50 Years of NHK Television

Sports programs

From the early days, when people were enthralled by pro-wrestling on street-corner TV sets, to the birth of the J. League and the recent "MLB phenomenon," NHK has consistently sought to improve the quality of its sports broadcasting and fulfill its responsibility to promote all kinds of sports. Over 50 years, the number of hours devoted to sports annually has risen to more than 7,000.

50 years of the world's top competitions

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Pro-sports through the years
People who watched the earliest sports broadcasts on TV in the 1950's remember the successes of pro-wrestler Rikidozan against foreign opponents, contests that did so much to promote the popularity of TV. NHK's TV broadcast of the first international pro-wrestling match, Rikidozan and Kimura Masahiko vs. the Sharp Brothers, in February 1954, triggered a pro-wrestling boom.
In 1951, a special pro-baseball feed was set up for an exhibition. The following year, sumo was selected for the first broadcast. These two sports have been the staples of sports broadcasting ever since. Commercial broadcasters' interest in sumo has varied, but NHK's coverage of Japan's national sport has remained consistent. Throughout the 60's and 70's pro-baseball was a fixture of the Saturday evening "golden hour" starting at 7:30 p.m. The popularity of baseball and sumo in that era was reflected in a popular Japanese saying that the three things every child liked were "The Giants [baseball team], Taiho [a sumo wrestler], and omelets." Commercial broadcasters have tended to focus on particular baseball teams, but NHK provides a balance of both Pacific and Central League games to try to satisfy all viewers.
The launch of the J. League in 1993 was greeted with enormous enthusiasm that extended far beyond the soccer fraternity. Although the enthusiasm later abated somewhat, NHK has continued to broadcast numerous games each season on the satellite BS-1 channel. This support helped to generate World Cup fever in 1998 and 2002.


Global sports come to Japan
The start of satellite broadcasting in 1984 brought a dramatic change to sports broadcasting. With the new channel and the tremendous increase in the number of hours broadcast, many more top-class overseas events that had previously received little coverage in Japan were added to the lineup. From the U.S. came MLB baseball, NBA basketball, and NFL American football. From Europe, the sports included cycling's Tour de France, and the automotive Paris-Dakar Rally. MLB, which NHK started broadcasting in 1987, made a particularly strong impact on the Japanese audiences when pitcher Nomo Hideo found success in the U.S. in 1995. Now that players like the Seattle Mariners' Suzuki Ichiro are also making names for themselves, NHK is showing more than 200 games a year, and audience figures are being boosted by new fans, including housewives. Because of this "MLB phenomenon," it's said that even people who couldn't name the 12 teams in Japan's own domestic league know the Mariners.
PGA golf was added in 1992, and "La Liga" Spanish football in 1995. In 2001-02, 231 MLB games were shown, along with 89 NBA games, 51 PGA events including the senior tour, all 16 races of the motorcycle WGP, 54 La Liga matches, 10 days of World Cup ski jumping, and much more besides. NHK sports broadcasting lives up to its motto of "TV as a window on the world," lavishing top events on viewers almost every day of the week.

Amateur sports
NHK's mission includes the promotion of amateur sports. As far back as 1953, coverage was given to amateur events like All-Japan Judo, the Waseda-Keio Swimming Championships, the All-Japan Senior High School Baseball Championship Tournament (Koshien) and All-Japan Table Tennis. Since then, NHK has continued to show a wide variety of Japanese and international competitions. Koshien and the All-Japan Inter-High School Championships, which are broadcast in the spring and autumn, have become a goal for many high-school students. Women's Long Distance Relay races, or Ekiden, were first shown in 1983. Their appearance popularized the concept of inter-prefectural competition, encouraged a significant improvement in overall standards, and paved the way for the emergence of Olympic medalists like Arimori Yuko and Takahashi Naoko. At the World Table Tennis Championships in 1991, the first-ever joint Korean Peninsula team composed of North and South Koreans won the women's title, and NHK was there to broadcast the historic moment. NHK has also hosted and broadcast top-level NHK Cup international tournaments in figure skating and other sports.

All-Japan Senior High School Baseball Championship Tournament (Koshien)
All-Japan Senior High School Baseball Championship Tournament (Koshien)

More and better live images
"Live broadcasting conveys the essence of sports." For 50 years, this has been NHK's philosophy of sports broadcasting. The Olympics have almost all been held overseas, and NHK has constantly worked at the cutting edge to deliver the games to viewers. The memorable first live satellite broadcast of the Olympics was from the games in Rome, 1960. As the infrastructure at that time was still basic, the recorded film was sent to Japan by short-wave radio, as a series of frame-by-frame images. Two minutes of film took an astonishing five hours to send.
Twenty-eight years later at the 1988 Games in Seoul, Hi-Vision (HDTV) footage was relayed by satellite for the first time. Hi-Vision's much higher information density provided a substantial technical and financial challenge, so only the opening ceremony was broadcast live. Thanks to subsequent advances in image compression technology, most Hi-Vision pictures of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney were beamed live to Tokyo. Currently, Hi-Vision coverage of more than 100 MLB games a year is transmitted to Japan via a trans-Pacific undersea cable.

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