Shimizu Kenji Comments on Fuji TV Dropping Weekday Anime (Narinari)

On August 15th, Shimizu Kenji, executive producer of many of Fuji TV’s most successful anime, comments on why the station decided to drop its weekday anime. According to him, the 19:00/7PM weekday timeslots were reasonable through most of the 1980s but saw a steep dropoff due to the increased prevalence of cram schools (keeping more kids from being home until late, when adult-oriented programs such as the Monday 9 dramas were already entrenched in their own slots) and the decreasing Japanese birthrate (thus shrinking the total number of kids available as an audience). Large audiences were vital to terrestrial Fuji TV, which explains why UHF (Ultra High Frequency waveband) stations were able to continue to broadcast anime in those same slots.

Original Article:

As a companion to Shimizu’s commentary here, it’s worth noting a few things. One, while the Monday and Thursday 19:00 slots died sequentially with Sakigake! Otokojuku in 1988 (started on Thursdays, moved to Mondays, was the last anime in both slots), the Wednesday slot lasted a full decade longer (ending in 2001). Wednesday 19:00, by the way, was the Akira Toriyama legacy slot that ran a combination of Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball from 1981-1999, then picked up One Piece for 2 years before said program shifted to Sunday evenings in 2001.

Two, at least in the case of One Piece, which admittedly moved much later than the others and is more popular than your average franchise, ratings seem to react negatively to slot changes. In 2001, the average ratings of the last 3 months of One Piece airing in its Wednesday slot (15.0) actually beat what it had over the first 3 months of its Sunday afternoon slot (14.7). In 2005, One Piece actually averaged a point less (12.1->11.0) when it shifted back in time by half an hour. And in 2006, when the show shifted from Sunday evenings to 9:30 in the morning, the ratings fell off a cliff (10.7->6.5), though they’ve improved somewhat since.

Three, the network briefly tried to capitalize on the Toriyama legacy slot by sticking a second anime slot right after it, starting from Kuma no Puutarou in 1995. This slot carried Rurouni Kenshin and the first few episodes of GTO, but that experiment ended at the same time the 1997 Dr. Slump anime did, in October of 1999. It’s possible that executives assumed that the then-new One Piece wouldn’t be able to provide the same kind of ratings tail necessary to support the secondary slot that the Toriyama shows had, or maybe Dr. Slump wasn’t providing the ratings tail that Dragonball had and they decided to phase out the Wednesday slots in pieces.

Fourth, TV Tokyo, one of Fuji TV’s major competitors, actually *launched* a large number of weekday 18:00 timeslots in the early 1990s, as did Nihon TV and NHK. Just based on how long some of those slots have lasted, at least some weekday anime was demonstrably viable throughout the 1990s. Reduced weekday competition from Fuji TV may have helped TV Tokyo maximize the returns it got airing Naruto, Bleach, and other weekday long-runners.

At any rate, the translated article text can be read below.

Headline: The Reason Fuji 19:00 Anime Disappeared, the “Timeslot Shift” Explained by an Executive Close to the Decision-Making Process

Dragonball. Hokuto no Ken. One Piece. Rurouni Kenshin. Sazae-san. The gathering of these and other famous works on Fuji TV, weekdays at 19:00, ensured that many children would stay planted in front of the TV. However, at present in 2015, those same broadcast slots carry not one single anime, and the Sunday morning (or evening) timeslots have come to dominate the anime ratings wars. Why is it, exactly, that the 19:00 weekday anime have disappeared? Shimizu Kenji-shi, an executive at Fuji TV and point man who produced many of these anime, has provided an answer to that question.

This was a topic discussed on the August 15th, in the weekly program “New Weekly Fuji TV Commentary”. Shimizu-shi spoke of the 1980s period where 19:00 anime were broadcast and, with a few exceptions, had ratings above 20% as “the golden age”, and recalled that at the time, “It was said, ‘If the ratings were less than 20%, it isn’t an anime.'”

And, in regards to the station’s anime focus being shifted from weekdays at 19:00 to Sunday mornings, he said “It was quite simple.”; “falling birthrates” and “the change in the lifestyles of children (especially in cities).”

Due to falling birthrates, the available pool of child viewers began to decrease, and thus the ratings also began to decline. The ratings, which were above 20% in their heyday, fell down to an average level of about 12%. Since these programs were being broadcast free with ads, the declining ratings faced them with an unavoidable choice, and hence the 19:00 anime disappeared.

At the same time, “one other tough point” was that children in the city often weren’t home at 19:00. “Even among fifth graders, only about half were home by then.” “Many (of those living in large cities like Tokyo and Osaka) were going to cram schools.”, and due to that, the previously used definition of a reasonable time (= when children were just getting home) came to fit 21:00, 22:00. However, since those slots were already filled with “Monday 9” programs that targeted adult viewers (*at the time), it was a situation where the anime had to move to the weekends.

Also, when anime was being taken out of the 19:00 slots, in addition to having the option of “transferring” the anime to Sunday mornings, it seems there was the option of “losing” the anime in its entirety. However, Shimzu-shi thinks that the outcome of the decision made at the time to “transfer” has been positive.

Additionally, when the conversation hit on other independent UHF broadcasters (such as TV Kanagawa and Tokyo MX), who are currently broadcasting in the 19:00 slots, the difference was explained as “They’re aiming for different numbers. Since Fuji TV is a terrestrial broadcast station and has such a large base audience, we had to maintain ratings at a certain fraction of that base number. These independent UHF stations had humble origins. If 10,000,000 (viewers) was enough for the key stations, 1,000,000 was good enough for the UHFs.”

Incidentally, the possibility of a “revival” for the 19:00 bloc was not ruled out, as it is now possible to use digital broadcasts to air multiple channels, and it was speculated that, “It is possible to make use of sub-channels, which is one path we may explore in the future.”

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