to establish our business multilaterally.

Fuji Television Network, Inc. (Fuji Television), the terrestrial television segment and the core enterprise of FMH, continues to lead Japan’s content-media industry. The station’s programs have always been highly acclaimed by the audience, especially from the trendsetting younger generation.

In the 37 years of Japan’s viewer ratings history, Fuji Television tops the industry by maintaining a “triple crown” (top ratings for the three day parts) for 19 years total, enjoying the seat of honor for 12 years since 1982 and additional seven years since 2004.

Our services go beyond the boundaries of terrestrial television by providing new services and taking on new media ahead of time. Our service in the industry says it all—we believe to have contributed in creating Japan’s culture and trend, and we constantly strive to challenge the uncharted lands. It is in our system, our DNA, to be the driving force of our country’s media segment.

One example is Fuji Television’s presence in the field of motion pictures. Fuji Television is Japan’s largest film production company and our productions win the majority of domestic live-action box office charts every year. The company’s proud production Bayside Shakedown 2 (2003) remains to be the biggest live-action box office hit in the history of Japanese movies, followed by Antarctica (1983), which is also produced by Fuji. To this day, the company’s in-house productions dominate 13 slots within Japan’s top 20 box office records for domestic film.

Some of our productions are internationally acclaimed. In 2013, Like Father, Like Son directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda received the Prix du Jury, the jury prize, at the 66th Cannes International Film Festival. The movie, a meticulous delineation on families and what it means to have blood ties, brought the world’s attention to the quality of Japan’s film production and culture.

Fuji Television’s in-house events production is the nation’s leading producer and promoter, with a history of producing numerous large-scale events annually. In 1983, the company celebrated its 25th anniversary by inviting the Broadway musical Cats to perform its Japan tour, and the Starlight Express in 1987 to commemorate the company’s 30th milestone.

Overseas, Fuji Television successfully organized a sumo-wrestling event in New York in 1985, then in Paris the following year. In 1988, also to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the company sponsored a special service of the Orient Express from Paris through Europe to Russia and China, on to a ferryboat from Hong Kong, and finally arriving in Tokyo 40 days later. The world-acclaimed super-circus tour shows by Canada’s Cirque du Soleil and Fuji Television’s joint tour in Japan started with Fascination in 1992. This year’s Totem marks our 11th production. Each tour delights more than a million Japanese show goers.

Since 2004, Fuji Television has invited the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra six times, including this year’s performance conducted by artistic director Sir Simon Rattle. We have hosted The Rolling Stones Japan Tour in 2014 and Taylor Swift’s “The 1989 World Tour Live” in 2015; the latter attracted over 100,000 fans.

Fuji Television also stages various exhibitions. “Masterworks from the Museum of Modern Art, New York” was an extremely popular art exhibition that attracted millions of art fans in Japan, so popular that we have hosted the exhibition three times since 1993. The “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” was the blockbuster event in 2012, where more than 2 million King Tut fans were amazed in awe with the precious artifacts. This event became the all-time second-most-visited exhibition held in Japan.

As the nation’s largest media group, we have shared with the Japanese people the development and maturity of entertainment, art and culture. I do believe that together, we have grown and expanded.


  • Our role in supporting the Praemium Imperiale—global art prize

Fuji Media Holdings’ appreciation for the fine arts is shown through our patronage to the annual global arts prize Praemium Imperiale, in honor of Prince Takamatsu. Established by the Japan Art Association in 1988, Praemium Imperiale recognizes renowned worldwide artists who have made noted achievements in the field of painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and theatre/film. Various prominent artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Issey Miyake, Rem Koolhaas, Plácido Domingo and Francis Ford Coppola, just to name a few, are among the renowned artists who have become laureates over the past 27 award ceremonies.

In addition to those reputed, Praemium Imperiale’s Grant for Young Artists strives to nurture and support young artists by encouraging their involvement in arts of all genre. We wish to continue our support in this field, hoping for the ties and further understanding of art to spread worldwide.


  • Fuji Sankei Group and its three art museums

Our strong interest to support and promote art and culture also led us to operate three art museums: the Hakone Open-Air Museum, the Utsukushigahara Open-Air Museum, and the Ueno Royal Museum.

The Hakone Open-Air Museum is truly unique where its outdoor garden with a beautiful view of the surrounding valley and mountains is an ideal setting to show masterpieces by Henry Moore, Louise Bourgeois and Miro, just to name a few, plus an indoor exhibition that features one of the world’s best collections of Picasso. According to a survey by TripAdvisor in 2015, the museum was ranked in the top 10 “Popular Travel Destinations for Foreign Visitors” where tourists from abroad flock to enjoy the harmonic balance of nature and art.


  • Tourism as an engine to introduce Japanese culture

Tourism provides a great opportunity to touch on history and culture. As a group with its main interest in content business and entertainment, we feel tourism and entertainment are closely associated. The Japanese government is focusing on the potential of tourism as a rapidly growing industry, and I honestly feel that this is an area where we can be of great service.

In 2015, FMH acquired the Granvista Hotels and Resorts, a group that owns a chain of hotels in Hokkaido and other main destinations in Japan, plus leisure facilities including an aquarium. With the upcoming 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games to be held in Tokyo, we expect a huge influx of foreign visitors. Tourism and resort business therefore is an incredibly promising field, not to mention the attractive opportunity for us specializing in the entertainment segment.

Odaiba, home of Fuji Television headquarters and a well-known leisure and entertainment area, is a large man-made island in Tokyo Bay that faces the waterfront. Its unique landscape plus easy accessibility from the airports make this place an alluring destination for both domestic and foreign travelers. Here, our group has grand plans to develop a large tourist complex ranging from a wide variety of entertainment facilities, convention centers, restaurants and accommodation. With Granvista Hotels and Resorts in our group of enterprises, I have high hopes to put their knowledge and expertise into full use in realizing these plans.


How do you analyze the international popularity of Japanese “anime” (=animation) and “manga” (=comics)?

Historically, Japanese anime and manga are targeted to be enjoyed by both adults and children. A classic example goes back as early as the Astro Boy (= “Tetsuwan Atom” first published in 1952) by Osamu Tezuka, a scientific fantasy laced with social message behind the entertainment. I feel that Japanese anime and manga are expected not only to be enjoyable and entertaining, but also to carry specific concepts and social themes. That is probably what gives them a unique Japanese edge that is now widely accepted all over the world.


How are anime and manga positioned in Japanese culture and society?

The culture of anime and manga is embraced by the Japanese people in general because historically most of the titles can be enjoyed not only by children but by adults as well. I think they have managed to establish an extremely unique and creative means of expression that can address serious philosophy of life and social issues, and yet provide entertainment to be enjoyed by all.


Are there specific examples of Fuji Media Holdings and its efforts in the anime business? What are FMH’s strategies to further expand the anime culture worldwide, thereby increasing the group’s presence in the global market?

In 1963, Fuji Television broadcast Astro Boy, the first animation program in the history of television in Japan. Sazae-San, an anime poking gentle fun at a very average and ordinary Japanese family, started in 1969, and after more than 45 years, it holds the Guinness World Record for the “longest-running animated television series” surpassing The Simpsons. To this day, Sazae-San is one of the highest rating animation on Japanese television and is recognized as a national program watched and loved by all. The world famous Dragon Ball and One Piece are also animes on our timetable.

We have a division that specializes in animation development, a team that works exclusively to produce anime programs and films. We have also organized a framework across the company for a more strategic implementation of animation business. Fuji Television has numerous hit anime film titles, and its anime programs on terrestrial broadcast are very popular among the younger generation. Plans for tie-in merchandise and global expansion are just a few items on our future anime project agenda.

Speaking of global expansion, Fuji Television entered a business alliance agreement with Amazon this April to provide our latest program from our popular anime slot Noitamina to Prime Video, Amazon’s OTT (over-the-top) service for Japan and overseas. I trust that a near-synchronal release of Noitamina content overseas will enable us to further enhance Fuji Television’s anime brand worldwide.


What is Fuji Media Holdings’ current position regarding OTT business? Please tell us about the objective behind providing original content to Netflix and the future strategy for your streaming business.

At Fuji Television, we manage our own internet streaming platform called Fuji Television On Demand, FOD for short. Over 3 million users watch videos on FOD monthly and there are 800,000 paid subscribers, making it one of the most prominent platforms in the market. Fuji Television is the first broadcaster in Japan to begin its own unique platform, FOD since 2005, providing viewers with the latest Fuji Television programs and films, as well as 15,000 video titles produced by others and 150,000 digital comics and magazines.

We have partnered with Netflix who launched in Japan in September 2015 to build a business relationship that is beneficial to both parties. Netflix was in search of original content that would be compelling to Japanese viewers and they highly valued our production abilities, so much that we were the only broadcaster they chose to commission programs to. Fuji Television has supplied Netflix with dramas and reality shows, which they currently stream to Japan or worldwide. The programs are also available on our FOD platform.

This has proven our group’s exceptional production power, our strong suit not only in the broadcasting business but in the streaming business as well.

We have received similar offers from various providers and if we deem that their evaluation of our content is just, we have all intentions to supply them with our programs and films.

In the past, we have supplied pay-TV operators such as WOWOW and SKY PerfecTV! with numbers of our program content. We will likely continue to expand this business to various outlets, including internet streaming platforms.

Despite further diversification of media outlets, content will always be vital. Our strength lies in our level of production, where we are able to continually produce content full of originality and creativity. Keeping our content and distribution rights under our wing, we hope to continue our contributions to the culture of visual image and its future advancement.


Tell us about your PC and mobile online game business and its potential. What is Fuji Media Holdings’ most recent content-related business and its approach? What is its involvement with the PC and mobile online game business—ahead of other broadcasters, expanding user base through television programs and media mix strategies?

Fuji Television began developing and producing games for PC and mobile phones long ago, building on our experience ever since. When smartphones appeared in the market, we began releasing original game apps one after another, expanding in size, and thus game production became a steady and profitable business.

At Fuji&gumi Games, our subsidiary in which we invested through Fuji Startup Ventures (FSV) that manages FMH’s investment funds for startups, “Phantom of the Kill,” the full-fledged smartphone app game, became a smash hit, exceeding over 3 million downloads. It is now available for download in North America and Europe, where we have “culturalized” or localized the game to better adapt to each region’s culture and tastes seeking a bigger success.

Fuji Television’s digital game business formerly operated within our Game Creation & Business Incubation division, but in April 2016 we carved out this particular sector to form a new company called Fuji Games, with the aim of expanding the growth and profitability of the business.

In addition to developing large scaled apps in collaboration with talented creators and expert game production companies, we are working on a media mix development that involves animation, film, merchandise, books, music and events.

At Fuji Games, we plan to accelerate production of large scaled games while establishing intellectual properties like characters, collaborating with animation, music, events and TV programs, and developing pertaining rights businesses. It is our hope that a new culture will be created by these games which will permeate from Japan to the world.

In summer of 2016, we established a Virtual Reality Business section at Fuji Television to officially enter the VR field, which is expected to expand its market size greatly in the near future. In collaboration with GREE, Inc. we have begun working on the production and streaming of VR content and organizing events and promotions for a broad range of services we plan to provide.


  • Partnership with venture business

In February 2016, Fuji Television invested in Niantic, Inc., a software development company that utilizes “augmented reality” (AR) to run online location-based mobile games. By partnering with Niantic, whose latest release “Pokémon Go” has become a worldwide phenomenon, we seek to generate new possibilities in the field of television and content, to create entertainment that people around the world can enjoy.

As you can see from our endeavors, Fuji Media Holdings’ fundamental policy is to avidly challenge the latest technologies, services and businesses to incorporate burgeoning sprouts of the next generation into the group and create a whole new media. Challenging and pioneering spirit is our credo and embedded in our DNA. This is what creates our unique corporate culture.