NHK’s Nobuo Inaba


Like other public broadcasters across the globe, Japan’s NHK is firmly focused on maintaining its output of high-quality, informative content while grappling with catering to all audience demographics, rapid shifts in consumption habits and pressures on funding mechanisms. Nobuo Inaba, a former executive of the Bank of Japan, was brought in by the pubcaster at the start of this year for a three-year term as president. With a reduction in its license fee coming this October, Inaba is exploring ways to do more with less—including a greater emphasis on partnerships—and focused on driving increased revenues at NHK Enterprises, all while maintaining the broadcaster’s rigorous emphasis on being a trusted source for Japanese audiences and its pioneering spirit toward new technologies. He tells World Screen about the outlook ahead.

***Image***WS: What’s your overall strategy for NHK as you embark on your three-year term at the organization’s helm?
INABA: I wish, as president, to make various efforts to further NHK’s mission as a public-service media. NHK has the mission to serve the public across Japan, providing a rich and high-quality broadcasting service while also maintaining its independence and autonomy and contributing to the development of a healthy democracy and cultural improvement. We are expected to produce and provide high-quality news, documentaries and entertainment programs. The first and most important thing is establishing the systems and furnishing the right environment so our employees and staff can achieve this public mission.

I want to move NHK forward to produce even higher-quality content in a cost-effective manner. NHK is funded by receiving fees, which are charged equally to every household in Japan that has installed a TV set. To reflect the result of the structural reforms and management efforts implemented so far, the receiving fee will be reduced by 10 percent from October this year. That will produce a temporary dip in revenues, but to permit the quality or volume of our services to drop for this reason would defeat the purpose of the structural reform. I would rather seek ways to use digital technology to raise both the volume and the quality of our services. This includes expanded use of the digital archive and digital revision of program-making processes from production to broadcast and distribution.

On the daily news side, NHK’s essential stance is to take the time required to uncover the truth and deliver information continuously, accurately, fairly and without bias. Amid the great welter of information available, I want NHK to be where people turn to when making [decisions]. As for the entertainment side, we would like our production team to pursue new ideas and styles that could be enjoyed by viewers not only in Japan but throughout the world. We hope we can enrich people’s everyday lives and culture by offering high-quality programs and, in that way, contribute to society.

These endeavors can also provide effective answers to the diverse contemporary issues confronting us in an information space inundated with fake news.

WS: Tell us about the pillars guiding your overall programming strategy.
INABA: In December 2023, we will reorganize the number of our channels. We will revamp our satellite channels to one 2K channel and one 4K channel, and the 8K channel will remain the same. With the start of this new 4K channel, we will deliver content that will enable viewers to experience the full and immersive ultra-high-definition images of 4K. The upcoming lineup will include a big historical drama about a famous Ukiyo-e artist; a major documentary series about the mysteries of the Nazca, the Mayans and other ancient civilizations; and a series of live programs showcasing magnificent views of the World Heritage sites from land, sea and sky. We are committed to making high-quality programs that have global appeal. We are also placing a strong emphasis on international co-productions and the acquisition of foreign dramas and documentaries. Investing in outstanding foreign productions secures high-quality content for our audience and brings them in contact with diverse viewpoints and values from around the world.

Furthermore, 2025 will mark the 100th anniversary of broadcasting in Japan. We are planning a Mars Project for this anniversary year. In 2024, JAXA will launch a Mars probe equipped with NHK 8K and 4K cameras. This is JAXA’s MMX (Martian Moons eXploration) mission, which will collect and bring back samples to Earth that could provide vital information to solving the mystery of the formation of the planets in our solar system. We will follow this journey and offer the discoveries in ultra-high-definition images. This will be one of our major high-scale project series for the 100th anniversary. Also, we have a big series coming up called The Human Age, which will re-examine the global issues confronting us today from the perspective of human history.

WS: Public broadcasters the world over are facing funding challenges. How is the outlook for NHK?
INABA: In Japan, too, the TV reach and ratings are declining, especially among the young, and our population is also declining. As in other countries, we are facing challenges in funding. NHK is supported by the receiving fee system in which every household is asked to pay equally. The issue for us is to find ways to keep on providing high-quality content in a cost-efficient manner, even if our receiving fee revenues decline. We are looking at several new schemes for this purpose, such as using digital technologies for organizational reform and increasing collaboration with production companies and broadcasters for content creation. With our network of international friends and colleagues that we have fostered over the years, there is more room for strategic investment in programs that have global market appeal. I hope to join forces with our friends around the world in various forms in the future.

WS: How have you evolved your programming and technology to meet the needs of the ways Japanese audiences access your services today?
INABA: Given the great advances in digital technology, NHK has to fulfill its role as a public-service media via the internet in addition to broadcasts and make it even easier for users to access NHK’s services. In 2020, NHK launched the NHK Plus service, which provides simultaneous streaming and catch-up of terrestrial TV programming. People living in Japan who have a receiving fee contract with NHK can access this service for no extra charge, and it is used by many.

Another big mission of NHK is to contribute to education. NHK produces many educational programs, and the content is also offered on the internet to ensure children’s learning. It proved especially useful for home study during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2022, the NHK Learning site was launched to provide educational content for people of all ages.

Our international TV and radio service, NHK WORLD-JAPAN, is also available online. News, videos, programs and so on are provided on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other platforms, and these are valuable sources of daily information for foreign residents and visitors to Japan. Our live streaming of NHK WORLD in English is automatically translated and offered in subtitles in other languages, too. This subtitling service is offered in Chinese, French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.

WS: How are you positioning NHK Enterprises as you look to drive commercial revenues?
INABA: I have high expectations for NHK Enterprises and our other affiliate companies because they can potentially contribute to reducing the financial burden on the viewers by offering supplementary revenues. Unlike NHK, which is funded by the receiving fee, NHK’s affiliates can be more flexible in working with universities, expert institutions and other external companies. Their antennas are always up to further make use of their creativity across a wide range of fields, and I think they have enormous commercial potential and can create seeds of innovation in the market.

WS: We see greater collaboration among European pubcasters as they look to take on the well-funded global streaming giants. Do you see opportunities for similar alliances within Asia?
INABA: I believe that international co-productions have a big role to play in NHK’s mission. Public-service media everywhere are eager to engage in such co-productions, and we are all seeking ways to increase public value together. NHK would like to continue to be an active participant in this, and we are eager to work together with our allies. We already share a history of cooperation with other Asian public broadcasters in fields ranging from co-productions to technological exchange. We want to deepen those ties with the common aim of delivering globally appealing content from Asia.