The number of Japanese homes now receiving digital BS (broadcast satellite) television services has broken the ten million barrier.

And the satellite boom is good news for broadcasters, as advertisers are lured to more flexible programming and lower costs than are available via terrestrial analog TV.

For example, housing developers and automakers are now releasing commercials on satellite channels in the form of mini programmes lasting three to five minutes.

However, industry officials warn that while BS digital broadcasters might expect comparatively easy short-term growth, they will face tough competition in the midterm from terrestrial digital broadcasting and other emerging services.

The analog signal in Japan is due to be switched off by 2011.

The challenge facing BS digital broadcasters is to offer special content, which could include testing experimental programmes on their channels.

Says Toshishige Namai, president of BS-i, an affiliate of Tokyo Broadcasting System: "We should not simply be pleased (by the viewer expansion). We have to do our best to create our own programming and establish distinctive characteristics."

Data sourced from Asahi Shimbun Online; additional content by WARC staff