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Why is Philippine Free TV a Duel Between Two Giants?

As TV5 Challenges GMA, Can ABS-CBN Rise as a Digital Phoenix?
by Ara Eugenio
Sep 15, 2020
Photo/s: ABS-CBN/YouTube
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Deprived of its broadcast frequency, the Kapamilya network is out, leaving its erstwhile foe, the Kapuso Channel, to battle it out with the perennial third-placer, the Kapatids of TV5. Does this unprecedented shakeup pave the way for a new two-way battle royale on free TV? Moreover, why does it always have to be a two-way fight?

In most of the Philippine communications landscape, at least the most profitable ones, it’s always a duel -- ABS-CBN vs. GMA, Globe Telecom vs. Smart Communications, Philippine Daily Inquirer vs. the Philippine Star. This reflects the capacity of businessmen to establish and make money out of media, said UP Journalism professor Danilo Arao.

ABS-CBN’s demise on free TV was not exactly a windfall for GMA, more so for TV5. First quarter revenues were down at GMA and while the Kapamilya shutdown’s effect will not reflect until the second quarter, CEO Felipe Gozon signalled a P376-million cut in capital spending for the rest of the year as the industry reeled from the pandemic. Media tracker Kantar also shut its TV ratings service.

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For Arao, the shakeup worsened the landscape in such away that power is concentrated in a few people after the Lopezes’ exit. In a situation where the rich get richer and poor get poorer, we can expect those on ‘top’ to further entrench themselves in terms of power and influence,” he told reportr. 

With the ABS-CBN and GMA duopoloy in place for decades, it will be hard for TV5 to catch up, not even with the resources of its chairman, Metro Pacific and PLDT boss Manuel Pangilinan. For now, TV5 can only be a “distant second to the leading monopoly,” he said.

Media infrastructure takes years to build. ABS-CBN had the largest reach before it was shut down and had 12 regional versions of its flagship TV Patrol newscast. It also operates SkyCable and Sky Internet. What it lacked was a profitable telco business, which Pangilinan has in PLDT and Smart. At one time, he tried to leverage it for an unsuccessful bid to take over GMA.

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FROM SARIMANOK TO PHOENIX?

In the coastal town of Nuamncia, Aklan, public school teacher Allyn Masangya said she and her family had switched to watching the local news on the internet.“ABS-CBN po talaga network namin. Hindi na nga kami nagbubukas ng TV at wala naman pong ibang local channels dito sa amin. Kapamilya po kasi kami kaya kahit online TV Patrol pinanunuod namin," she told reportr.

Before its successful rebranding as the Kapamilya Network where family is love, ABS-CBN was known in the 1990s as the Sarimanok network, the home of Filipino culture. With an exhaustive library, can it stage a comeback as a phoenix in the digital world?

ABS-CBN via PEP.ph
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ABS-CBN had played the political phoenix before, when the late “Kapitan,” Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr. rebuilt it from the ruins of martial law in 1986.

With stakes in telecommunications, energy, and real estate sectors, the Lopezes remain a force in business, even in media where they remain a leader in digital and cable streaming.

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In a full digital pivot, ABS-CBN now streams its content to 29.4 million followers of its entertainment channel on YouTube and 10 million for news, the most for any Filipino media company.

The biggest challenge, Arao said, is infrastructure. It’s the same issue that prevents people in remote areas from doing Netflix and chill -- expensive and slow data connections.

“Video streaming is just an option that is available to people with reliable Internet connection. While it is very popular in urban areas, we have to remember that the country is largely rural where the information technology (IT) infrastructure leaves much to be desired,” Arao said.

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In its 2019 annual report that was released last month, ABS-CBN told investors that deprived of a free TV franchise, it would concentrate on its core strength -- content creation, which will be delivered on "any device and medium."

There are signs that this is beginning to happen, Brightlight Productions has tapped ABS-CBN talents Piolo Pascual, Korina Sanchez, and Catriona Gray to star in programs that will be aired on TV5. The Kapatid network also earlier took in Ted Failon for radio and Cathy Yang as spokeswoman for sister company PLDT.

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