in , , , ,

Journey to the Top: How ABS-CBN Reclaim Its Title as the No. 1 TV Network in the Philippines

As the new millennium started in 2001, ABS-CBN immediately faced one of its biggest problems after it was seized in 1972 — economic crisis.

According to the book by former ABS-CBN President and now Chief Content Officer Charo Santos-Concio, titled “My Journey: The Story of an Unexpected Leader”, the crisis had put ad minutes on a decline because advertisers had to cut down media spending.

Bianca Gonzalez-Intal interviews Ma’am Charo Santos-Concio during the launch of her book, “My Journey: The Story of an Unexpected Leader” | Photo from @charosantos’ Instagram account

This was also the era when the Kapamilya network was losing in the ratings game to its rival network GMA-7. Also, at that time, when Ma’am Charo was the Executive Vice President for Entertainment, the Kapuso network started to close in on the lead they had for over a decade.

GMA Network Center in Diliman, Quezon City; the headquarters of GMA Network

In her recently-launched book, Ma’am Charo will tell us how she overcame the struggles she had faced and how ABS-CBN innovated itself to maintain the No. 1 position over the next decade.

But for now, let us take a look at the 15 stages that made ABS-CBN the top network we all know today.

1. The birth of fantaserye

ABS-CBN premiered “Marina”, the most popular fantaserye in the Philippines then, starring Claudine Barretto as a ravishing mermaid. According to Ma’am Charo, the fantasy series had an average audience share of 38.6% and peaking at 41%.

Caudine Barretto as Marina

While their audience avidly followed “Marina” due to its visual feasted underwater scenes, Ma’am Charo admitted that producing the show was demanding. She also pointed out that the production budget for the series was 50 percent more than the usual teleserye.

Six months after the success of “Marina”, GMA Network gave birth to their very own fantaserye that tormented the world of ABS-CBN — “Mulawin”, topbilled by Richard Gutierrez and Angel Locsin.

“Mulawin’s” official title card

Ma’am Charo acknowledged the Kapuso network’s effort for spending “enormously on the project.” She did not deny that “Mulawin” raised the bar on extravagant costumes, expensive special effects, and production values.

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

2. The collapsing kingdom

In just 2 months, GMA managed to beat ABS-CBN in program showdown. This was evident when Ma’am Charo’s fellow executive Vivian Tin showed the latest TV ratings during their Executive Committee meeting.

Angel Locsin and Richard Gutierrez as Alwina and Aguiluz during the peak of “Mulawin’s” success

Ma’am Charo confirmed, “GMA-7 had taken the lead on all the top 20 time slots, including the coveted primetime slots.” She stressed, “The gaps in the lead were devastating.”

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

3. Enterprising rival

ABS-CBN responded to “Mulawin” by airing “Krystala”, starring Judy Ann Santos as a superhero. But according to Ma’am Charo: “Our budgets are thin and we were emotionally spent.” She also added, “’Krystala’ couldn’t gain momentum.”

Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo as Krystala

After that, GMA rubbed salt into ABS-CBN’s wound when the former decided to launch “the grandest, most ambitious, and most expensive production for Philippine television” — “Encantadia”, starring Iza Calzado, Sunshine Dizon, Karylle Tatlonghari and Diana Zubiri.

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

4. Emotional connections no more

In just a snap of fingers, the one that started the fantaserye craze in the Philippines was also the one that fell into the hands of their own rival. “Marina” and “Krystala” experienced the catastrophic dominion of “Mulawin” and “Encantadia” in TV ratings game.

Karylle Tatlonghari, Iza Calzado, Sunshine Dizon, and Diana Zubiri as the four Sang’gres of Encantadia

This time, Ma’am Charo revealed, “In the heat of the battle, what I had feared became very obvious. We began to lose our sense of story.” She then admitted that it was the time when the Kapamilya network forgot about their emotional connection to their audience.

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

5. Acceptance

Going back to their Executive Committee meeting, Vivian emphasized, “Hindi na tayo No. 1.” She continued, “We are now No. 2.”

According to Ma’am Charo, after the truth-slapping news was announced, there was an immediate uproar in the room. The denial and anger were thick and loud. But in spite of the bitter situation, Ma’am Charo simply said, “Tanggapin na natin.” Her voice crackling as she stressed: “No. 2 na tayo.”

The lady boss also revealed that they took the news personally and admitted, “For the very first time in 16 years (being number 1), many of us felt embarrassed to be part of ABS-CBN.”

6. Lost in nowhere

By November, ABS-CBN managed to gain back a bit of their loss in primetime. But it did not last very long. Ma’am Charo recalled, “We became No. 2 on my watch. There was no one else to be held responsible but me.”

Ma’am Charo took the defeat very badly. She admitted on her book, “I could not bring myself to move forward.” Thus, she wrote a resignation letter and asked her executive assistant to hand carry to Sir Gabby and Cito Alejandro, who was the new president and general manager at that time. She added: “I felt I was failure and no longer worthy to be at the helm of my team.” However, the two big bosses did not accept her resignation.

Ma’am Charo then went on hiatus to reflect. She said, “For the first time in years, I gave myself permission to rest.”

One day, Sir Gabby sent her a letter. “I believe in you,” he wrote. “Life is full of struggles but I know you will transcend this one. And when you do, I am confident you will make a choice that will show your sons how courageous you are.”

GMA-7 at this time:

7. Standing up

Ma’am Cory Vidanes, the Managing Director for ABS-CBN TV Production at that time, took Ma’am Charo’s responsibility while she was reflecting. Ma’am Charo said, “Despite her own grief over our ratings and her fatigue from the king drawn battle, she kept our operations running.”

Photo from @jm_honeyz’s Instagram account

The actress turned big boss also revealed that during her leave, she received job offers from competing network. But, she still decided to choose ABS-CBN where she belongs. She said, “I decided to come back to ABS-CBN because I felt responsible for the people there, with whom I had grown up.”

When she returned, the Kapamilya network continued to face the same problem she had left behind: GMA was still No. 1 and morale was still low. She thought, “I wondered if ABS-CBN was going through its own crisis of identity and what transformation process would help us come out of it stronger and more certain of ourselves.”

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

8. The light of hope

Hereafter, the time for their annual management conference came. They decided to drove up to Baguio, where they settled in for three days. This time, Ma’am Charo remembered, “Instead of our usual conference rallying start and back-to-back reports, Fr. Tito Caluag began quietly with scriptural passage and an invitation to slow down.”

Fr. Tito Caluag (middle) during ABS-CBN’s Grand Kapamilya Weekend at Quezon Memorial Circle in 2013 | Photo from

Although they were skeptical, the executives shook off their cynicism and tried the spiritual readings and individual reflection exercises they were given. According to Ma’am Charo, when they gathered for small group sharing sessions, the discussions were deeply honest and emotional.

The session then finally came as a question: “What do we really stand for?”

After a long discussion, executive producer Chit Guerrero recalled what Geny Lopez, the Chairman Emeritus of ABS-CBN, often told them in the past, “Hindi ba sabi ni Kapitan (Geny), ‘we are in the service of the Filipino?’”

‘Kapitan’ Geny Lopez

From across the hall, Ma’am Charo said, “I could see Gabby was deeply moved. It was as if his father had reached out from the grave to show us the way. At the first chance he got, he walked over to me and said, ‘We had to lose our ratings leadership to find our way back.’ I couldn’t have agreed more.”

Ma’am Charo also recalled seeing her fellow executives with immense hope as their eyes sparkled with pride of purpose. Going back to Manila, the lady boss felt humbled and revitalized. She was now ready to face the world.

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

9. Back to work

During the height of “Goin’ Bulilit’s” success, ABS-CBN launched “Mga Anghel na Walang Langit”, starring Nikki Bagaporo, Carl John Barrameda, Miles Ocampo, Sharlene San Pedro and John Manalo, in May 2005.

“Mga Anghel na Walang Langit” cast (L-R) Sharlene San Pedro, Nikki Bagaporo, Miles Ocampo, Carl John Barrameda, John Manalo

Ma’am Charo proudly stated, “Finally, we were able to nudge at the lead of ‘Mulawin.’ The fact that we succeeded with a simple, low budget show against the high production values of the fantaserye, gave me even more courage to stand by our storytelling instincts.”

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

10. The ‘slayage’

The Kapamilya Network produced “Gulong ng Palad”, led by Kristine Hermosa and TJ Trinidad, in January 2006. They also acquired the rights to air the franchise of “Pinoy Big Brother”. The show’s rating peaked at 50.4%, bringing ABS-CBN back to the top. But it was “Bituing Walang Ningning”, starring Sarah Geronimo and Angelika dela Cruz, that made ABS-CBN win the ratings contest.

“Pinoy Big Brother” season 1 Housemates

According to some still-accessible forums in Pinoy Exchange, “Bituing Walang Ninging” garnered a whopping 45.1% ratings nationwide in 2006, based on nationwide ratings by AGB Nielsen. To make the slayage fiercer, the 2006 TV ratings showed that 14 out of 20 shows were from ABS-CBN, while the Top 10 list was dominated by Kapamilya shows.

Dorina and Lavinia, played by Sarah Geronimo and Angelika dela Cruz, in “Bituing Walang Ningning

In 2007, ABS-CBN remained the “King of NUTAM” as “Kokey”, “Princess Sarah”, and “Sana Maulit Muli” emerged as the most-watched programs in the Philippines, leaving “Marimar” the only bright spot for GMA-7 in the ratings game. This was also the time when the Kapuso Network’s queen, Angel Locsin, transferred to ABS-CBN.

Kokey | Still from a “Kokey” episode

Towards the end of 2007, the Kapamilya network accused AGB Nielsen of manipulating the TV ratings. This led to a yearlong legal conflict among ABS-CBN, AGB Nielsen ans GMA Network.

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

11. Still at the top

Although the rift between ABS-CBN and AGB Nielsen seemed to be irreparable, the Philippines was still under the Kapamilya spell throughout 2008. This was also the year when “Lastikman” drowned “Marimar” in NUTAM ratings. The Vhong Navarro-led series enjoyed an average rating of 36.4% versus Marian Rivera’s 34.8%, becomig the most-watch primetime show nationwide.

Vhong Navarro as Lastikman

In addiion, the remake of “Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara”, the action series “Kung Fu Kids”, Angel Locsin’s first Kapamilya series “Lobo”, Jake Cuenca’s “Palos”, and Anne Curtis’ fantaserye “Dyosa” bruised another Marian Rivera-led series “Dyesebel” inside the Top 10 of the most-watched primetime programs in the Philippines.

“Lobo’s” international broadcast in Nigeria as “She Wolf”

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

12. New beginnings

After the controversial battle with AGB Nielsen, the Philippines’ largest TV network decided to shift to Kantar Media.

Kantar Media emerged as the most-trusted ratings provider in 2016, based on the survey conducted by LionhearTV — garnering a total of 16,181 votes versus rival’s 6,863

Nevertheless, both AGB Nielsen and Kantar Media agreed that ABS-CBN remained as the No. 1 TV network nationwide. For example, GMA admitted that the Kapuso network got an average nationwide audience share of 34.3% or just 6.6 percentage points away from ABS-CBN’s 40.9% from January to December 2009, based on AGB Nielsen.

GMA-7 at this time:

13. Recapturing the old territory

The Kapuso network had also relied to Kantar Media in late 2008. They even labeled Kantar Media, along with AGB Nielsen, as the leading audience rating provider in the country.

Not until mid-2009 when Kantar Media revealed that ABS-CBN also recaptured Mega Manila in the ratings competition.

As for ABS-CBN, the network remained consistent to depend on the data provided by Kantar Media… whether AGB Nielsen declared them as the No. 1 TV station or not.

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

14. Stronger than ever

While GMA-7 was busy embarking on a full-scale test of the LiveRatings, in partnership with AGB Nielsen, the executives of ABS-CBN, including Ma’am Charo, remained focused on the certain TV shows that would give Filipinos hope.

AGB Nielsen announcing its partnership with GMA-7 as the former launched LiveRatings in 2010 | Screengrabbed from AGB Nielsen’s official website

In the 9th chapter of Ma’am Charo’s book, she wrote that she pitched the idea of a local version of “Marcelino Pan y Vino” to their local business heads. Launched in February 2009, “May Bukas Pa”, starring Zaijan Jaranilla, ran for an entire year with record-breaking ratings. In fact, Kantar Media declared it the highest-rated show of all time. Its final episode was also the most-watched finale for the year 2010. Meanwhile, based on AGB Nielsen, the second most-watched finale in the Philippines for 2010 was from the same show, registering a rating of 37.1%, behind “Agua Bendita” with 37.3% during its final episode.

Zaijan Jaranilla in “May Bukas Pa”

2011 marks the inconsistency of AGB Nielsen in providing TV ratings. For example, the rating provider would use its People Ratings instead of the accustomed Household Ratings. This was also the time when AGB Nielsen questionably conceal its NUTAM ratings from the public.

AGB Nielsen made headlines as its “missing” NUTAM ratings were released for the first time in a while | Screengrabbed from TV Network War blogsite

To make the situation even worse for GMA-7, another network TV5 announced that they had beaten the Kapuso network in Visayas in 2013 with 20% audience share versus GMA’s 16%, and Mindanao, where they got 15% compared to Kapuso’s 12%. Thus, making TV5 the No. 2 TV network in the Philippines.

Screengrabbed from Interaksyon’s website prior to its revamp

Fast forward to 2015, ABS-CBN’s dominance became stronger as their nationwide average audience share registered 43% versus GMA’s 36%. In terms of primetime audience share, the Kapamilya network almost wiped out the existence of GMA when it got 50% versus Kapuso’s 31%.

ABS-CBN dominates National Primetime TV Viewership in 2015 based on Kantar Media | Chart from

Meanwhile, Coco Martin’s “Ang Probinsyano” became the most-watched teleserye in 2015 with an average rating of 38.8%. Little did GMA know, the birth of this Coco’s teleserye would be the start of their non-stop agony that would last until 2018.

FPJ’s “Ang Probinsyano”, starring Coco Martin as Cardo Dalisay

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

15. History does not repeat itself

The year is 2016 and GMA’s primetime show were buried by “Ang Probinsyano” one-by-one. After almost a decade, the Kapuso network launched the remake of “Encantadia”. The once top-rated show failed to win against Cardo Dalisay upon its debut, when it only got an average rating of 23.6% versus “Ang Probinsyano’s” 25.9% for its pilot week, based on AGB Nielsen’s data. Meanwhile, according to Kantar Media, “Ang Probinsyano” whipped “Encantadia” five times after it scored an average weekly rating of 43.8% versus the latter’s miserable 19.8% rating.

“Ang Probinsyano” vs “Encantadia’s” pilot week based on Kantar Media
“Ang Probinsyano” vs “Encantadia’s” pilot week based on AGB Nielsen

By March 2017, GMA decided to shift once again to AGB’s People Ratings. And although the viewers were left curious about how “Encantadia’s” finale week performed based on the missing Household Ratings, Kantar Media showed how “Ang Probinsyano” crushed the fantaserye with 38.6% versus 23.3% average weekly rating.

“Ang Probinsyano” trashed “Encantadia’s” final episode based on Kantar Media | Photo from @dreamscapeph’s Instagram account

In addition, the Kapuso network decided to make a sequel to its first fantaserye; the one that made Ma’am Charo almost resign from ABS-CBN — “Mulawin”. However, the year is 2017 and most of the televiewers were not as shallow as they were back then. “Mulawin vs Ravena” failed to triumph over the mighty “Ang Probinsyano”. The fantaserye got an average nationwide rating of 22.5% versus Cardo’s 41.1% for its pilot week, based on Kantar Media. And although the Household Ratings is still hidden, the Kapuso fantaserye registered an average weekly rating of 11.4%, 1.3% lower compared to 12.7% of “Ang Probinsyano”, based on AGB’s People Ratings.

“Ang Probinsyano” vs “Mulawin vs Ravena’s” pilot week based on AGB Nielsen
ABS-CBN dominates National Primetime TV Viewership in 2015 | Chart from

Moreover, the original cast of “Mulawin”, Richard Gurierrez who played the role of Aguiluz, has signed a contract to ABS-CBN. He will now reunite with the original Alwina, Angel Locsin, as the two will star in their newest fantaserye titled “La Luna Sangre”.

“La Luna Sangre” official poster

Ma’am Charo’s reaction:

ABS-CBN’s journey in the ratings game was not that easy. But the Kapamilya network’s sudden fall taught Ma’am Charo and the rest of the big bosses that connecting to the Filipino is still the best possible way to succeed in the end.

The largest and the leading TV network in the Philippines — ABS-CBN

And now that ABS-CBN has proven that history may sometimes does not repeat itself, let us hope that this station will persist until the next generations to serve more Filipinos worldwide.

Sylvia Sanchez, ready to pose for FHM in one condition

Robin Padilla appeals to people to support Martial Law