I am not going to discuss the impact the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise has on the general public. What more can be said about that that has not already been said.
I am not even going through the pain of knowing that so many of my friends have packed their belongings and left their work stations at the Eugenio Lopez Jr. Building as the network officially shuts down its commercial TV operations.
Not only that: all the other ancillary business of the Lopez network have also ceased operations as the drastic streamlining of operations would only be limited to those necessary for the remaining production units to function. That means Sagip-Pelikula (the ABS-CBN Film Restoration Program), various units of production and, yes, even Bantay Bata in the regional branches have been shut down together with the News and Current Affairs.
I will not even dare estimate a head count of how many people have lost their jobs today.
I am not only talking about the regular employees of the network. I am also referring to the freelancers who also make a living on contractual jobs whether acting, doing production work for regular or special projects, background talents ( it is politically incorrect to call them extras in the 21st century), caterers, vehicle rentals, etcetera, etcetera. Someone outside show business will never realize how many people make a living out of a single operational movie or TV set for all they see are the actors and maybe the director . They do not realize that a single unit of taping can give jobs to over a hundred people in a single day.
Multiply that by the number of shows that are on the pipeline and you can estimate how many entertainment industry workers earn their daily bread from productions.
Those exclusively or regularly affiliated with ABS-CBN have no more jobs --- some by tomorrow, more even earlier when the franchise was officially turned down by Congress.
But the implications of this shutdown goes far beyond just the executives who were grilled in the august halls of Congress as kind of public purging to eventually justify the decision of seventy members of the Lower House. The closure of ABS-CBN is not only about ABS-CBN but an entire industry --- and again their ancillary businesses.
Bluntly put, the shutdown has affected the advertising industry as well. It does not necessarily mean that just because ABS-CBN closed down that all the commercials which used to be fielded in that station would necessarily go to its closest competitor. That is downright simplistic thinking and GMA7 knows that as well. In the age of the worldwide web, the so-called era of digital content has come even before the politics of shutting down tv stations came into being.
In other words, even before the non-renewal of franchise, commercials have slowly but consistently --- and now exponentially --- been moving towards alternative platforms for their product placements, announcements and events. That is, it is far cheaper to put up commercials in the digital platform than commercial/free tv which reached up to more than half a million pesos for thirty seconds on a high prime time show. Consider how much it is to rent a billboard or maybe plaster a humongous poster at the back of a bus (which has more audience exposure during the height of traffic) or even flash videos in LED monitors lining up EDSA. Even before 31 August 2020, advertisers have already been moving to the cheaper and more accessible alternative.
This, in turn, has also affected the cost of productions of commercials as well.
The branding pang-digital naman simply means the client plonking in far less the amount than what would be spent if it were for commercial TV or even as an attachment prior to the screening of a movie.
Maybe worse is the fact that the closure of ABS-CBN had to happen now. Now means the present progressive of 2020 --- when, as I have said, the world is at the doorstep of a possible economic meltdown brought about by the pandemic. Now is perhaps the worst of times for people to lose jobs ... not only the so many thousands cited by the network but the other businesses as well that depend on the productions. The number of people yanked out of jobs is saddening but then this is not the be all and end all of the arguments. Great numbers of businesses are closing down ... and that means adding to the cracking spine of the national economy trying to survive this worldwide catastrophe.
So what does that mean?
The funny part is that people do not understand that it is all about the economy. Sure, we are so used to (and even excited about) the battle of networks for ratings --- as to who is really Numero Uno. But at this point that has become immaterial --- since the playing field has been left to a Significant One and an Aspiring Second. With the closure of one of the two major networks, that often overplayed battle between the Kapamilyas and the Kapusos has become somewhat irrelevant at this point. The playing field is no longer even.
As a further result of that, network branding of actors and actresses may also cease to have any significance. That is already being revealed by the rise of narrative series via streaming platforms where popularity is no longer based on network marketing and branding but by novelty and association with content. For instance, the popular BL (Boy Love) Series possessing substantial audience interest features non-stars who gain their popularity because of the shows they can be found --- and not the other way around.
In the digital world, the impressive stature of a star in mainstream media does not bear that much importance if at all --- because the digital audience is more concerned about the impact of content (in short term entertainment) rather than the value of highly paid and marketed celebrity.
Admittedly, the stars of the past three decades were products of network discovery, development and boosting. But now with the kind of multi-platform exposure received by the digital celebrities --- whether they are the influencers famous for being famous --- or the celebrity professionals ( the chefs, beauty experts, comedians --- populating the solar system of vloggers, podcasters and YouTube /Instagram Tik Tok sensations), pop stardom is gradually being redefined.
Considering the cost of production, highly paid stars are no longer viable for digital productions which carry budgets barely half the price of regular mainstream products. Again, we are plagued with the pang digital stigma --- which means much lower budgets and with reason: there is still no solid business model that can define how you can make money out of these materials not unless they are sold outright or for a period of time to a platform after a much wider release.
To reiterate, it is all about the economy. And we wish we can remain hopeful as we see the kind of collapse and closures of businesses all over ... not only in our country but all over the world. To make a headcount of the number of business enterprises --- some almost iconic because of their years of existence --- that declared bankruptcy is more heartbreaking than dismaying. Considering the way things are going, it is going to get worse before it gets any better.
What does this all mean? Why is today so significant in the landscape of Philippine media?
Because of the short and long term repercussions of the closure of a major network in our country as the economy is taking a major beating. Because of the consequences brought about by seventy congressmen who voted against the franchise because of a citation of violations by the management of the network insisting on its moral high ground setting aside the backlash to the economy ... more so, adding to the already growing number joining the ranks of the unemployed at the start of an economic dystopia.
But again, I am looking at the other possibilities. With ABS-CBN literally arm twisted to migrate to digital platform alternatives, could all these be a blessing in disguise? Could the move of the network to find digital avenues actually usher in what has been long predicted as the scenario for by-demand, portable and non-structured short term entertainment ? Could this fast track the growth of streaming venues --- with Filipino creatives challenged to redefine their narratives to a completely different mindset and for an evolving audience?
Could this also mark the start of the decline of free TV as less and less money is funneled into commercials which is the life blood of any commercial network ? I mean, you can boast of highest ratings but if you do not have sufficient advertisers to prop up your expenses of running a network then ... all those sparkling digits suggesting audience share mean nothing. It is still and will always be about the money and not how many are glued to the TV screen.
The seventy congressmen did not see that ... nor did they foresee how a single legislative decision can and may transform the entire landscape of entertainment of the Filipino people.
As I said in my Facebook shoutout: we are living in the most interesting times.
Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.