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The King of Japanese Satellite Television Smut

Brett Bull

Michiyuki Matsunaga peers left through the glass window of his Shinjuku office and into the adjacent administration department. A small brown wooden Buddha statue rests at the edge of his desk near his collection of framed family photos.

With his black zippered jacket as sharp as his Ray-Ban glasses, the 58-year-old then faces forward and begins counting off the things that people will pay substantial sums to watch on television. "Movies," he says, folding his pinky inward in typical Japanese fashion, "gambling, sports…" He then pauses, his face forming a grin.

And sex.

After working for television production companies for nearly three decades, the founder of 24-hour porn broadcaster Paradise TV realized that people do not pay real money for simple documentaries or cooking shows.

"I started Paradise to make money," he laughs in summing up his motivation to launch the porn channel that provides some of satellite television's more - as he will gleefully admit - "stupid" programming.

Sleaze on television hasn't been the same since. Programming staples within the 60 to 70 different shows offered monthly have ranged from naked English lessons to overly obese women having sex to female virgins being deflowered live on the air.

But Matsunaga's days in this business have shown him that staying one step ahead of the competition is vital. As a result, he hopes to soon be taking the channel into new media outlets and expanding its presence in the international market, and of course continuing to deliver the silly sex shows that his customers demand.

On satellite system SKY PerfecTV, Paradise today boasts 40,000 subscribers (paying 2,100 yen per month), a healthy 15 to 20% of the system's adult market of over a dozen channels. Additional customers receive its shows in Hawaii and Hong Kong.

Just getting started, though, was the result of understanding the nature of the television world.

"The production business is like a bicycle," Matsunaga relates of his early days at Zippy Productions (as the owner) and Tsuburaya (the producer of Ultraman). "If we stop to pedaling, we'll fall down."

Rather than selling programs in one-shot deals as a producer, Matsunaga wanted to continue riding without pedaling. That meant obtaining the rights to the programs as a broadcaster and showing them repeatedly. So when the Japanese government liberated the broadcasting market - allowing more licenses to be issued - in the late '80s, Matsunaga sensed an opportunity, and Paradise was born.

At first, the ability to procure content was limited. Developing an access route for the purchase of adult programming was extremely difficult given the competition. Matsunaga then decided to produce his own content, focusing on a niche that had yet to be tapped: wacky smut.

"Our strength is in our originality," explains Kenichiro Suzuki, manager of international sales, of their typical shows. "We specialize in stupid programs and live programs that the others cannot do."

In keeping with that philosophy, the April program guide includes a documentary on a Kanagawa Prefecture nurse who offers patients nighttime oral sex, interviews with rookie brothel workers, and women being solicited to sell their used underwear.

Attracting viewers, who Matsunaga generalizes as being lonely guys without girlfriends, has been anything but smooth. The competition simply hasn't allowed it.

Within the first two years of the channel's existence, the government phoned twice to register complaints about Paradise's programming. Once it was about a documentary on Tokyo prostitution; the second time concerned a shopping program where Paradise peddled vibrators and dildos. In both cases, the government had received tapes of the shows from Paradise's competitors. Matsunaga says that the content was technically legal but the government lowered its fist, which Matsunaga says was equivalent to a "yellow card" in soccer, anyway.

"Our competitors tried to pull out our legs," he says.

But Matsunaga and his crew continued on. They kept costs down by avoiding expensive, high-quality adult video actresses and ensured that they knew the market.

Matsunaga scoffs at competing adult companies that provide multiple channels on SKY PerfecTV. "I think they (the added channels) just increase costs," he says, noting that while the total number of SKY PerfecTV subscribers has increased by a factor of three since Paradise's launch in 1998, the increase in adult subscribers has been significantly less. "Four or 5 years ago, a Paradise vice president suggested to me that we add another channel. But I knew the market would be the same, that sales would be the same."

This tact has resulted in annual revenue of 1.1 billion yen from SKY PerfecTV with an additional 300 million yen coming in from the Paradise's Web site and other various sales. Matsunaga forecasts that in five years the combined total could reach 6 billion yen.

One way, Matsunaga predicts, to achieve this goal will be through an increase in international sales. American company Central Park Media, known primarily for distributing animation and manga, has agreed to release 2 to 3 subtitled DVD compilations of Paradise content each month for the U.S. market.

As well, Paradise will begin sending its style of programming to Japanese fans through their mobile phones from June. Users will be able to watch short (perhaps one-minute) videos on their phone screens for a flat monthly fee of 480 yen (plus any download charges levied by the provider). A free option that includes advertising will be offered as well. Matsunaga says that an example clip might include a well-endowed woman extinguishing a candle by flapping her breasts together with the aid of her hands.

"We are always on the run," Matsunaga emphasizes of his approach. "We always think about what the customer wants. And we change to the customer's needs."

Matsunaga, though, is on the run himself. Two weeks ago he tendered his resignation as president of Paradise to start Shinjuku Broadcasting News, a subscriber-based new media outlet for Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward that provides news via mobile phones, the Internet, and field reporters.

Matsunaga is proud of his reign at Paradise, with his legacy as founder of perhaps the most "stupid" programming on the air firmly in place.

He adds with a laugh: "That means I must be very stupid myself."

Editor's note: this article was reprinted with the kind permission of its author, Brett Bull, from his great site Sake Drenched Postcards. According to the site, Freedom Lohr of TokyoDV contributed to this report.

Photos from Sake Drenched Postcards; doodle by John Schilling

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