Yahoo Japan Corp, the largest Internet portal operator in Japan, started "TV version of Yahoo! Japan," a network service that can be used through Internet-compatible TV sets of major Japanese TV manufacturers such as Sharp Corp, Panasonic Corp and Sony Corp, April 6, 2009.
"We intend to make it into a service used on half the 100 million TVs in Japan," said Masahiro Inoue, president of Yahoo Japan.
TV version of Yahoo! Japan supports the HTML browser formulated by the Digital Television Information Study Group. Seven services including "search," "weather," "sports news" and "astrology" are available in the interface that was designed exclusively for TVs in consideration of a browsing style for TVs and the operability suited for remote control.
Yahoo Japan is currently offering dedicated Internet services for Sharp's and Sony's flat-panel TVs as well as Nintendo Co Ltd's home game console, but this is its first service aimed at the networked TVs of every major Japanese manufacturer.
Expecting 3 million users by end of FY 2009
What lies behind President Inoue's expectation is the advancing shift to networked digital TVs due to the analog broadcast termination in 2011. According to Yahoo Japan's survey, about 10 million units of networked TVs have sold thus far in Japan with more six million expected to sell in one year. Assuming 20% of the networked-TV users will access the Internet, Yahoo Japan considers that its service could be used through more than three million TVs by the end of March 2010.
The company started the full-scale service for TVs at this timing in view of the possibility that consumer trends in Internet usage will drastically change in a few years from now. Inoue pointed out that there is a large gap between general users' average times of using the Internet and TVs, about 13 and 119 hours a month, respectively. Yahoo Japan can sharply increase the time of using the Internet by adding flat-panel TVs to the media for its service, he said.
The initial seven services are all simple. However, Yahoo Japan is planning to add its mainstay services such as online shopping, auction and video delivery in the future. In addition to the introduction of the "Yahoo! ID" membership, which has 22 million users, and the "Yahoo! Wallet" payment service being used by more than 18 million users, the company will explore services that work in conjunction with TV programs.
Yahoo Japan already introduced a function that allows members of the Yahoo! ID service for PCs to log into its services exclusively provided for Sharp's flat-panel TVs. Although the company did not specify when, it is likely to introduce similar functions to the new service while watching user trends.
Its payment service, in particular, has expanded its partnerships with content providers, having been employed by the video delivery services of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corp), Fuji Television Network Inc and USEN Corp.
Yahoo Japan did not mention when it will start a video delivery service for TVs, but it seems to be discussing it with TV manufacturers and content providers behind the scenes. The company has demonstrated its video delivery service for TVs several times since the fall of 2008.
Video delivery capability, which is seen as the killer application for Internet services for TVs, is likely to become one of the keys to gaining many users, just as the company did with its PC service.