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ABS-CBN’s pivot: From network giant to multimedia content provider

On July 10, 2020, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Legislative Franchise denied the application to extend the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN Corporation for another 25 years, shutting down what was then the country’s largest television network.  

With the station signing off its free TV and radio operations, its regional stations vital in connecting remote areas of the country to the nation’s capital, have also been cut off. 

The rejection, on the instigation of former President Rodrigo Duterte, drastically changed the media landscape and displaced more than 11,000 workers but failed to silence the country’s top- performing television station.

Here, there, everywhere

Despite losing its free-to-air broadcast channels and regional stations, ABS-CBN is now more ubiquitous than it was before the shutdown.

Kapamilya fans can get ahead on some drama series on Netflix and can access exclusive ABS-CBN content on Amazon Prime and Viu.

News programs TV Patrol and The World Tonight now air on at least two channels, which include A2Z, Kapamilya Channel, and ANC, the latter two which are pay TV (cable). 

The broadcast giant has separate YouTube channels and Facebook accounts for news and entertainment, each with 11-digit following / subscriptions.

Multi-media content is also available on various web portals abs-cbn.com, Starmagic, and iWantTV.

From being the country’s leading broadcast company, ABS-CBN has transformed into a content company. And it is not looking back. “Going after a franchise renewal is not a priority of the organization,” independent consultant and former ABS-CBN chief strategy officer, Raymund Miranda, tells VERA Files.

Since May 2020, when the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered ABS-CBN to cease broadcast operations, at least nine bills have been filed at the lower house seeking to grant ABS-CBN a new congressional license to operate as a broadcast company.

“We do not expect it to move, neither are we following up on that,” Miranda said.

No turning back

The network could be making the right decision leaving things as they are, after its long-drawn battle, which ended with 70 congressmen voting to deny their franchise and depleting its political capital post-2020. In the 19th Congress alone, bills have been filed seeking legislative inquiries into the current business arrangement of ABS-CBN with other broadcast networks. 

Among the partnerships being questioned are block time agreements airing ABS-CBN programs (with TV5, A2Z, and GMA 7), and the continuous airing of TV Patrol on digital and pay channels. The proponents argue that these deals supposedly violate NTC’s order to cease operations.

VERA Files sought the side of NTC. While the Office of the Commissioner acknowledged the request for an interview, it has not responded to further inquiries on actually setting the meeting.

Miranda clarifies that ABS-CBN did not “invent” the idea of collaborating with other networks as a way to circumvent policies.  

As a consequence of the shutdown, the company adopted a pre-existing business model and strategic thrust to sell content. He points out that this business model has been in Europe, the U.S., and even parts of Asia: “If you go around the world, there are so many companies that don’t own franchises or are not broadcast networks or not networks but are very successful as content companies, HBO being the classic example.”

Catching up revenue-wise

Content ubiquity and millions of subscribers or following do not always mean making more money. Since 2020, the company has suffered billions of losses, beginning with the P13.5-billion loss for that year. In 2021, the losses were cut to P5.7 billion and further slashed in 2022 to P2.6 billion. From January to September 2023, the media conglomerate’s net losses were at P3.396 billion, lesser by around a billion compared to the same period last year. 

Digital ad rates are not the same as broadcast advertising fees, Miranda explains. Owning the network also means that no other entity partakes in revenue as compared to having your shows air on another network. Operating with a franchise also means having full control and responsibility for what goes on air.

In the online market, there are also far more competitors than in the domestic setting, and in the Philippines, the affordability of data remains a challenge.

To mitigate losses, the network let go of some of its operations, such as its magazine and books printing, O Shopping Channel, Chalk.ph, and DZMM Teleradyo, which is now DWPM Teleradyo 630 after ABS-CBN entered into a joint venture partnership with Prime Media Holdings, Inc. 

The corporation’s annual report accounted for 5,701 employees as of December 2022. This number is around half of the 11-thousand manpower of ABS-CBN pre-shutdown. 

Entertainment for now

The challenges in the media business landscape compel ABS-CBN to maintain priority for more commercially viable entertainment content. Efforts to strengthen its news and public affairs presence online through mobile journalism remain, but the reach is not the same as when the network had regional stations. 

ABS-CBN’s closure is most felt during typhoons and other natural disasters when its regional offices used to report on situations in remote areas.

The production of TV documentaries will also have to wait because its marketability is different from that of entertainment series. Collaborating for documentaries with other networks that employ their own broadcast journalists would likely entail a different partnership arrangement.

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