ABS-CBN returned to free television last weekend, and although test broadcast started a few days back, it wasn’t until last Saturday, October 10, when a major Kapamilya program premiered on A2Z － the new free tv channel born out of the union between Bro. Eddie Villanueva’s Zoe Broadcasting Inc. and ABS-CBN Corporation.
The rebranded Channel 11 held its arms wide open for the Kapamilya programs, as well as shows from other content providers.
The 10-year old Kapamilya noontime show, It’s Showtime, was the first to debut on A2Z. The mood was highly celebratory when mainstay hosts, especially Vice Ganda, Vhong Navarro, and Jhong Hilario, acknowledged their bosses for their efforts to bring the show back on free television. Even new regular, Kim Chiu, was not successful in holding back the tears when it was her turn to express her gratitude to the network and to Zoe Broadcasting Inc. and its founder, Bro. Eddie.
The return of ABS-CBN programs to analog TV may be seen as a regress, given the network’s efforts to lead the industry’s shift to digital space. This backward move completely eclipses the embattled media giant’s bid to dominate online and other digital platforms through its content, and while it may take a little longer (than the network aspires), its recent steps to fulfill such a goal, seem to bear favorable results.
On its official entertainment YouTube channel, ABS-CBN just reached 30 million subscribers, which is the most in the country. Upload views are also poised to surpass 39 billion, making it the most viewed Philippine-based user on the said platform.
A2Z’s biggest hurdle to reach more audiences seems to be its limited reach, as it can only be seen by viewers in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. TVPlus users (about 9 million) are among the most disappointed (aside from those who struggle to get better analog reception) for being unable to access the new channel through their digital receivers. But their waiting may not last long, as Zoe Broadcasting Network now only awaits NTC’s approval for them to add more digital channels, aside from Light TV on UHF 33.
Zoe TV’s rebranding may not be completed until the arrival of ABS-CBN primetime staples like FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano. Along with Ang Sa Iyo Ay Akin and Walang Hanggang Paalam, the 5-year old Coco Martin-starrer finally makes its return to free TV, on Monday, October 12, ahead of the resumption of rival GMA Network primetime programs to regular broadcast. It can be recalled that filming of shows, movies, and other similar productions was halted after the imposition of enhanced community quarantine in March. ABS-CBN was among the first production companies to return to filming (but under strict safety measures), premiering at least two new tv series shot largely during the pandemic. It was also the first station to continue filming new episodes for its halted programs, including recently-concluded ‘A Soldier’s Heart’.
A2Z brands itself as the home of the newest TV experience for Filipinos, gearing towards spiritual strengthening content. Aside from flagship Kapamilya programs, public service shows like Angel Locsin’s Iba ‘Yan and Judy Ann Santos’ Paano Kita Mapasasalamatan, and informative shows (meant to fulfill the DepEd’s mandate for local tv stations to air programs that will help teachers and school children ease the burden of alternative education, during this pandemic) are also set to fill up A2Z’s programming. Bro. Eddie’s Classics, for the meantime, is filling up the block meant to air Light TV programs. LightTV is Zoe Broadcasting Inc’s UHF channel. It is expected that more programs from the said provider will arrive on A2Z in the following weeks or months. News programs like TV Patrol, are rumored not to be part of the blocktime deal, and may not ever air on the new Kapamilya home, as rumors suggest.
That ABS-CBN will reclaim its former glory seems to be just a question of when. The move to seal a blocktime agreement with another TV network owned by a religious organization seems to be a difficult undertaking, given the restrictions it may impose in terms of what the network can produce.
They may have to institutionalize new measures and guidelines that will help them meet their partner’s qualifications, but given the network’s track record of offering inspiring family dramas, and public service programs, that part of their struggle now seems to be easily navigable.