Overview of the television industry. Media consumption habits, including information about the most popular and trusted sources of news and information in different regions (300-500 words):
The traditional television still ‘dominates the media landscape’, according to The Digital News Report, which includes a survey with over 2,000 respondents in the Philippines (Chua, 2020; see also Newman et al., 2020). It should be noted that the survey has a predominantly urban sample, which could explain the strong preference for online news (at 85 percent) and the finding that online news is catching up with television as primary source of information.
In a Nielsen survey in 2016 (cited by Media Ownership Monitor or MoM, 2017), television is the most trusted source of political information (58 percent of the sample). Cable/satellite technologies offer subscriptions to Filipinos based in other parts of the globe, although cable/satellite subscriptions are limited to only 12 percent of urban Philippines (MoM, 2017). Subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) services, which allows viewers to access video content through the internet, is also on the rise in the country and surprisingly has found a way to co-exist with cable television (Chua, 2018). This situation is in stark contrast with the U.S. experience, where cable companies are feeling the brunt of the competition with the growing SVoD industry. The Philippine situation could be explained by the fact that not all Filipinos have constant or reliable internet access, so SVoD and cable TV serve different markets, said Sheila Paul, Philippines country manager for HOOQ, an SVoD service (Chua, 2018).
There are more than 400 television stations nationwide as of 2016, 23 of which are in Metro Manila. The television market is highly concentrated and is in essence a duopoly – the two biggest conglomerates, ABS CBN and GMA, have an audience share of about 81 percent (MoM, 2017). Constantly ‘engaged in a vicious ratings war’, the biggest networks such as ABS CBN and GMA are among the most influential opinion shapers (Communicating with Disaster-Affected Communities Network, 2012, p.142). These conglomerates also operate regional stations or relay their programmes to independent regional stations.
These conglomerates, being unchallenged for the most part, have been reporting massive net profits for many years now, with their revenues reaching millions of dollars every six months these past few years (Amojelar, 2020; Rivas, 2019b). These two networks also rake in profits during election season, when political advertising greatly increases their revenues, such as the 2019 case in which their earnings ballooned by 69 to 120 percent (Rivas, 2019a).
However, the forced closure of ABS CBN, the oldest television company in Southeast Asia (Regencia, 2020), in May this year might change this longstanding status quo. The leading network in terms of market share, ABS CBN has 42 television stations, 23 radio stations, and 10 digital broadcast channels, all of which stopped airing a day after its 25-year-franchise to operate expired (Chua, 2020). Under Philippine laws, the legislators have to create an enabling law that will grant a media network its franchise to operate, hence the term ‘legislative franchise’. Although bills have been filed for the renewal of the ABS CBN franchise as early as 2014, none of these saw significant progress.
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the government agency overseeing related affairs, refused to grant the network a provisional authority to operate, which was previously granted to other stations that found themselves in the same predicament before, said Theodore Te, a human rights lawyer, in an interview with Al Jazeera (Regencia, 2020). The NTC issued a shutdown order when the Solicitor General, the chief legal counsel of the government, threatened to sue NTC commissioners (Regencia, 2020).
Many critics linked this discriminatory action with the ‘political vendetta’ of President Duterte himself (Gutierrez, 2020), who made several verbal attacks against ABS CBN in different speeches. He accused them of ‘playing favorites’ (Regencia, 2020) and ‘swindling’ him when the network reportedly refused to air his political advertisements (Corrales, 2017; Rappler, 2020a) during the campaign period of 2016 (which the network denied). He also threatened to block the renewal of the franchise (Corrales, 2017; Placido, 2018) and lambasted the network over its allegedly unfair reporting (Rappler, 2020a).
When the network was forced to go off air, some 11,000 employees were left with an ‘uncertain future’ and ‘deprived’ about 38 percent (as of January) of the television-viewing population of their source of information and entertainment (Tantuco, 2020). Its rival network, GMA, has gained viewers at the absence of ABS CBN (Esmael, 2020) – its audience share jumped from 40 to 60 percent overnight (Chua, 2020). Its shares also ‘soared’ by 24 percent (Rivas, 2020a).
Critics believed that the closure of ABS-CBN leaves an information void, which is the last thing the nation needs as people seek crucial information about the pandemic. Furthermore, according to the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, the shutdown order sends a ‘chilling effect’ on freedom of speech (Gavilan, 2020b), given that the network has earned the ire of the chief executive and Duterte has made his disdain known in several occasions prior to the closure.
The government-owned People’s Television Network Inc., on the other hand, has a significantly lower audience share than that of its private competitors. All television franchises, however, must be approved by the government, particularly the House of Representatives (lawmakers), and then regulated by the National Telecommunications Commission (also a government agency).
Some churches or religious organisations also purchased television stations or launched their own.
Regular programming on weekdays is largely the same across the stations. The day begins with early morning news programmes, followed by a variety of lifestyle or home-making shows or cartoons for a younger audience. The lunchtime entertainment shows command significant audience attention and are consistently at the top of survey ratings. Most of the late afternoon slots are given to soap operas, followed by the evening newscast. After the evening news programmes, the ‘primetime’, described as a window of time with a spike in the number of viewers, is usually a screening of soap operas or reality television shows.
The critique on mainstream television lies mainly on the tendencies stemming from its commercial nature, an example of which is the massive amount of air time allotted to advertising, or the news emphasis on ‘what sells’.