The devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunamis which hit north eastern Japan
mid-March have had a huge effect on Japanese society, its infrastructure and domestic
economy. Not to mention the shockwaves it has sent throughout the broadcasting
industry worldwide, writes Ian Dormer.
Each year natural disasters exert a heavy toll on human life and property. The United
Nations estimates that in the past 20 years almost three million lives have been lost to
natural disasters, and 800 million people have been affected.
As Japan grapples with its triple disasters of quake, tsunami and nuclear fallout, alarm
bells are sent out by electronic suppliers, broadcasters and economists alike.
Just weeks after the disaster US based broadcaster Discovery Channel International
sent out a communique that highlighted a global shortage of HDCAM SR tape stock,
made exclusively by Sony and widely used in feature and episodic television production
for varying use in final deliverables, camera masters and tapes for dailies. In addition
Discovery indicated that it was accelerating plans for intra-region file based delivery of
programmes, especially in London and Miami, and were developing a “Discovery Spec’ for
file based delivery from producers due to the shortage of tape.
A headline in The Hollywood Reporter states that the National Basketball Association
(NBA) for example, is looking to secure enough tape for the NBA finals in June and it
has planned 3D broadcasts that will dry up all the available stock of SR tape in the US
User group forums on the Internet report a dramatic increase in media costs across the
board and up to 70% increase on HDCAM SR stock. The manufacturing of HDCAM,
DVCAM, Betacam SP, Digital Betacam, Betacam IMX, Betacam SX, XDCAM, SxS, Blu-ray,
DV and HDV tape stock also has been affected.
With 15 of Sony’s 25 Japanese plants affected by the natural disaster, those that are
not affected are hit by shortages of spare parts used in the manufacture of cameras,
microphones and television sets. But Sony are by no means on their own; many of their
compatriots in the electronics industry are suffering from interruptions in their
production chain by rolling blackouts from necessary load shedding by Tokyo Electric
Japan provides 57% of the world’s wafers that are used to make the chips that go into
mobile phones, cameras and other electronic devices. It is estimated that if this crisis
continues there will be a worldwide shortage of electronic parts by mid 2011. Japan’s
grip on the global electronics supply chain is a cause for concern. Even under normal
conditions after a disruption putting suppliers back online can be a time consuming
process that requires careful calibration and extensive testing. Therefore the industry’s
road to recovery may be a long one…