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Times a-changin' in J-pop as ex-SMAP stars exit super-agency

Johnny's disdain for internet could leave room for upstarts to flourish

Formed in 1991, SMAP has enjoyed enduring popularity even beyond its dissolution late last year.

TOKYO -- Three former members of SMAP, the venerable and beloved Japanese pop group that disbanded late last year, will leave powerhouse talent agency Johnny & Associates in what could prove a wise move amid a fast-changing media market.

Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori will depart after their contracts expire in September, it was reported Monday.

The agency, also known as Johnny's, tightly restricts the online activities of its stars. Artists are barred from using social media or video-sharing sites to win fans. Johnny's also refuses to license music to subscription streaming services, which are exploding in popularity worldwide. The agency has stuck with its model of focusing on television appearances and making money from concerts and CD sales. SMAP was no exception.

But change is afoot in the music industry. Japanese residents in their 20s have a higher daily media consumption online than by live TV since 2013. The average gap on weekdays reached about 18 minutes in 2015.

Even as production of music CDs and DVDs has slumped, Japan's market for streaming-music services surged 60% to 20 billion yen ($179 million) last year.

Trends driven by the internet generation can spread worldwide in a flash through social media. Metal-pop trio Babymetal's global fame owes to video-sharing websites. With minimal TV exposure, the group gained fans by actively posting video of live performances.

The departing ex-SMAP members could provide an opportunity for less-favored media companies to leap into the limelight.

"We cannot comment at this time" on any involvement with the three former SMAP members, said CyberAgent, co-owner of internet broadcaster AbemaTV.

(Nikkei)

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