Japanese Talent Agency Johnny & Associates to Launch YouTube Channel

Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A video creator walks past Google Inc.'s YouTube logo displayed at the company's YouTube Space studio in Tokyo, Japan on March 30, 2013.

The notoriously anti-internet Tokyo management company Johnny & Associates (Johnny’s Jimusho in Japanese) plans to launch a YouTube channel, in a move that could signal a sea change in how the Japanese music industry views the digital marketplace and streaming services in general.

The massively powerful talent agency and production company has developed such chart-toppers in Japan as SMAP, Arashi, Kat-Tun and KinKi Kids. But the company, with roots that date back to 1962, has refused to allow even photos of its artists at press conferences to appear in online articles until January of this year, and has kept all its talent off social media entirely. The YouTube channel represents a huge leap forward for Johnny & Associates' acceptance of the internet and social media.

The agency announced Monday it will start an official YouTube channel for its younger artists, or "Johnny’s Jr. artists." Launching March 21, the Johnny's Jr. Channel will feature performance videos and behind-the-scenes looks at the artists. There was no word on whether the channel will post new songs by each act at the time of their release, or in any timely manner. The official YouTube channel will start by showing work by Johnny’s Jr. artists HiHi Jets, Tōkyō B Shōnen, SixTONES, Snow Man and Travis Japan.

Johnny & Associates has dominated the charts in Japan for decades since its founding more than 50 years ago, with the pinnacle of its success arriving with the group SMAP, which had 22 consecutive No. 1 singles and 33 No. 1 singles total in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s on the Japanese charts. The agency is so influential that Lyor Cohen himself welcomed its YouTube channel in a statement announcing its launch.

“We are excited and honored that Johnny & Associates has the vision of connecting Johnny's talent to the world of consumers on YouTube, the world's biggest video platform," Cohen, YouTube’s Global Head of Music, said.

Yuto Nasu of the group Tōkyō B Shōnen was excited about the new possibilities. “For YouTube, we will try to show another side of Tōkyō B Shōnen, our true characters which are not always portrayed on TV programs and magazine articles," Nasu said. "We will also try to answer audience demands to break new ground. We hope our fans will enjoy as much Tōkyō B Shōnen as possible, whenever they want. We look forward to building an even more intense relationship with our fans! We will create content for the new generation!”

Since Johnny’s is the staunchest anti-internet and most analog-bound of Japan’s talent agencies, its use of YouTube could be a sign that the traditionalists in the Japanese music market -- the second-largest in the world, behind the United States -- are willing to embrace digital means. Streaming in the country still lags well behind the West, making up just 7.4 percent of recorded-music revenue in 2016, according to the most recent figures available from the IFPI, with 73.5 percent of recorded-music revenue still coming from physical sales and 10.2 percent from downloads. In the U.S., according to IFPI figures from the same period, streaming accounted for 33.5 percent of recorded-music revenue in 2016, with physical making up 18.1 percent and downloads 24.1 percent.