A peek inside Japan’s NHK

Japanese pubcaster NHK has become increasingly doc-friendly over recent years, yet is often misunderstood by producers working outside of Asia. Realscreen spoke with NHK's executive producer of international coproductions to learn more about this media powerhouse, its coproduction strategy and some tips for producers looking to work with it.
October 2, 2008

Junichi Katayama, executive producer of international coproductions at Japanese pubcaster NHK, doesn’t mince words when describing the style transformation the channel’s docs – which have increased in quantity over recent years – have undergone. ‘NHK’s documentary programs used to be large and heavy in terms of both content and style,’ he says. ‘But nowadays our society and everyday life is moving so quickly and people tend to like lighter and easy-to-watch programs.’

While Katayama says NHK still has ‘large, heavy’ docs, it’s now also employed new techniques. ‘As the demand for more diverse styles and approaches is increasing, we are trying to increase the number of coproductions both domestically and internationally,’ says Katayama. ‘I suppose there isn’t going to be a drastic sudden change, but I feel the change is slowly happening.’

As for now, NHK is exploring Asia for coproduction opportunities. This is happening, in part, through NHK’s partnership with MediaCorp and the companies’ new initiative called The Asian Pitch. With three new programs last year and five new commissions coming next spring, the event is a place to find talented directors with interesting stories, says Katayama.

To put this in a bigger context, NHK usually does roughly 30 to 40 international coproductions a year, and about half of them are docs. The truth is, the majority of NHK’s programs are produced by the in-house production team – one many outside producers don’t realize is as busy as it is. ‘We produce about 80% of our programs in-house,’ says Katayama, adding that the channel also regularly works with many domestic production houses.

Katayama offers some words of wisdom for those interested in pitching NHK. He says answering the following questions in your pitch is crucial: What unique approach or finding can you capture that NHK’s own crew wouldn’t be able to? And how would the subject be relevant to NHK’s Japanese audience now?

‘Since our production teams are all over the world producing stories, if it’s something our crew would be able to cover on our own, we wouldn’t likely ask an outside production to film it,’ says Katayama. ‘It should have some kind of unique angle or access or style that we would not be able to do on our own.’

Another thing to keep in mind is that, like most other pubcasters, NHK is struggling to attract young audiences. Moving forward, it is looking to use the Web more to do so, and wants to get regular Web users to watch TV programs. ‘So when we acquire programs from abroad, we will be asking for more side stories and information of the program to be used as promotion on the Web,’ says Katayama.

But first things first: with MIPCOM just over a week away, NHK is focused on presenting its catalog – one that’s rich with impressive visuals. ‘NHK has always tried to incorporate new shooting techniques into our broadcasting, sometimes even developing the equipment on our own,’ says Katayama.

NHK is bringing The Evolution of the Moon, a 49-minute HD one-off full of images taken by a Japanese lunar probe called Kaguya over the course of a year, and Super Cameras, a 52-episode series that shows images from the latest photographic equipment, including high-speed cameras that can take 5,000 frames per second and ultra micro-cameras that have tiny lenses that are 12 millimeters in diameter.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.