Like its primetime soaps and daytime dramas, tension and drama shrouded the year for ABS-CBN, not just because of the persisting pandemic, but largely due to its failure to secure a new broadcast franchise, forcing it to depart from the free tv competition.
As production houses are suddenly brought to a shrilling halt, the already embattled tv giant scrambles to meet the exploding domestic demand for fresh content.
ABS-CBN’s continued operation had always been in question since the current Philippine president assumed power, but not everyone expected—let alone predicted—that the country’s biggest media entity would disappear from free television at a time when its services are arguably the most needed.
The usual practice of allowing a company with pending franchise application to continue operation amidst an expired franchise was conveniently bypassed by Congress—which is the only government institution tasked and empowered to approve and deny franchise.
This move, largely seen by government critics, as the Lower Chamber’s move to follow President Duterte’s wishes to eliminate ABS-CBN, ultimately crippled the Kapamilya Network, whose previously nationwide free tv coverage, was the most expansive in the country. ABS-CBN made its last nationwide analog broadcast on May 5, 2020—a day after its franchise expired.
Closure of Regional Network Group (RNG)
ABS-CBN’s shutdown left a trail of destruction in its wake, causing the closure of affiliate businesses and loss of livelihood to at least 5,000 employees. The network’s news and current affairs division in provinces was forced to cease operation, crippling its news-gathering workforce.
The glaring consequences of RNG’s closure manifested during the onslaught of recent calamities, as local government units and state agencies grappled with the scarcity of effective information-dissemination tools, which are deemed utterly necessary in preparing vulnerable communities from the life-threatening risks of impending calamities.
Departure of Biggest Kapamilya Stars
While the possibility of losing a big chunk of its celebrity workforce was imminent in the wake of ABS-CBN shutdown, the names who immediately left the network shocked and saddened loyal Kapamilya viewers, who were hoping for their idols to remain with the network.
Among those names included Billy Crawford, Maja Salvador, Piolo Pascual, and Bea Alonzo, whose departure from Star Magic, strongly suggest her eventual exit from the Kapamilya Network. This exodus of Star Magic stars also prompted some of the network’s most acclaimed and veteran directors, including star-builder, Johnny ‘Mr.M’ Manahan, who left Star Magic and ASAP for TV5, and Bobet Vidanes, who left his brainchild, It’s Showtime, for its rival program in TV5.
The denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise also prompted some of its most important broadcasters to leave the company, including Ted Failon and Korina Sanchez who both moved to TV5, and Anthony Taberna and Jerry Baja, who shifted to DZMM’s rival station, DZRH.
Kapamilya Channel and Return to Free Television via A2Z
Kapamilya Channel served as an interim platform for ABS-CBN’s programs while a new franchise was still being pursued by the network in Congress, but when the House of Representatives finally moved to reject its application, ABS-CBN set its sights on sealing a block time deal with another tv network—Zoe TV Channel 11.
ABS-CBN’s partnership with Bro. Eddie Villanueva-owned Zoe Broadcasting Network Inc. took a long and uneasy way, and the legalities of its existence are still being hounded with questions from practically the same people and institutions that made its departure from free tv, possible. Now, along with Kapamilya Channel, and other remaining Kapamilya platforms, A2Z stands poised to deliver ABS-CBN’s promise to carry on with its services, amidst the limitations of its free digital and analog tv coverage.
New Breed of Young Stars
As more and more homegrown stars take their exit from ABS-CBN, the media giant shifts its attention to its newer generation of young stars. ABS-CBN takes its chances on Star Hunt Academy’s new boy and girl groups, formally introducing them to the public via ASAP and It’s Showtime.
These groups, BINI and SHA Boys, join MNL48 as among the network’s biggest efforts to lead the country’s foray into the international scene through the emerging P-POP music. ABS-CBN also started tapping new and young talents, to star in its biggest projects, both in tv series and in movies. ABS-CBN’s need to shift to more contemporary platforms also prompted the network to invest in producing more online content, especially now that the production of movies and online series is booming.
ABS-CBN’s bid to capture the online market is carried out through strengthening its non-franchise-requiring platforms. Aside from expanding its pay television services, it amplifies its online streaming investment and explores interesting options through other more contemporary means of content delivery. As theaters and cinemas remain largely shut down, iWantTFC—which is the result of the recent iWant and TFC merger—becomes a very viable platform to deliver movies.
ABS-CBN also established partnerships with other streaming and distribution services, to ensure content delivery online is carried out with ease, and to its credit, it actually does, through KTX.PH, and iWantTFC.
A part of iWantTFC’s massive overhaul is comprised of strengthening its current original programming, hence the introduction of new original series and movies, exclusively distributed by ABS-CBN streaming services.
Postponements and cancellations
Government imposed-lockdowns and health and safety protocols prompted ABS-CBN’s production units to enforce postponement of tapings for programs, Magandang Buhay, It’s Showtime, ASAP Natin ‘To, Banana Sundae, I Can See Your Voice, beginning March 10, while suspension of tapings for Pamilya Ko, FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano, Make It with You, A Soldier’s Heart, was carried out March 14.
On June 5, Make It with You and Pamilya Ko’ were cancelled as Kapamilya programs moved to Kapamilya Channel, as ABS-CBN’s interim platform. While some programs eventually resumed airing after temporarily going off-air, there were some that ultimately ended their runs. Rated K, Umagang Kay Ganda, Bandila, followed suit in the coming months, were all confirmed to be not returning on air.
Gandang Gabi Vice aired its last episode on March 8, Banana Sundae on April 5. News and current affairs program, Kuha Mo and Failon Ngayon ended their runs in July and May, respectively, while Sunday primetime news magazine show, Rated K, delivered its final episode in May. Likewise, both programs hosted by Boy Abunda—Tonight with Boy Abunda and The Bottomline—aired their last episodes in May.
ABS-CBN’s flagship latenight news broadcast, Bandila, announced cancellation on March 17, with ANC’s long-running English newscast, The World Tonight, taking its place.
On May 5, 2020, ABS-CBN’s free TV and radio broadcasts signed off, following the cease-and-desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). ABS-CBN, MOR 101.9, DZMM and TeleRadyo, JeepneyTV, MYX, Asianovela Channel, Knowledge Channel, and Movie Central, all temporarily suspended their free tv operations, in compliance with the government order. The dissolution ang ABS-CBN Sports division also forced both S+A and Liga channels, to go off-air.
On June 30, ABS-CBN’s free digital broadcasts ceased operation, following the alias-cease-and-desist order issued by the NTC. The order affected the free-to-air operations of TVPLus’ freemium channels, including JeepneyTV, Asianovela Channel, Yey!, Cine Mo!, TeleRadyo, and KBO. The ABS-CBN Regional Network Group, followed suit on August 28, practically dissolving the country’s largest regional news network.
While many Kapamilya programs abruptly ended during the pandemic, there are also a number of programs which successfully completed their runs. The Voice Teens aired its grand finals on August 16. Kapamilya monster hits Kadenang Ginto, Starla, and The Killer Bride aired explosive finales on February 7, January 10, and January 17, respectively, while afternoon drama Sandugo, and talent show, Your Moment, completed first season on March 20 and February 2, respectively.
The lack of a franchise and the pandemic were both unsuccessful in stopping ABS-CBN from producing new titles, as new Kapamilya shows made successful debuts within the year. Make It With You, A Soldier’s Heart, and The Voice Teens premiered on January 13, January 20, and February 8, respectively, while Love Thy Woman, the weekly drama, 24/7, and iWant Originals debuted on ABS-CBN, February 10, February 23, and March 16, respectively.
With Kapamilya Channel, ABS-CBN is able to launch new tv series that are completely filmed during the pandemic. Ang Sa Iyo Ay Akin and Walang Hanggang Paalam both debuted on the pay tv channel. Also, ABS-CBN’s deal with ZoeTV allowed flagship noontime programs, It’s Showtime and ASAP Natin To, make a free tv comeback. Both debuted on A2Z Channel 11, on October 10 and 11, respectively. The latest incarnation of the hit quiz show, Game Ka Na Ba, on the other hand, debuted on JeepneyTV and Kumu app, on October 12. The longest-running weekly drama anthology, Maalaala Mo Kaya, the morning talk-show, Magandang Buhay, made their A2Z debuts on October 24 and October 19, respectively. The third season of I Can See Your Voice and the new daytime drama, Bagong Umaga, premiered on both A2Z and Kapamilya Channel on October 24, and October 26, respectively. Before their A2Z debuts, public service programs, Paano Kita Mapasasalamatan and Iba ‘Yan, first premiered on Kapamilya Channel respectively on June 13, and 14.
On iWantTFC, more digital series—including the Boys’ Love series, Oh Mando!, the Erich Gonzales-starrer, La Vida Lena, Iza Calzado-led, Loving Emily—made successful debuts within the year. ABS-CBN’s film production outfits, Star Cinema and Blacksheep, led the country’s foray into producing digital movies (and series). Star Cinema premiered the horror film, U-Turn in November, and the web series, Four Bad Boys and Me, and the digimovie series, The House Arrest of Us, in September and November, respectively. Its sister film outfit, Blacksheep, on the other hand, produced and released the highly-successful, boys’ love series, ‘Hello Stranger‘. Recently, Star Cinema released BL film, My Lockdown Romance, while the release of ‘Boyette: Not A Girl Yet’ and Four Sisters Before the Wedding are expected in the first week of December.
Several long-running programs made incredible milestones in 2020, including the Sunday noontime musical-variety show, ASAP Natin To, which turned 25 on February 5. Long-time primetime leader, FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano celebrated its 5th anniversary on September 28, while Maalala Mo Kaya is currently celebrating its 29th year.
The Future of ABS-CBN
ABS-CBN’s largely gloomy year is expected to clear out as new leadership in Congress is showing signs that may enable the embattled media giant to get its coveted new franchise in 2021. That being said, the future is looking better now for the Kapamilya Network, than what it was in the last 9 months. Future expansion and strengthening of its current platforms are deemed necessary to ensure its continued dominance online and on other digital platforms.
ABS-CBN also set its sights overseas, aggressively pushing its content to foreign markets and forging partnerships with other production and distribution companies such as GMM-TV for future collaborations.