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Izumi Tsuji

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Digitalization of Terrestrial Television Broadcasting as a Media Event

Izumi Tsuji
Associate Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Sociology

Digitalization of Terrestrial TV broadcasting as impolitic

Terrestrial TV broadcasting shifted to digital this past July 24. It is highly doubtful whether terrestrial digital TV broadcasting, in spite of the huge investments made, offers benefits to the Japanese society in which the Internet has already penetrated to this extent. There will be no choice but to call this folly or impolitic in the not-so-distant future.

Because professionals have already pursued discussions on policy or business matters, I would like to make a critical comment from different viewpoints in this article. I will discuss how we should understand this phenomenon and deal with it in the future, recalling that spree on the day of switchover to terrestrial digital broadcasting, from the standpoint of the recipients (audience) as my principal research objects.

Viewing it as a media event

To begin with the conclusion, the concept of a media event is useful for the purpose mentioned above. For details of the concept, please refer to works such as Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History (co-authored by D. Dayan and E. Kats, and translated by Katsuhiko Asami, Seikyusha). Media events are broadly classified into (1) events created by the media and (2) events scaled up by the media.

Examples of the former would include high school baseball tournament and professional baseball games, and the latter would include the Olympics. With the media industry involved in each case, they share similarity in that events are commercialized and grow large in scale. Particularly for the former case, the point of this concept lies in that these events were purposely launched by the media industry in order to create news by themselves with the aim of expanding the readers and viewers. To speak out without worrying about being mistaken, this seems to be a grandiose setup.

TV broadcasting on July 24, 2011

At noon on the day of the shift to digital broadcasting, I was in front of the TV with my family. We dared not make a replacement TV purchase. As a result, the notification saying "X more days till the analog-to-digital shift" had been prominently displayed at the bottom left of our TV screen (this is an apparent act of reception interference) since several days earlier.

With less occasions to watch TV, my wife and I agreed that it might be a good idea to take this opportunity to start living without a TV, and at the same time, we reminded our six-year-old son that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime event and intended to have him experience the very moment of the termination of analog broadcasting. I was going to raise my arms up in the air for celebration at the moment our TV showed no image, and to tell my son that the society would work irrationally to this extent.

It was really a grand (in the sense of (1)) media event in that a national campaign was run and even an animal mascot was created, however the broadcasting content on the day of shift was terrible.

NHK was running a special program looking back over TV broadcasting until shortly before the switchover, and then started broadcasting people buying digital-compatible TVs, saying, "An era is changing now." In the program, there was a complete lack of viewpoints on who was to blame for this mess of replacing TVs.

What was worse were private TV stations broadcasting a 27-hour special program. They were broadcasting live coverage of the three prefectures in the Tohoku region where the shift was postponed, saying, "We have switched to digital in Tokyo, but you can still view analog programs over there." They did not mention a word about that fact that it was because of the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

It can be said that the media did not dig into issues such as why on earth the analog-to-digital shift was necessary, and related problems from a journalistic perspective both before and on the day of switchover. They kept trumpeting the switchover, saying, "Everybody, get ready for the analog-to-digital shift which is to come." How could you call this anything other than an empty media event?

I had intended to look down my nose at this ridiculous non-event, but as it turned out, we continued to get reception on the TV even after noon. It seems that broadcasting is available through cable TV in our area, with digital-to-analog conversion completed to make digital broadcasting analog.

As evidenced in my description of "It seems," there were no explicit related announcement made, except only one big poster demanding local residents' readiness for the shift to digital broadcasting posted on the community bulletin board. Considering that many residents would not have rushed to buy new TVs if they had known this, I am compelled to think it was indeed a groundless commotion.

Media eventization through the Internet

Meanwhile, the shift to digital turned into a media event on the Internet as well, however in the sense of (2), and not of (1). The reason why I decided to witness the situation of the day of the switchover in front of our TV with my family arises from this.

For example, a group was formed on Facebook, an SNS, to witness the moment of the shift to digital broadcasting, in which discussions took place to relativize this phenomenon, and especially at the very moment of switchover, real-time discussions were taking place on Twitter.

Incidentally, a flurry of videos which had caught the moment of the termination of analog broadcasting were posted on video sites such as YouTube afterward. And comment columns received a number of critical opinions against analog-to-digital broadcasting, gathering such momentum that was called as a "festival."

I think we should take a hint from such movements on the Internet. In short, rather than unilaterally accepting an event created by the mass media (a media event in the sense of (1)) without questioning it, we need to spotlight and make an issue out of the phenomenon (a media event in the sense of (2)) on another media and relativize it.

As our daily life is probably impossible without media, we may need to come up with how to get along with events while relativizing them, instead of unilaterally criticizing them.

By this logic, although I think the shift to terrestrial digital TV broadcasting is folly or impolitic, I also think we should be pleased that we have come to relativize it and exchange more constructive opinions on other media, instead of merely criticizing it.

In such cases, however, because the momentum on the Internet tends to drop off in an extremely short time, the next task will be not to terminate it as a so-called festival but to allow such efforts to continue in the long run.

Although we are now able to watch TV at home by means of digital-to-analog conversion, this broadcasting is scheduled to terminate around 2016. My son will be 12 years old then, and I am determined to witness the moment of the end of TV broadcasting together with him, while continuing to consider the way the media should be.

Izumi Tsuji
Associate Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Sociology

Pleasure of Masculinity [Otokorashisa no Kairaku]

Born in Tokyo in 1976. Graduated from the Faculty of Letters, Hokkaido University in 1999. Completed his master's study at the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Tokyo Metropolitan University in 2001. Left the doctoral program upon completing course requirements at the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Tokyo Metropolitan University in 2004. Ph.D. in sociology from Tokyo Metropolitan University. After teaching as a Full-Time Lecturer, Assistant Professor, and Associate Professor on the Faculty of Humanities, Matsuyama University, he was appointed to his current post in 2010 and specializes in media studies and cultural sociology. While extensively conducting empirical surveys on the acceptance process of various media, he proceeds with ethnographic approaches specifically for fan cultures as his lifetime work.
Main publications include Digital Media Training [Dejitaru Media Toreningu] (co-compiled, Yuhikaku, 2007), Perspectives on Cultural Sociology [Bunka Shakaigaku no Shiza] (co-compiled, Minerva Shobo, 2008), and Pleasure of Masculinity [Otokorashisa no Kairaku] (co-compiled, Keiso Shobo, 2009)