Japan Edges Forward in Digital Broadcasting

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Tokyo -- Japan's bid to enter the digital-broadcasting
age is rapidly taking shape. Although broadcasts won't begin until December 2000,
manufacturers are scrambling to have new receivers, set-top boxes, digital tuners and even
flat-panel, plasma-display televisions in the shops by next June.

Also, 11 broadcasters have formed a joint venture to
develop common digital-terrestrial-TV (DTT) equipment enabling subscribers to receive
digital transmissions aired by national broadcaster NHK's new B-SAT 2 satellite in
late 2000.

Unlike such markets as the United Kingdom, Japan will not
use DTT to provide multichannel television, but rather high-definition TV. Digital signals
will be downlinked from the satellite, then retransmitted as DTT signals.

Although Japan's "big five" broadcasters
said they won't initially market the HDTV signals as pay channels, they are
developing a single-card, conditional-access system in case they change their minds.

So far, the pay TV industry appears unconcerned by the
arrival of DTT.

"We're not interested [in the DTT plans];
we're going our own way," said Yoshi Namiki, spokesperson for direct-to-home
platform SkyPerfecTV!. "We've got better content, new genres, and we added
another 73,000 subscribers last month."

How DTT will play out remains to be seen. Each commercial
broadcaster says it will use the new digital channel to focus on competitive issues.

NHK says all players have agreed to broadcast high-quality
programming and that even though consumers could have access to as many as 300 channels,
they will only frequently watch about 10 of them.

The DTT consortium will operate until December of next year
and has applied for a license to do so.

"We assume, by December, most people will have digital
receivers in their homes," an NHK spokesperson said.

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