Japanese and U.S. Programs in Taiwan: New Patterns in Taiwanese Television

Article excerpt

Rapid economic growth and political democratization in Taiwan in recent years have accelerated the dissemination of foreign popular culture in the form of comics, music tapes, videotapes, home video games, and TV programs. This article focuses on two foreign cultures in Taiwanese TV, one from the U.S. the other from Japan. After briefly reviewing the history of broadcasting in Taiwan, this article will examine how historical background as well as social status influence viewers' preference for foreign TV programs. This examination is based on a national survey conducted by the authors.

Taiwan has had three terrestrial broadcasting stations - TTV, CTV, and CTS - since the 1960s. Legally, they are commercial television networks relying on advertising for income. In fact, however, they have been under governmental control and bound by strict restrictions regarding TV programs. For example, entertainment programs may not exceed 50% of total broadcast time. Overseas programs are restricted to less than 30%. Programs imported from overseas must have explanations or superimposed captions in Chinese. In 1991, when Japanese TV programs were still banned on the terrestrial channels, 83.92% of the programs broadcast by one of the stations (TTV) were in Mandarin, 7.61% in English, 8.05% in Taiwanese, and 0.42% were in other languages (Su, 1992). According to recent statistics, 17% to 22% of TV programs on the three terrestrial channels were foreign (TV Yearbook Compilation Committee, 1996). There are also regulations on the relative proportions of news, educational and cultural programs, and advertisements on terrestrial TV.

Cable TV (CATV) penetration to households in Taiwan exceeded 70% in 1996, just three years after the authorization of commercial CATV in 1993. Commercial CATV in Taiwan has a unique background with an illegal CATV station called the "Fourth Channel" having operated extensively for quite some time before legalization in 1993.1 A 1983 survey indicated that between 150,000 and 300,000 households in Taipei and its suburbs had subscribed to the Fourth Channel (Wang, 1984). According to that survey, the most popular program on the "Fourth Channel" was a Japanese detective story (a TV drama) in the 1980s. Programs broadcast on CATV were mostly Japanese and Western movies (Wang, 1984). Despite the Government's repeated disciplinary actions which included cutting cables, CATV continued to prosper, and the Government finally authorized CATV in 1993. At that time, about 400 CATV operators broadcast programs which were mostly received via such foreign satellite broadcasting as Star TV (Hong Kong), MTV and NHK (Japan).

The authorization of CATV generated a large number of channels that compete for viewers and divide advertising revenue. At the moment, CATV subscribers pay an average of NT$ 450 (US$ 16) per month. There were approximately 150 operators in 51 legal franchises in Taiwan as of 1996. The CATV systems are operating in an extremely competitive environment. Some areas have three or four licensed operators, which compete intensely for audience (TV Yearbook Compilation Committee, 1996). There are three reasons for the rapid penetration of CATV in Taiwan.

First, many Taiwanese were discontented with programs on terrestrial TV, due to restrictions enforced by the Taiwanese Government. Even though deregulation was underway in the 1990s, considerable discontent was felt, particularly by the younger generation and by intellectuals (Bureau of General Budgets, 1992). Second, satellite broadcasts from abroad were becoming more available in Taiwan in the 1980s. Japan's NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) launched satellite broadcasting in 1987. Other satellite broadcasting stations such as STAR TV and CNN arrived in the Taiwanese market in the late 1980s. CATV stations owe much of their success during the 1980s to the popular appeal of satellite programs aired through the CATV network. NHK's "spillover" broadcasting was widely received without any charge until 1996, because Japanese law restricted N H K's broadcasting service to Japanese territory. …