Culture shock

The Covidization of leisure and entertainment in the Philippines

NEW KING OF VIDEOS Among the victors in the post-pandemic world are video-on-demand services

In the past two years, do you remember how many shows you’ve streamed online? How many video calls have you attended? How many times have you had food or groceries delivered to your doorstep?

The challenge of the times had us depend on technology more. We turned to gadgets and screens to live in the virtual world, where the coronavirus couldn’t possibly reach us, ultimately making us more contingent on social media and the internet. Existing trends such as remote work, online shopping, food delivery and ready-to-eat meals, as well as video streaming, became our new normal.

Entire industries were disrupted by the pandemic, including the media. Drastic changes were seen not only in the way content was consumed, but also how stories were told, and even the dominant channels where they reached more audiences.

Most noticeable of all developments is the rise of the video streaming sector. Now among the most powerful platforms in the post-Covid age are video-on-demand (VOD) services Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go, among others, providing at-home entertainment and respite that we so badly need in the health crisis.

Lockdowns all over the globe helped these video streaming sites boom, especially Netflix, recognized as the biggest VOD in terms of the number of subscriptions at present, which boasts around 223.09 million subscribers as of the third quarter of this year.

SCREEN IS IN Quinn Kelsey as Giorgio Germont, Selin Sahbazoglu (background) as his daughter, and Diana Damrau as Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata. (Marty Sohl for the Met Opera). The opera performance is among the titles in MET in HD

As of April 2022, over 98 percent of Filipino internet users aged between 16 and 64 have a video streaming subscription service according to data from Statista. Video and music streaming was—and still is—everyone’s answer to cabin fever.

Just last month, the main competitor of Netflix, Disney + launched in the Philippines. Its extensive content library, with the Walt Disney Company owning Star Wars, Marvel, National Geographic, and Star, makes up for its limited features in the country. 

Other international VOD contenders offering Filipino content are Singapore’s HOOQ, Hong Kong’s Viu, and Malaysia’s iFlix. There are also homegrown VODs, in particular, ABS-CBN’s entry to the streaming industry, iwantTV, and the largest Filipino entertainment streaming service today, Vivamax.

This growth in VOD consumption can be attributed to cinemas, concert halls, and theaters being shuttered. The Philippine entertainment scene suffered huge losses with film productions suspended amid lockdown restrictions. Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) former chairperson Liza Diño-Seguerra revealed in 2021 that the local movie industry had ₱19 billion in foregone revenue and 460,000 workers in the film and audiovisual sector who were affected.

SMASH HIT Wednesday is currently the number one series on Netflix in the Philippines

Because cinemas were closed, filmmakers and content creators had to resort to digital streaming. Philippine Motion Pictures Producers Association (PMPPA) lawyer Joji Alonso, however, explained that the revenue from online streams is not a sufficient substitute for cinema screenings.

Apart from VODs acquiring rights to a film for a fee, cable channels, television, pay-per-view, and ad-supported streaming are other revenue sources for shows and movies.

The 2020 Gameboys, for instance, was produced mainly for YouTube. Filmed only via Zoom, the love web series directed by Ivan Andrew Payawal, was a huge hit, going viral in a matter of days from its release.

Luckily, in November last year, cinemas reopened after the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) released a more lenient guideline for places under Alert Level 3, including Metro Manila.

The entertainment sector, like other industries, is a source of livelihood for many. Without cinema and the performing arts to reflect and teach us about our society and ourselves, we may as well be as good as dead.

The performing arts too, took a heavy blow, curtailing not only public performances but also rehearsals. Theaters were shut down for an extended period, prompting directors and producers to work around the problem by riding the digital wave and bringing operas, musicals, plays, concerts, and other physical shows online and on the big screen instead.

A prime example is the launch of the seventh season of MET Opera in HD. Metropolitan Opera of New York in partnership with the Filipinas Opera Society Foundation, Inc. has lined up widely-celebrated opera titles like Carmen, La TraviataLa Fille du Regiment, and Samson et Dalila for Filipinos to enjoy in cinemas. MET Opera in HD is ongoing at Greenbelt 3, Makati until March next year.

RETURN OF THE THEATER Repertory Philippines president and CEO Mindy Perez Rubio considers
Carousel as a ‘triumphant return to the stage.’ In photo are the lead of the show Karylle
Tatlonghari (center), Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante (left), and Mia Bolaños

Now that the entertainment industry has begun resuming operations, one might ask what the major adjustments in the trade are.

For one, since Covid-19 isn’t completely gone, lockdown shoots are still enforced. The cast and crew of productions, including the director, would stay and live together until a shoot is finished as a health precaution.

Live performances have returned but with streamlined casts and in smaller venues, owing to the fact that culture organizations have yet recovered from reduced revenues reliant on ticket sales.

Lawmaker and artist Toff De Venecia, who recently directed Repertory Philippine's spin on the musical Carousel, says, “You can still very much tell the story without all those bells and whistles. We waited for two-and-a-half years. We don’t go back to that thing with business as usual.” Toffs strips down the production of the classic musical leaving only what is necessary, highlighting the dialogues, performances, and scoring, making them more striking and distinct.

Still, thanks to many staunch patrons of the arts like Toff, Rustan Group of Companies (RGOC) chair and CEO Nedy Tantoco, and Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) president Margie Moran-Floirendo, to name a few, cultural projects and shows persist.

A couple of days back, Giocomo Puccini’s Turandot was staged at the CCP main theater with the help of Margie, Nedy, the LCS Group of Companies, San Miguel Corporation, Sta. Elena Construction and Development Corporation, BPI, Danny Dolor, and Hilton Manila. The two-day opera gala celebrated the 60th year of the Philippine-Italian Association (PIA) and fruitful years of diplomatic relations between Italy and the Philippines.

While the manner in which shows are presented may have changed, the intention to promote cultural awareness and simply spread joy remains. The entertainment sector, like other industries, is a source of livelihood for many. Without cinema and the performing arts to reflect and teach us about our society and ourselves, we may as well be as good as dead.