Japan's BeeTV Draws Big Buzz by Only Broadcasting to Mobile Phones

Advertisers Once Cool to Idea Give Popular Subscriber Service Second Look

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TOKYO (AdAge.com) -- In a country where almost every facet of daily life is lived on some of the world's most-advanced cellphones, Japan's year-old BeeTV broadcasts only to mobile phones. BeeTV is a joint venture by NTT Docomo, Japan's largest mobile phone carrier, and Avex Group Holdings, the holding company for a group of entertainment-related subsidiaries based in Japan.

'Women Have Fun Twice' is one of BeeTV's most-watched programs.
'Women Have Fun Twice' is one of BeeTV's most-watched programs.
BeeTV broadcasts more than 20 short programs in eight genres like drama, music and comedy and plans to add shows on cooking, fashion and beauty for a total of more than 50 programs. The two most-popular are drama series "Love Letter in Five Years" and "Death Game Park."

In its first year, BeeTV has grown to more than 1.13 million subscribers, paying $3 per month each, making it "a really successful case compared to other mobile and websites," said Ryo Yoshihara, an executive in Avex's acquisition and production division. Unlike the mobile distribution of programs created for and run by traditional TV broadcasters, "this is an all-new type of [digital] broadcasting where the programs are produced and aired specifically for mobile telephones."

BeeTV takes no ads yet, but advertisers have started to take notice of its strategy and popularity, and are talking to the broadcaster about sponsorships and opportunities to co-develop programs.

"When BeeTV first launched, our media buyers thought it wouldn't last," said Tokyo-based Dave McCaughan, senior VP-director of strategic planning, Asia/Pacific, at McCann WorldGroup.

"There's so much going on in this area and they thought it was too expensive, but BeeTV keeps adding new subscriptions and has helped NTT Docomo attract people from other carriers." BeeTV's core market of Japanese women aged 20 to 40 has high disposable incomes, spends a lot of money on handsets, and is open to switching phone services.

"That [target ] could be good for brands we work with like Maybelline, Disney, Nestle and MasterCard," Mr. McCaughan said. For now, Mr. Yoshihara said BeeTV, named to suggest a busy hive, is only looking for revenue from subscribers.

But in an e-commerce test, BeeTV is partnering with Japan's biggest internet shopping mall, Rakuten Ichiba, which sells more than 750,000 food products. A handful are featured in video content on BeeTV. When the program ends, users can move to a linked page and buy the advertised products through their phone.

According to the ROA Group, Japan will have 121 million mobile users in 2011. More than 70% of Japanese already own a handset that can download and view TV content, as well as connect to the internet.

Some of BeeTV's more popular shows are later released on DVD. The saucy drama series "Women Have Fun Twice," starring five well-known actresses, will be screened in late June at the Taipei Film Festival after the number of episodes downloaded hit 900 million, a BeeTV record.

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