Commentary/Rant: The “Ideal” Philippine Media Landscape


^What the Philippines would look like if #NetworkWarCulture ended today.

Last week, I ranted about Philippine entertainment’s seeming regression back towards a duopoly instead of an expansion of potential options. I talked about how the present trajectory of Philippine entertainment, particularly television, was contrary to what the “ideal” scenario would be. But what exactly does an “ideal” scenario entail?

Now, I wasn’t really too inclined to come up a whole post on this. But I was legit motivated by reading TV5’s social media be inundated with fans of It’s Showtime complaining that the network cut the show at 3pm on the dot. Now, I will of course say it’s not all fans. But there’s definitely a very loud contingent of fans upset that TV5 is apparently putting its foot down and not allowing the notoriously overtime-prone show to air past its set timeslot. People need to remember, ABS-CBN is paying rent for a specific timeslot on TV5. It would not be in TV5’s interest to allow the show to go over and then affect the rest of their evening line-up. Especially when TV5 isn’t going to financially benefit anyway.

Anyway, my annoyance with privileged fans just riled me up enough to do this post. (Let’s also be clear, that many TV5 fans and viewers also feel over-privileged. Like those who demand the network rerun the CW DC Comics shows, for example.)

So the “ideal” scenario? Let’s lay it out in another rambling ranting commentary this week. And let’s do so by breaking down the specific pieces.

Network War Walls Come Crumbling Down

Of course, the main outcome we would like to see is the end of #NetworkWarCulture. Now, ending the network wars does not mean eliminating any sense of competition between the networks. Competition is healthy. And networks pushing each other to offer their best will benefit everyone.

However, what aspects of #NetworkWarCulture need to go away or change? We’re of course seeing through some cracks in that wall these days. First it was ABS-CBN buying time on TV5 and TV5 opening itself to have its timeslots be rented out. Then it was GMA paying for the rights to Star Cinema movies to air across their networks. Two seemingly monumental moments in Philippine television history. (But not really. At least, not to me.)

But those aren’t necessarily what we would like. The “ideal” would be the walls being broken down (or at least a door opened) in order for a more open and free-flowing collaborative environment for talent and creatives.

That doesn’t mean you can’t continue to maintain certain exclusivity. You can keep a Dingdong or a Marian or an Alden as marquee Kapusos. A Vice Ganda or a Jodi Sta. Maria or a Kathniel as marquee Kapamilyas.

But with the huge stables… or really, basement dungeons of talents in the South Triangle, there is no reason not to find them work elsewhere. And that biggest “elsewhere” will obviously be TV5. Why can’t GMA Sparkle allow its basement talents to work on a Cignal-produced TV5 series, for example.

It’s one of the biggest questions I’ve always had. There’s nothing wrong with GMA or ABS-CBN having its younger or out-of-work talents work outside their in-house productions. The actors will obviously still get paid by, for example Cignal. And the networks will get their share as well.

I suppose it’s part of the network exclusivity aspect of #NetworkWarCulture. But having your talent work on an outside production doesn’t mean they’re no longer your talent. Or that they’re going to be lost to a rival. Sign that contract for one project and watch the pesoses roll in. Having them work also raises their exposure and thus offers up extra opportunity for said talents to potentially gain new followers.

This is of course in contrast to locking your talents in the dungeon where they are not making you any money. In fact (and I’m not entirely sure), the networks are paying them to stay in the dungeon instead of paying them for actual work. How does that make economic sense?

There is absolutely a way to allow for a more open door while still keeping up the air of distinct “Kapamilya” or “Kapuso” (or even “Kapatid”) talents.

TV5

TV5 is essentially the lynchpin of this ideal world. As the obvious smaller network compared to the (ugh) duopoly, they won’t have the full resources of GMA and ABS-CBN to produce their own content. This isn’t 2008 or 2012 when TV5 would throw money at the wall to produce a full day’s worth of original content. Those days are gone, unfortunately. And now, TV5 must rely on marquee, premium productions from its corporate sibling Cignal, co-productions with independent producers or purchased/blocktimed series like that of ABS-CBN.

TV5 isn’t in a position it used to be in when it made its full-force effort into challenging the duopoly. But they should be able to distinguish themselves with a certain independent attitude. They don’t have to be beholden to any lingering Network War Era practices, such as exclusive contracts or offering Sharon Cuneta a billion pesos, as an example.

In 2021, when TV5 was ramping up its return to original local entertainment content, they specifically mentioned how they wanted to emulate the American network model. That is, filling their line-ups with a mix of in-house, co-produced and purchased series.

In 2022, it seems like TV5 is ready to hand over 90% of their linear television space to ABS-CBN. (They need to save that 10% for their coverage of PBA and UAAP games of course.)

The ideal scenario would be to reclaim some of the time they’ve leased out to ABS-CBN. Particularly in primetime. Why not pair Ang Probinsyano, or I guess Darna coming soon with an original Cignal-produced series? And not just limited to three days a week at 7:15pm.

Have the marquee ABS-CBN series at 8pm and follow it up at 8:45pm with a TV5/Cignal original soap opera. Or how about five? A weekly series on each weekday. TV5 should be able to reclaim whatever timeslot they like. It’s their airwaves, after all.

But in order to maximize the benefits of said original productions, Cignal must be a bit more aggressive in selling any potential series to international distributors. Of course, that means producing series that are tailored to a Filipino audience, but accessible and appealing to an international audience. Help make P-drama a thing, you know?

You get content for TV5. You get a chance to sell your product worldwide. That way, Cignal will be able to collect moneys from linear local ad buys and through international licensing agreements with a Netflix or a Viu or whatever.

Maybe even more importantly, TV5 needs to maintain its own identity. Sure, they can continue their Sama-sama tagline shtick and be the welcoming third wheel of Philippine media. But they still need to be TV5. Not ABS-CBN5.

ABS-CBN

Which brings us to the network without a home. Or actually, too many homes to count. They may have lost Channel 2, but they’ve been able to find both linear and digital homes for their content. Which, let’s point out, they have continued churning out at pretty much the same rate as they did pre-“shutdown.” (Which again, is an oxymoron or whatever because ABS-CBN is far from shut down.)

The ideal scenario for ABS-CBN is obviously getting a franchise so it can get back on its own channel on the over-the-air dial. But it has pretty seamlessly transitioned into a steady content producer. Aside from its own cable channel of course (which does not need a franchise, I think. I don’t even know) and leasing time on TV5 and A2Z, they have beefed up their own streaming service by delivering content straight to iWantTFC instead. Not only that, they have begun delivering their content to regional and international streaming services as well.

Kapamilyas have been able to consume the same content they’ve always enjoyed even without an over-the-air television channel. And while there’s obviously still a segment of the population whose only source of media consumption is their rabbit ears-powered television sets, the imminent analog switch off might actually play into ABS-CBN’s hands. And in turn, to the benefit of their loyal audience.

Since the “shutdown,” I’ve wondered just what ABS-CBN’s business model looks like if they had to severely downsize their workforce merely because they lost their over-the-air broadcast capabilities. It makes it seem like 95% of ABS-CBN’s revenue came only from whatever ad revenue they got on channel 2. Which then begs the question how their very diversified portfolio of a whole bunch of random related and unrelated businesses are doing that the company apparently collapses without the television ad revenue.

Now again, the company is churning out the same, if not more content now than they were doing pre-“shutdown.” So pushing the narrative that the ABS-CBN conglomerate was/is on the verge of collapse still does not make logical sense.

But whatever. The main concern now is what they need to do moving forward. They’ve already lost their frequencies to AMBS (more on them in a bit). So either they squat and take over another company’s existing channel position (like they seem to be attempting with TV5), pursue some obscure frequency or maybe even tag-along on a digital subchannel of one of the existing networks, or (the “ideal”) they continue what they’ve been doing. That is, continue to produce content that will distributed on their own streaming platform, international platforms or as a blocktimer/licensed series on one of the other networks.

The opposite of ideal is this proposed merger with (or, let’s call it what it actually is… an unhostile takeover of) TV5. By no means should ABS-CBN and TV5 combine their “resources,” as it were. There is no positive to smashing together ABS-CBN News and News5, for example. There is no positive to ABS-CBN eliminating potential timeslots on TV5 for Cignal-produced or independent/co-produced content.

There’s really no financial benefit to anyone, expect perhaps TV5’s big bosses only. You can be sure if the two news departments, for example, were merged together, there will be eliminated jobs. You’re not going to keep more employees than necessary in the same positions. And as an outsider looking in, you can be sure most of the laid off workers will be on the TV5 side.

So much for lamenting the mass loss of jobs after the “shutdown.”

ABS-CBN utilizing their stable of stars and loyal audience to produce content, rather than trying to initiate a hostile takeover of TV5 is truly the ideal scenario for them. In fact, it frees them up to shop their content to international platforms as well since they wouldn’t be limited to the confines of the Philippines’ television parameters. Which, let’s face it, is the biggest hurdle into getting international interest in Filipino television content.

The “shutdown” has turned out to almost be a blessing in disguise for ABS-CBN. Not only have they solidified the support of their ardent fans, they’ve fast forwarded toward a future that was inevitable, but still a ways away in the Philippines. The future is in streaming and ABS-CBN has already gotten a headstart there. Even despite TV5’s Cignal sibling having ready-to-go infrastructure they have no idea how to utilize.

Filipinos are still watching ABS-CBN and ABS-CBN content. And they will continue to do so even without conquering and eliminating the TV5 brand.

GMA Network

GMA Network is in the driver’s seat and in the last two years, they’ve gotten a sort of invigorated swagger. I guess it comes with being perceived as the only major network in the country. But they’ve ramped up production on content and begun to expand their portfolio without feeling too complacent.

I’ve always wondered how or why GMA continued to be limited in their business portfolio when their competitors had greatly expanded theirs. ABS-CBN of course had television, film, music and a whole bunch of other ventures from properties to technology to streaming, etc. TV5, meanwhile, can lean on its corporate siblings and cousins. From Cignal to PLDT and Smart, there’s a lot of room to fall back on for them even if they give up on linear television. But of course, the pros of a linear television network still outweigh the cons.

However, seeing how ABS-CBN has been (perceived as) crippled by the “shutdown” of its over-the-air broadcast, perhaps GMA’s strategy of limited focus was the way to go. They spend less, but take in more moneys. But they’ve also not been as future-proof as their competitors.

They are moving in the right direction, however. Albeit still slower than they should be.

GMA’s main part in the “ideal” scenario is allowing their talents to slip through the #NetworkWarCulture wall and work on non-GMA productions. When it comes to content production, they can continue to do what they’re doing.

But to help the “ideal” scenario come to fruition, they must allow their many out-of-work talents to work outside of the network. Say, allow them to star in a Cignal-produced series to air on TV5. Like I mentioned earlier, there are really no cons, but all pros for GMA if they allow this to happen. They’re obviously solely concerned with a big profit margin. Getting your talents work which in turn gets them paid non-GMA money seems like a winning scenario to me.

AMBS

Now what about this Manny Villar-Willie Revillame pet project AMBS? They might have taken away the chance for ABS-CBN to return “2” their home like nothing ever happened. But the emergence of AMBS is still a good thing considering they could be the “4th” major network for Filipinos to choose from. That’s a situation that has not happened in the country in decades.

The only problem is AMBS is literally starting from scratch. They’ve had to set-up transmitters. They’ve had to overhaul movie theaters to turn into production studios.

At their impromptu press conference last week, Willie Revillame talked about AMBS putting together their own news department along with later producing their own teleseryes as well.

Consider that the news departments of other, non-major networks like NET25 or UNTV or SMNI or even the state-owned PTV already look and feel like barebones operations. At least, compared to ABS-CBN News and GMA News’ operations. Even News5/One News, which at least have a bit more resources than the minor networks, still feel like a secure 3rd compared to the operations of the duopoly.

AMBS expects to launch by October, at last check. Though Willie Revillame orchestrated a minor miracle in being able to produce a fully-live (and popular!) show in the early days of COVID-19, having to replicate that over several programs and hours of the day might prove to be a bigger challenge.

Are people going to tune in to AMBS to watch Wowowin or other similar game show/variety shows? Especially when fans of the show had easily flocked to YouTube and Facebook to watch Wowowin during COVID.

If AMBS were really serious about being a worthy competitor to the other major networks, I think it’ll take more than just a few months or even a year to truly get off the ground. No matter how much money Manny Villar or Willie Revillame pour into it.

The wild card is if their deal with Viva Entertainment pushes through. Then that will provide AMBS with an immediate identity and, more importantly, immediate content that AMBS itself wouldn’t have to scour for resources to produce.

Independent Producers

Which brings us to the country’s other, non-network affiliated producers and companies. The Vivas or the Regals or the Cornerstones or the APT/TAPEs of the Philippines can rev up production to deliver content to any of the networks. Though particularly TV5 and the nascent AMBS.

A show or two from each of those companies can easily fill up TV5’s line-up, for example. You’ve got a full, fresh and original line-up of programs right there for a network.

And we’re not talking about blocktime agreements here. Have a TV5 or AMBS co-produce these shows. Share the cost and then share the profits and ad revenue. The American network model. Makuha lahat yan sa usapan of course.

There is absolutely a way to have everyone benefit from such agreements and set-ups. And ultimately, the ones benefiting the most will be the Filipino people.

tl;dr

Again, even in 2022, television is still the dominant medium in the Philippines. Even if the future is streaming and mobile, for a country like the Philippines, television will be the Filipinos’ go-to source for entertainment, news and information.

The direction of Philippine media has seemed to be taking steps back instead of forward. And that’s sad for my Filipino-American self to see. Being born and raised in the United States, I don’t know anything but growing up having an increasing number of television channels to choose from. Options? We’ve got options. Plenty of it. Even before the streaming boom.

But in the Philippines where #NetworkWarCulture has dominated for two decades, it’s time for a “new normal.” A new normal that includes the walls coming down and seeing a more open and collaborative environment. One that supports three, four or even more major networks. Several legitimate sources of news and entertainment. Not just a return to the duopoly created by #NetworkWarCulture.

Well, what do I know? But what I hope for is for the everyday Filipino people to benefit from having the freedom to choose from a wide variety. Not be force-fed to one or two options that may not even be in the Filipino peoples’ best interest in the first place.

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