The Morning Musume Risk Paradox

Earlier I saw a new post on Intl Wota about Morning Musume and popularity. Now, this question has been discussed over and over again. I remember this being asked back when I first found Morning Musume, back in early 2008, and I know this discussion of what Morning Musume is doing right/wrong has been going on for a while. However, something in Cat’s post HERE has made me think about this question a bit more, and apply a little something I’ve learned in my Mass Media and Popular Culture course at my university. This I will henceforth call the Morning Musume Risk Paradox.

One of the issues that Cat brings up why Morning Musume doesn’t get on TV shows anymore and why they’ve been in a downward spiral of promotions. While she astutely says that Morning Musume is less popular now than they used to be, this is I think only part of the issue. Yes, Morning Musume is less popular, but I do think a big part of that is because of their less frequent television appearances.

Why doesn’t Morning Musume appear on TV more? The answer lies in the concept of Risk. No, not the board game, but the idea if something is risky, or dangerous. Now you might be wondering “what’s risky about having Morning Musume on TV?” The reason that risk comes up in talking about television and media is because the one thing that companies (including media related) try to do above all else is to minimize risk, especially when it involves losing money. Television shows cost a lot to film and produce, and so it only stands to reason that a TV show is going to focus on what makes up that money and minimize risk in doing so. Same for things like film/drama opportunities.

However, this really just reminded me of a recent complaint I saw, and that was that groups with lesser sales and various KPop groups got TV shows, but not Morning Musume. However, this is still in effect minimizing risk. KPop is booming right now, so it makes sense they’d get on the various music programs. Now, in the case of the groups with lesser sales, let’s compare with a hypothetical. Suppose you had two music shows in front of you. One show had a new, up and coming artist that you may have heard of, but the group’s in a genre you enjoy and you’ve been thinking of giving them a shot. Conversely, there’s another show with a group that you used to like but haven’t followed for years, doesn’t have any of the same members you liked, and will perform their most famous song again. Now, I’m sure some of you are going “I’d choose the second one!” since you realized that’s Morning Musume (and the song is Love Machine). However, would a TV show rather be the show that discovered and helped a group to fame (basically what could be said for the MM/Utaban relationship) or the show that iddn’t know when to let a group die.

It’s tough, and I know it does suck, especially  if you want to see your favorite group succeed. However, television is a business, and the media industry is all about minimizing risk factors, and I doubt that we’ll see a huge surge in Morning Musume in television promotions unless for some reason they become really popular.

However, don’t think that Morning Musume is immune to the whole minimizing risk aspect. That’s why it’s a paradox. Have you noticed that sometimes H!P releases sound alike? They have all the same front girls for years? The PVs will consist of a dance shot with some close ups and some other miscellaneous shots? Morning Musume is minimizing its risk too, focusing a lot on trying to please the demographic that it has right now. The group is dropping in sales after every single release, and that’s got to be scary for management. At this point, H!P is pretty set in its ways, to try and make sure that sales don’t drop any lower, by appealing to Morning Musume wota.

This is also shown in things like concert setlists, the DVDs/shows H!P produces, and the PVs. There is hardly any change from H!P product to product, and most of the change is superficial (i.e. the new Morning Musume PVs have new graphics, but use them to make a pretty standard PV in terms of story/editing).

That’s where the paradox is. Television shows won’t put Morning Musume on the shows because they’re not popular enough, but Morning Musume needs these shows to be popular. Television shows are minimizing risk by not having Morning Musume on, but by minimizing risk it’s doubtful that Morning Musume will gain new fans. It’s a tough situation, and I don’t know if there’s anything that UFA/H!P could do to make this situation better, but Morning Musume is indeed stuck in a conundrum.

9 thoughts on “The Morning Musume Risk Paradox

  1. Pingback: Happy Disco On The Morning Musume Risk Paradox | International Wota

  2. maybe they need to do some payola work but their music suck big time so it wouldn’t work. they should know when to retire a group but in general the age gap is what turns me off. the best thing i like when junjun and linlin was in the group because they didn’t know how proper they needed to be so that was fun…. but since they left it went back to zero interest.

  3. This will be a long comment, so I’ll split it into several parts:

    I think you got something wrong in your essay. It’s not about risk. It’s about the monetary value of Morning Musume’s audience. It would be risky to give MM their own (prime time) TV Show, since they probably wouldn’t be able to recoup the costs of production. It would be risky for Up-Front and the H!P to buy their way and screentime into TV shows, since it’s doubtful if this would immediately translate into higher numbers of concerts goers and CD buyers. But from the viewpoint of a broadcaster it’s nothing about risk estimate, but simple economics.

    The main purpose of TV Shows is not to inform, educate or entertain their audience, but to sell advertise time for their broadcaster and production company. This can be easily forgotten when watching their ad-free TV appearances over the internet.

    These time slots are sold days or weeks in advance and the price is not only determined by the number of viewers but also based on the quality of the viewership (age, income, type and members of their household) and the guests expected. It’s safe to assume, that the broadcaster through surveys know about viewership, the guests invited know about their fanbase (survey, fanclubs) and companies buying advertise time do know what audiences they are targeting.

    Well, I’m not a Japanese MM wota-expert, but I doubt they are the right demographics when advertising for a new family or sports car, domestic appliances or the latest must-have for teens. And their overall numbers aren’t probably that high to generate a distinct spike in the viewership numbers of prime time TV shows. This makes other groups who attract a broader audience or get financial support by their goverment (KPop) way more attractive to offer them screentime. Consequences are that MM isn’t actively sought-after by broadcast channels and have a hard time getting their way into a TV show.

    As you can see, it’s not a risk problem, as this would imply that higher risks could lead to higher income on both sides. But since everybody knows what can be expected it turns to a simple economical question.

    In the end the outcome is the same: nearly no TV exposure for Morning Musume.

    • No worries about the long comment; I think it’s great that more people are thinking critically about idols. I’ll also be responding to your points by comment. 🙂

      Now, what I mean about risk is financial risk. Basically, it’s that making media, you have certain resources you have to use. You need to use the time of the network you’re on and ultimately you need to make money. Using all those resources is a risk, because you don’t necessarily know what will come of it (i.e. you could get terrible ratings and have ad companies drop the show, you could lose money, etc.) Most media companies try to minimize risk to maximize profit. Granted, making any media involves risky behavior because it’s hard to predict what will be a hit and what will be a flop, but there are certain things that they try to do.

      Everything you say is legitimate, but that’s basically what risk in the context of media studies is. They need high ratings to guarantee ad slots bought by advertisers to bring back revenue, and they don’t want to take any chances with groups like Morning Musume, who aren’t fashionable, especially to the teenage-young adult female who is generally the Japanese demographic.

  4. But does Morning Musume need TV exposure to enlarge and renew their audience? Not necessarily. And Up-Front seems to share this view.

    First of all, I don’t consider Morning Musume as an isolated group. They are the flagship of H!P, but, nonetheless, they are part of the fleet. It looks to me as if Up-Front is using the smaller groups an sub-units as test area for new trends and ways to connect with the audience. Facebook pages, twitter channels and streaming ustream events and concerts comes to my mind when I’m thinking about it.

    Furthermore, they are trying to reach out to the international fanbase. Offering their songs on iTunes, not geo-blocking the content on Youtube and opening an international Facebook page (after the incredible dull blog).

    Although some of their efforts have a rather amateurish feeling to it. Like Up-Front’s Facebook page, which seems to be run by solely one person in a part-time job and limited to English and French. Right now they have failed to attract a larger audience there. (Just compare the numbers to their almost dead MySpace page.) I do wonder, though, if it’s so hard to find someone in Tokyo who speaks Portuguese or Spanish. And what about Chinese? After all, their international endeavour seems to be still in aplha or beta phase… 😉

    Do they succeed? Well, looking at the statistics of their latest music video there seems to be silver lining. Will they ever be in the same way successful like in the golden era? Probably not. Do they have to be? No, but it would be nice, since they are carrying such a big name. But it’s not all bad: I would argue the present situation is even healthier for the girls, enabling them to keep a balance between public appearances and privacy.

    • Does Morning Musume need TV exposure to be successful? Not necessarily. However, what they do need is SOME exposure.

      Looking at the facts, each and every Morning Musume single is dropping in sales. Now, single sales aren’t everything, but all things considered they are a pretty solid marker for a group’s popularity. Hello! Project seem to be trying out the internet as a possibility, but all of their attempts have been poor at best. Occasional (poorly) announced concerts online that only established fans see? The groups that do the internet best are some of the lesser established groups, who do regular streaming events.

      I think H!P keeps trying for that international market but realizing that it’s not happening. International sales are important for the American film industry, and to KPop, but H!P isn’t really big anywhere else, and attempts at expanding have only been met with failure (i.e. not finding a Chinese audience after JunJun and LinLin, forgetting Ice Creamusume, forgetting Jang Dayeon). Right now, it’d most likely be wise for Hello!Project to focus hard on their sales in Japan as opposed to anything elsewhere, because Japan is where their fans are. Yes, there are international fans, but spending resources on what’s a VERY niche product to most international people is kind of silly.

      Another reason that Morning Musume NEEDS this exposure is because idols aren’t there for music. Idols are for their image and their personality. The music can be fun and I certainly love idol music, but it’s not what draws a lot of fans. Variety shows are really where idols thrive, and the fact that Morning Musume doesn’t have that type of an outlet is kind of a tough thing for idol fans.

      None of this would be that important, though, if it wasn’t for their constantly dropping sales, making Hello! Project in kind of a jam right now.

  5. Like you I’ve read several discussions about the popularity of Morning Musume. What strikes me is the unclear definition and measurement of their so-called popularity. Most rely in just analysing the Oricon charts performance and the appearances on several shows in comparison with other idol bands.

    Let me ask you: Have you ever heard about the Dave Matthews Band (DMB)? There is no Mass Media involved, I’ve never heard about them and yet they were the 3rd most sucessful touring band in the US in 2010 ($72.9 million).

    Sure the absence of MM in polls not related to the past is worrisome. (But again, never heard of DMB.) As long as Up-Front doesn’t publish their income from ticket and merchandise sales, we can’t estimate how (un)successful MM really are.

    I just hope they keep up their approach in connecting with their national and international fanbase. With Sayumi they surely have talented communication idol. (I just wished, she would turn her dark Sayumi from time to time against her management.) I’m not so sure about the international endeavour since they turned into Kindergarten with the last graduations and audition…

    For me, I’m happy as long they keep doing their stuff and hold the legacy alive. I doubt that Dream Morning Musume (horrible name) can keep this legacy alive, as soon as the majority of the girls get pregnant.

  6. How much do PASSPO singles sell? usually 40-50k.
    How much does Super Girls singles sell? usually 20-50k.
    How much does Momoiro clover z’s singles sell? usually 20-50k
    How much does morning musume sell? usually 30-50k.
    Do I see a pattern?

    Morning Musume is not selling millions anymore, but as a regular idol group just like Passpo, and momocloz, they are doing all right. You should have taken a look at sales because sales aren’t dropping with each single. Let’s look the sales after Nanchatte Renai:

    Kimagure Princess 45,241
    Onna ga Medatte Naze Ikenai 44,035
    Seishun Collection 40,865
    Onna to Otoko no Lullaby Game 48,357
    Maji desu ka Ska! 41,029
    Only you 40,778
    Kono Chikyuu / Kare to Issho *53,347 (This single is still selling so it’ll be more than that. This makes it their highest selling single since 2009!)

    As you can see, Momosu’s sales are a roller coaster; they go up and they go down. But they NEVER decrease with each single and never go back up again. Mikan is momosu’s worst selling single. It sold 38,667. That was back in 2007. For 2 years now, Momosu has managed to beat their worst sales even despite the decline of popularity.

    Did popularity go down? Yes! But is momosu struggling with sales? No! Do you know how much regular idols make for a single? Momosu fits in that range.

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