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Japanese video content copyright changes in the works? May 28, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan, Media.
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I’ve seen some channels (also here, and here for example, all based on this article) picking up the fact that the Intellectual Property Rights Policy Work Group is set to recommend that video content distribution over the internet be made easier to manage. Currently (legal) internet distribution of such content requires that the distributor get permission from all rights holders associated with the content. The rules for broadcasters is less strict, and the proposal seems to be an attempt to apply the TV broadcaster rules to the internet.

This is part of a drive by the Japanese government to try to make the Japanese content business a global business (and also to drive money and budgets to pet projects which can be claimed to be required to achieve this goal, of course).

Seems pretty attractive on the surface. However, this isn’t really new news. This is the Nikkei’s article regarding this year’s “progress”, and this is last year’s. The plans seem to be virtually the same, which shows that no progress was made last year.

Part of the problem, as the Variety article sort of alludes to, is the structure of showbusiness in Japan, where large, powerful, well connected (to both political, legitimate and less-than-legitimate businesses) “talent” agencies hold a lot of power. These are the groups like Yoshimoto Kogyo, Horipro, Ken-on, Johnny&Associates, etc, etc. (though in fact these agencies are far from difficult to track down, rather they are jealous of their assets and often refuse to give the required permissions which results in stalled efforts to redistribute content. Even for TV broadcasters, who may theoretically be able to just broadcast and pay roylaties later, would not dare going against the wishes of the agencies for whom they rely on “talent” to populate their programming. It would seem from the content aired on Japanese TV, the industry is totally reliant on pretty faces (around which a cross-media marketing blitz is executed) to get ratings. It certainly isn’t the quality of acting or wit)

All the more interesting to see that the working group doesn’t have a single representative from these agencies, but several representatives from broadcasters and content distributors. (see the list of representatives on P17 of this report)

I smell a political tug-of-war, with broadcasters and internet channels on one side trying to change the current status quo where talent agencies have huge amounts of power.

In any case, whilst the WG proposes that:

[..] Internet distribs of previously broadcast TV shows will no longer need to get permissions from all rights holders, as is currently required. Instead they will only have to ensure royalty payments to all rights holders following webcasts of the shows.

this statement requires careful reading. It doesn’t necessarily mean distributors will no longer need to get permissions from rights holders, this could be interpreted that distributors won’t need to get permissions from ALL rights holders, every one last one of them – especially the really difficult to track down rights holders who are no longer in the business or were not credited in the original material.

I can’t see the slave masters talent agencies giving up their grip on the entertainment industry that easily. The talent agencies (Yoshimoto and AVEX notably) are beginning to do their own thing with regards to internet content, and the broadcasters and film distributors (who are also embracing their own closed version of internet broadcasting) don’t want to miss out on the party.

A working group with heavy representation from the broadcaster set would naturally want new regulations which would allow them to use content without permissions from the agencies who they might be in direct competition with for the re-run internet VOD programming. (It is unlikely that agencies would shift wholesale to the internet, at least in the short term, as TV ad revenues are still very lucrative)

I predict that this tug-of-war will continue beneath the surface for a while.

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Matsuoka’s reported suicide May 28, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Politics.
4 comments

I don’t think there is any need to rehash the details of the various scandals which Toshikatsu Matsuoka, the late minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries has been implicated in. (Google for a refresher course)

It is reported that he committed suicide, and most of the speculation seems to be giving one of three potential explanations as in the below excerpt from JapanProbe:

How should this be viewed? As an innocent man who couldn’t take the pressure of accusations? A shamed and guilt-ridden man who took responsiblity for his actions? Or possibly: a wrong-doer who has failed to take responsbility for his actions, and simply took the easy way out?

But are these the only three viable explanations?

There was another suicide which was not widely reported in the major newspapers (According to this article, only a regional edition of the Nikkei picked it up).

The suicide occured on May 18th, in Aso City in Kumamoto Prefecture, home to Matsuoka’s constituency. A 62-year old man hanged himself in his home. The man is said to have been a classmate of Matsuoka at school, and was believed to have been involved in some capacity with Matsuoka’s constituency office. The man’s name does not appear in the article (he is mentioned as Mr. “U”) – which, given the timing of the incident and the public interest in the death of a close acquaintance (if not direct subordinate) of a national politician embroiled in multiple scandals,seems rather “odd”.

Intial reports of Matsuoka’s suicide mentioned specifically that no suicide letter was found (eg this article). But a couple of hours later, we are hearing this.

Is it the real thing? Does Matsuoka finally give a full and truthful account of his involvement in the various scandals, or does he take those secrets to the grave?
If and when the contents of that letter become public, we’ll know if Matsuoka’s ultimate loyalties were to the electorate or to his associates who are probably trying, right now as I type this, to make sure that his untimely death will be the end of the matter. It would certainly give the media an excuse to claim that the matter is now closed.

If I were a betting man I’d bet that, being a typical ex-bureaucrat turned politician, his loyalties were with the people who drove him to suicide, and that he has taken his secrets to the grave.

I ‘d be happy to be proven wrong though, and regardless of his past actions, he would go up considerably in my (and may others’) estimation if his final act was to betray the clique he had become enslaved to, and as a result did something, finally, which was in the general public’s interest.

After all, Matsuoka was most likely just the latest in a long line of politicians who had sold out to maintain the status quo to provide lucrative contracts to businesses whose main purpose in life was to provide lucrative employment opportunities for retiring bureaucrats.

Update: A little bit of Googling reveals the identity of the man who committed suicide 10 days ago. His name is(was?) Yukihiro Uchino, and he was a candidate in January’s Aso-City council elections where he missed out on election by just 5 votes. (see results here)

Google/Feedburner May 24, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan, Media.
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With the Google’s Feedburner purchase looking like a done deal, I wonder what that means for Feedburner.jp, which is currently being run by GMO Ad Networks.

As the Jp specific stats were never broken out, it is difficult to determine how much traction the Japanese service has been able to gain, but in any case, I would think that Google will review the arrangement.
There doesn’t seem to be much justification for allowing GMO Ad Networks to retain the current arrangement, I’m sure Google will want to try to get more penetration for Feedburner in Japan, either through their own efforts or by expanding the number of agencies which are incentivised to promote the service, and GMO Ad Networks will just be one of many agencies helping to spread the word at best.

I guess this is the kind of risk one faces when one relies on 3rd party technology platforms for your business, especially in a space where acquisitions are far from unforseeable.

China invests in Blackstone May 22, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Finance, History, Japan.
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China is putting $3B into Blackstone which is preparing to IPO. (Times)

This is the tip of the iceberg. The same article goes on to say that $200B is earmarked for overseas investments.

Jin Renqing, the Finance Minister, has said that one of its models would be Singapore’s state-owned Temasek Holdings, which invests in a broad range of industrial and financial assets at home and abroad, including Chinese state-owned banks.

I’ve been saying privately to anyone who wants to listen (and to many who probably don’t) that Japan should be embarking on a similar strategy with a strategic fund which is aligned to Japanese interests and strengths. (I suspect the best way would not be to get the government to do it themselves, otherwise it will end up being another exercise in futility, staffed by clueless academic “experts” and others who will be busy trying to divert money to their (and their supporters’) interests as is so often the case)

I don’t think putting money into funds controlled by interests not necessarily aligned with Japanese interests is the way to go (but then I’m sure it was a cheap way for China to get in the current US regime’s good books – after all Swarzman and Bush Jr were dorm mates at Yale – China isn’t stupid), but the country needs a well financed fund to a) keep key Japanese interests from being transferred to competitive hands outright (such as this one, but even moreso the other business units belonging to same), and b) to take a stake in overseas assets which are aligned with the future direction of the Japanese industrial base. (I’m thinking strategic technology and access to resources (energy, raw materials, logistics))

Japan’s foreign currency reserves are only $900B (according to the IMF) compared to $1.2Trillion for China, but there is another $2.1Trillion sitting in the Japan Postal Savings system, more than half of which are in low yield Japanese Government Bonds. It would seem that it would be in the government’s interest to put some of that into play.

Give me and my buddies $100B or so to go to work with, and I’m confident that we can return more money to the Postal Savings system than the current investments, whilst simultaneously strengthening Japan’s strategic position. Hell, even with just $10B and taking strong positions in venture businesses and SMEs I can see a lot of opportunities. I’m sure some of the big industrial companies and financial groups would be willing to pitch in a little money, after all they seem to be perfectly fine financing overseas funds in a similar fashion.

I’ll even offer to work on a miniscule management fee. The fee depends on the focus of the fund, but I think Japan needs new hands-on players in the VC scene (ie people with a nose for technology who are with the programme and not playing the game 6~24 (or more) months behind the global leaders), as well as in the bigger PE sector. If that is the case, it’ll need more than a handful of people to manage of course. Still, I’d have absolutely no interest in trying to get rich off management fees, nor do I feel the need for a corporate jet.
I’m not holding my breath for the Japanese government to come knocking on my door, although there are certain individuals (ok, one) making the right noises.

Fighting jetlag May 22, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Travel.
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From the New Scientist
Only works on jetlag due to eastbound flights though….

Another interesting effect of sildenafil…

I guess this will be a common excuse used by jetsetting guys when wives find little blue pills amongst their belongings.

(Sildenafil was originally developed for angina, but they found an interesting side-effect, the rest is history. There is also more recent research indicating potential applicability in improving energy balance (anti-obesity), as well as certain cardiovascular indications)

Measles outbreak hits Japanese universities May 22, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Society.
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More than 50,000 university students have been affected by closure of campuses, mainly around the Tokyo area. More than 90 cases have been reported at Nihon University, 3o cases at Waseda, and 16 cases at Sophia, amongst others.

Campuses are being shut down for upto a week to prevent cross-infection on campus.

Why the sudden outbreak of measles amongst university students?

To answer that, we go back to 1988, when the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations began. Prior to that measles and rubella (german measles) vaccinations were carried out separately.

The MMR vaccination regime brought with it an increased number of reported cases of encephalitis, which was attributed to the use of the Urabe-strain used to prepare the mumps vaccine. The MMR triple vaccine was withdrawn in 1993, but in the interim period, many parents decided not to vaccinate their children because of the potential side-effects.

In 1993, measles and rubella vaccinations were reverted to separate vaccinations. In 2006, a Measles-Rubella (MR) double vaccine regime was introduced (with a booster).

MMR vaccinations are usually administered at age 1. So babies who were up for vaccination during the ill-fated MMR regime between 1988 and 1993 will now be between the ages of 15 and 20. The MMR scare only really got going in 1989, so the window is actually more like 4 years, between 1989 and 1993 (age 15-19), with a likely increase in numbers who were not vaccinated as time went on.

This would put around half of the undergraduate population in the high risk group. It is not uncommon for universities (and especially new entrants thereto) to be associated with high incidences of contagious diseases, due to the sudden increase in exposure to people. I remember when I was a university student in the UK, there was a public health awareness campaign around meningitis which saw increased infection rates amongst new university students.

In any case, the current outbreak is directly linked to the botched MMR vaccination regime, and the neglect of the government agencies (specifically the Ministry of Health (MHLW as it is now), which has had more than its fair share of disasters – Fibrinogen/Hep C and Factor 8/HIV being the two most famous) involved in following up with the high risk group until now.

(Litigation regarding the side-effects of the MMR vaccine is on-going, after more than a decade…..)

Mixi tops 10 million users May 21, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in blogosphere, Internet, Japan.
1 comment so far

Mixi announced today that as of the 20th, it has topped 10 million users.

Stats breakdown

  • Gender(PC users)
    Male:47.9%
    Female:52.1%
  • Gender(mobile users)
    Male:43.4%
    Femal:56.6%
  • Age(PC)
    18~19:9.7%
    20~24:33.8%
    25~29:24.7%
    30~34:16.4%
    35~39:8.1%
    40~44:3.7%
    45~49:1.9%
    50+:1.6%
  • Age(Mobile)
    18~19:15.7%
    20~24:42.4%
    25~29:21.8%
    30~34:11.6%
    35~39:5.0%
    40~44:2.1%
    45~49:0.9%
    50+:0.5%

4% of PC users are accessing from outside Japan according to Mixi.

Of course these are registered user numbers, which suffers from things like multiple ids, also seeing a lot more (mostly short-lived) ids being used to promote various sites and schemes, lots more cat and mouse games between the site moderators and people trying to exploit the system.

Event on May 17th – Marc Canter on Digital Lifestyle Aggregation May 7, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in blogosphere, Internet, IT.
3 comments

I thought I had posted a notice about this on my blog previously, but apparently hadn’t so…

An Evening with Marc Canter

In May 2007, Marc Canter, ‘a well-known figure in the sphere of open standards, social networks and blogging’, will visit Japan. Take this opportunity to hear from Marc and mix and mingle with Tokyo’s international internet community.

PRESENTATION OVERVIEW

Digital Lifestyle Aggregation: Portals 2.0 (DLAs)

As the worlds of social networking and blogging become more and more of a commodity, new ‘destination’ sites are arising which provide integrated, aggregated and highly customizable interfaces. These DLAs will bridge the world of PCs, with mobile, gaming and TV. Are they long awaited solution for convergence? What about the battle between the big boys (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, MySpace) and all the smaller players? Will there be any crumbs left on the table – for us?

And what will the global, distributed, decentralized mesh of inter-connected social networking and blogging platforms look like?

SPEAKER PROFILE

Marc Canter is a well-known figure in the sphere of open standards, social networks and blogging. Marc co-founded MacroMind in 1984 and began developing for the newly launched Apple Macintosh. MacroMind became Macromedia in 1991. He was part of the team that created the first multimedia player, the first cross-platform authoring system and the world’s leading multimedia platform. Marc was considered one of the founders of multimedia and has been a speaker, developer and evangelist in the industry for over a decade. Over the years Marc has also traveled worldwide, consulting to global corporations and has written on the multimedia industry and burgeoning world of micro-content publishing and social networking. He is the founder and CEO of Broadband Mechanics (broadbandmechanics.com) a digital lifestyle aggregator (DLA) company. Broadband Mechanics builds tools and environments to enable online communities. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

For Marc’s full profile see en.wikipedia.org…

DATE: 17 May 2007

TIME : 18:30 ’til late (Presentation from 19:00)

COST: 2,000 yen includes light finger food buffet. Drinks pay-as-you-go.

VENUE: The Pink Cow – Great food and drinks
Shibuya, Tokyo
www.thepinkcow.com

Space is limited so RSVP is required, sign up here. (or send me an email. If you sign up directly, if you would say that you were directed to the event from this blog, it would be appreciated…)

Marc’s reputation precedes him, and I think this would be an extremely worthwhile event for anyone who is doing (or thinking of doing) anything in the area of internet services, with themes such as social networking and micropublishing becoming increasingly de facto features for current and next generation plays in this area.

I’m a vocal proponent of users owning their own data and having the right and ability to do as much with their data as is technically possible. Locking in users by creating technical hurdles to switching seems to be such an authoritarian and shortsighted way of doing things.

Marc appears to take a similar view on these important issues, and when I saw that he was going to be in Tokyo, I suggested that it would be interesting to get him to host an event. Many thanks to Andrew Shuttleworth for taking the initiative to organize the event, and Traci at the Pink Cow for hosting us as always.

I’m going to be there, and hope to see many others there too.