TV networks fight for digital supremacy

Published June 11, 2021, 12:55 AM

by Robert Requintina


Robert R. Requintina

With still no clear sign of the pandemic ending soon, TV networks have modified rules to continue operations as they pivot towards the digital platform. But are audiences rallying behind
streaming as the “new normal”?

When the government imposed the first of the many lockdowns in March last year, ABS-CBN, in a statement, announced that they were temporarily suspending staging of their live entertainment shows and production of teleseryes “in compliance with the government’s declaration of a community quarantine and ban on mass gatherings to contain the spread of COVID-19.” The country’s oldest network, however, continued to bring the latest news through TV, radio, and digital media.

On May 5, 2020, days before modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) was enforced, ABS-CBN halted its radio and television operations after its legislative franchise expired. ABS-CBN aired shows via YouTube, Facebook and its website.

When general community quarantine (GCQ) was imposed, the network’s long-running action serye “Ang Probinsyano” resumed shoot in Batangas, following an interim guideline released through the efforts of the Film Development Council. 

Social distancing was strictly enforced in all phases of production. Members of the cast and crew were required to submit health declarations specific to COVID-19.
For on-site work, a maximum of 50 people were allowed on the set. Big crowd scenes like concerts, rallies, parties, and championship games were banned while for intimate scenes, both actors must test negative for COVID-19 and give their consent before filming. 

Medical personnel were required to be on the set at all times to do temperature checks and enforce health precautionary measures when a cast or crew falls ill. Work hours was limited to 12 and cast and crew must remain in the “bubble” for the duration of the shoot.

The online migration proved to be a successful strategy for the Coco Martin-starrer. One of its most-watched episodes churned 80,000 live viewers on YouTube.

With A2Z and Kapamilya Channel’s blocktime agreement viewers were given more options to enjoy ABS-CBN Entertainment’s programs.

To extend its digital reach some Kapamilya  shows were shown simultaneously via Facebook pages of Star Cinema, Black Sheep, TFC, ABS-CBN Entertainment, Star Music, One Music, Jeepney TV, and MyChos. Some were also available on the Star Cinema and websites and iWant TFC. These shows include variety programs, podcasts, and digital series.

To date, ABS-CBN Entertainment YouTube subscribers has a total 33.6 million; while ABS-CBN news channel has 12.1 million. On Facebook ABS-CBN news has 19.3 million followers.

With the aim to extend its digital reach, GMA Network launched Affordabox on June 2020, a plug-and-play device that can easily be connected to an analog TV in order to receive digital
television broadcast. Available channels include GMA, GMA News TV, and Heart of Asia, along with free-to-air digital TV channels.

GMA Network reported that sales of its digital TV receiver reached one million units in just seven months after its launch.

When ECQ was first imposed in March last year, GMA halted shooting for its film and TV projects and aired reruns until quarantine restrictions were relaxed. The network, however,
was able to produce five new shows under “new rules.”

For GMA News TV programs, it meant producing shows remotely inside the hosts’ homes monitored by producers via video conferencing.

GMA is home to top-raters “Eat Bulaga,” “Wowowillie,” “Pepito Manaloto,” and “KMJS” which halted airing live shows and new episodes during the pandemic. Netizens can watch full episodes by visiting GMA’s website.

Beefing up its digital presence, GMA recently launched GMA Now, a mobile digital TV receiver that allows Android smartphone users to watch the live broadcast of the Kapuso channels GMA, GMA News TV, Heart of Asia, Hallypop, and soon, DepEd TV, as well as other free-to-air channels available in their area.

“This is our way of expressing gratitude to our loyal Kapuso for their unceasing support. We are proud to say that GMA Now is the first mobile DTT receiver to combine traditional TV with the advantages of interactivity via the internet,” said GMA Network, Inc. Chairman and CEO Felipe L. Gozon in a statement about the game-changing plug-and-play dongle.

Earlier, the country’s leading broadcast company, announced that it will invest more than P20 billion from 2021 to 2023 to produce more content and support digital TV expansion. The network aims to launch nearly 100 new, cutting-edge programs within this year. On YouTube, GMA Network currently has 23 million subscribers with 18.9 million followers on Facebook.

As the fight for digital supremacy between two of the country’s biggest media networks continue to fascinate digital citizens, entertainment has become more mobile and portable. “Since the company’s direction is to go digital, various platforms are continuously developed and enhanced to address the rapid digital preference move of the ‘millennials’,” said ABS-CBN in a statement.

With COVID-19 locking us up at home, digital entertainment is convincing us to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

(The author is the Entertainment Editor of Manila Bulletin.)