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Could ABS-CBN Return as No.1? Here’s What History Reveals

Interestingly, the quest to reclaim the no.1 spot among television networks in the country, isn’t new to ABS-CBN.

Nearly one year, after losing its franchise, ABS-CBN remains miles away to recover what it lost. But much progress has been made, and as the media conglomerate takes it one day at a time to move forward, promises that it will once again hold its former glory rings more loudly.

In August 2004, after lording the rating game (and practically burying the competition for months) by starting both the Asianovela and Fantaserye crazes, in local television, ABS-CBN found itself caving to its nearest competitor, in ratings. Nearly two decades, after losing the no.1 spot to come-back ABS-CBN, GMA Network returned to its fighting form, and to its credit, it created miracles, flipping the battle to dominate Philippine television—one it lost for nearly two decades—to its favor.

Taken aback by the sudden turn of events, ABS-CBN entered an era where not just it was no longer dominating the local television landscape, it was also suffering some of its worst years, in terms of both ratings and ad revenue.

Former ABS-CBN Chief Executive Officer, Charo Santos, once admitted in a tell-all interview, that she almost abandoned her post, because of the losses the company sustained under her watch.

It was also because of Santos, that ABS-CBN managed to gain traction of its former glory, and eventually taking back its crown as the no.1 television network, in the Philippines. While GMA Network continued to reign in Mega Manila ratings in 2005, ABS-CBN began taking-off on the national charts, with low-budget programs, like Mga Angel Na Walang Langit. The company went back to making what it’s best at doing—teleserye. As GMA-7 concentrated more to producing fantasy-themed series, ABS-CBN offered Kampanerang Kuba, Ikaw Ang Lahat Sa Akin, Gulong ng Palad, and Bituing Walang Ningning.

The campaign resulted to a resounding success, as ABS-CBN programs slowly returned to AGB Nielsen NUTAM Charts. By the end of 2006, The Top 10 most-watched programs in the country, were all from ABS-CBN, a screaming testament to Kapamilya Network’s return to domination.

Interestingly, the quest to reclaim the no.1 spot among television networks in the country, wasn’t new to ABS-CBN. It can be recalled that following the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines, in 1972, ABS-CBN was among several media companies sequestered by the government. When the company was given back to the Lopezes in 1986, it took two more years, before it toppled the reigning GMA Network, as the no.1 tv channel, in the country.

Fast-forward to 30 years, ABS-CBN remained the country’s no.1 television network. It sustained and hurdled another grim milestone in its more than 60-year existence, which saw its rival station taking the lead. But it bounced back again, and for years, it showed no signs of getting unseated from the top. And then President Rodrigo Duterte happened.

On July 10, 2020, ABS-CBN officially lost its bid to remain on-air, when Congress voted to kill its franchise application intended to keep it on air, for the next twenty-five years. The impact of the network’s shutdown is unspeakably debilitating, not just to the network and its affiliated businesses, but also to the rest of the local entertainment industry where ABS-CBN maintained its status as one of its biggest drivers, by dominating television, recording, and film. It has, however, turned the tables for rival stations, especially GMA Network, which absorbed much of the ad spending ABS-CBN lost. For anyone who practically grew up watching ABS-CBN shows, the sudden turn of events could be both frightening and amusing.

Because ABS-CBN didn’t lose to GMA Network, solely due to poorly-performing programs, it was because the Kapamilya Network was no longer available to much of its audiences. ABS-CBN lost the battle overnight, and there was no rematch made available for it to redeem itself.

As GMA Network currently domineers the Philippine television, ABS-CBN remains far from recovering what is lost in the wake of its departure from tv competition. Now, still, without a valid legislative franchise in sight, could the Kapamilya Network still return to being the No. 1 station in the country?

With a franchise, yes. But without, very unlikely. While ABS-CBN may continue to expand its free television presence, via new block time deals, the possibility of reaching again its former bailiwicks outside Mega Manila, stays slim.

Both A2Z Channel 11 and TV5, have limited coverages, and while Kapamilya programs can still be accessed via pay-TV and digital platforms, an overwhelming chunk of its former audiences don’t have access to these media, which means free TV remains the cheapest and most accessible platform.

That being said, it is extremely important to underscore the current trend in Filipinos’ viewing habits, which suggests that the country’s been progressively shifting away from analog and other forms of traditional television. The pandemic has also shown that more and more viewers have been increasingly subscribing to streaming platforms in lieu of satellite and cable television, which means that the battle for free-TV supremacy may soon end.

As for ABS-CBN, which has recently made an incredible milestone on the video-sharing platform, Youtube, when it became the No.1 channel in Southeast Asia, the quest to dominate the digital space seems within reach. Outside Youtube, ABS-CBN production units have been relentlessly producing content for its other streaming platforms, producing both movies and web series, amidst the pandemic. With Youtube, alone, however—as it is for other media conglomerates—ABS-CBN finds a potent and thriving ecosystem to generate revenue.

It’s hard to convince that a strong social media presence, alone, can get ABS-CBN back to the top—at least not yet. But as the whole industry, itself, gets increasingly invested in exploring the various revenue-generating opportunities residing in the digital space, ABS-CBN gets even closer and closer to reclaiming its former glory. And while it may never be the No.1 tv network again, becoming the biggest media entity in the country—if not the whole South East Asia—seems to be a screaming possibility.

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