JIN-292 -- Ichiro the Giant Slayer

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Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 292
Saturday, October 9, 2004

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Ichiro the Giant Slayer

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Ichiro the Giant Slayer

Japan痴 sending a man to Mars could not have been greeted with more
fanfare than Ichiro Suzuki's breaking the record for hits in a season
in the Major Leagues. News bulletins and front pages and
spreads in print media trumpeted his achievement. Meanwhile the Seattle
Mariners値ead-off batter quietly indicated he would not accept the
National Medal of Honor as long as he played baseball--the point being
the government would seriously consider bestowing the award on a

Here Ichiro is commonly called a genius. Truly he is a wizard with
the wood, a bolt of lightning out of the box. He is rightly a cause
for celebration in Japan, as well as America.

But the people at the Yomiuri group, owner of the Tokyo Giants and
Nihon Television (NTV), are not smiling. Ichiro's move to the Seattle
Mariners four years ago, and NHK's subsequent telecast of Mariner games,
has eaten away at viewer figures for Giants broadcasts. Yomiuri was
rumored to have once told NTV not to mention Ichiro during sports news.
Slugger Hideki Matsui's move from the Giants to the Yankees last year
did not help NTV's sagging ratings.

As of the end of September, NTV had slipped about one point in
viewership from last year, being surpassed by Fuji Television in
ratings for 堵olden hour・(19:00 ・22:00), 菟rime time・
(19:00 ・23:00) and 殿ll day・(6:00 ・24:00). NTV, holder of the
Triple Crown in network broadcasting for ten straight years, had been knocked
off its throne.

The main reason was the drop in viewership of Yomiuri Tokyo Giant telecasts.

This season the Giants drew an average 12.2 percent of viewers, the lowest
figure on record. NTV spokesman Yoshihiro Yamane concedes that
the drop in the Giants池atings has depressed viewership in all three
time slots. 展e are using two hours of the 組olden hour・to broadcast
a program with such low ratings,・he mutters.

Other channels, rather than gloat, find the low ratings for Giants'games
sobering. ・.8 percent -- a single digit figure -- I don稚 believe it!・
says Koichi Murakami, Fuji Television痴 president, apropos ratings in
the Kanto region for a Giants-Dragons game on September 20. The dismal
ratings belied expectations for a game between pennant contenders. 敵iants・
games have gilded 組olden hour断or NTV. Will the station continue to
telecast them?背onders Murakami.典he drop in ratings is alarming.・

典elecast of a Giants・game should bring a station 100 million yen in
revenue,・opined Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, the Seibu Lions owner, at an owners・
meeting in July. Another merger is in the works, he hinted. It is no secret
that a second merger (following a planned Kintetsu Buffaloes - Orix Blue Wave
merger), which would shrink the Pacific League to an untenable four ball clubs,
would force it to consolidate with the Central League. That would give all teams
a slice of the lucrative broadcast fees from Giants games.

But the Giants壇rawing power continues to ebb. A TBS affiliate in Hokkaido felt
it couldn't attract sufficient viewers by broadcasting a Giants' game alone;
so on July 19 it did a two-way telecast of a Giants game and Fighters-Lions game,
switching to whichever contest had a runner in scoring position.

The station achieved local ratings of 15.5 percent, surpassing the average
ratings for Giants暖ames in the Sapporo region, 13.7 percent.展e achieved
a rating of 28.1 percent at one point,・exulted a member of the station's
production staff. 展e'd like to do the same thing next season.・A
Hokkaido-based Fuji Television affiliate followed suit with a telecast of
two games the following night.

TBS Chairman Yukio Sunahara explains that the nationwide telecast of Giants・
games by key Tokyo stations in cooperation with affiliates in the cities where
they are played is cost efficient. However, if the Giants団ommercial power wanes,
that entrepreneurial model will collapse.

Ichiro broke George Sisler's 84-year-old record as the Mariners beat the Texas
Rangers at Safeco Field on October 2. The game, broadcast over NHK's BS1,
garnered a rating of 11.7 percent at 11:58 am, a remarkable figure for a
Saturday morning broadcast by a satellite channel.

Television stations and baseball teams will begin negotiating broadcast fees
later this year. Despite the drop in ratings, broadcast fees for Giants' games,
a critical source of revenue for teams, have remained high. 展ill television
stations pay fees they paid in the past for such low ratings?・asks TBS
President Hiroshi Inoue.

They would be wise to negotiate for broadcast rights to MLB games. The Japanese
can't get enough of future Hall of Famer Ichiro.

-- Burritt Sabin

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)


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