Friday, January 25, 2008



The Ratings War

By Edmund L. Sicam

It is a battle that is being waged with the same intensity as the cola wars (Coke vs. Pepsi) and the fight for supremacy between the leading cellphone companies (Smart vs Globe).

We’re talking about the network war between ABS-CBN and GMA 7. The objective: high ratings which translate into a heftier slice of the multi-billion peso advertising pie. Although the industry includes other players, the two are considered as the main protagonists.

ABC 5, under the old management, has concentrated more on canned shows and has not really created much of a dent in the market. It remains to be seen whether the takeover of Tonyboy Cojuangco will make the station more competitive. NBN 4 is the government station and concentrates on projecting the different projects of the Arroyo administration. Its main source of revenues is the professional basketball coverage.

Channel 11 is owned by the Jesus is Lord religious group and earns revenues mostly from block timers. RPN 9 and IBC 13 are government-sequestered stations so advertisers are hesitant to commit long-term support until they are privatized

For quite a while, ABS-CBN had a commanding lead over GMA. The latter was content to be a strong number two. Ironically, GMA was the number one station during the martial law era in the 70s under the stewardship of current ABS-CBN chief operating officer Freddie Garcia. When the Lopezes got back ABS-CBN after the Edsa Revolt in 1986, the late Geny Lopez was able to convince Garcia to return to his mother station. It was Garcia who lifted ABS-CBN from the cellar to the top of the heap after only a few months on the job.

When Felipe Gozon took over the reins at GMA a few years ago, he told his team that he was no longer content being the runner-up in the lucrative business. His objective was to regain market leadership and trounce ABS-CBN. This meant committing more funds to the station’s operations so that it could produce more local shows and improve its facilities.

The initial strategy was a sneak attack into non-primetime shows, the morning and afternoon slots which ABS-CBN seemed to have neglected. Since GMA already dominated the noontime slot with its variety show Eat Bulaga, the network enticed its viewers to continue watching beyond the noontime slot with soaps and telenovelas.

As early as 5 a.m., GMA was already on the air with “Unang Hirit” which was followed by soaps and a talk show for women. That strategy seems to have worked. Although ABS-CBN continued its domination of primetime, GMA was slowly inching in on the market leader in the non-primetime slots.

The battle then turned to the primetime slots. With the slowdown in the production of movies for the big screen, the two leaders discovered that many of the top stars could be lured to appear in daily soaps, something unthinkable in previous years.

Even topflight directors like Joel Lamangan and Joyce Bernal were amenable to doing TV. ABS-CBN and GMA increased their budgets for what they called teleseryes or telesines. Previously, soaps were simple productions where scenes for a whole week were shot in a day in a studio. On Flordeluna for instance, the characters would just talk on for minutes on end to while the airtime away.

Those days have changed. Soaps are now shot on location and big names like Christopher de Leon, Eddie Garcia, Lorna Tolentino, Robin Padilla, Judy Ann Santos are the main attractions. Elements from movies like explosions, helicopter shots and simple special effects have also been added to make them more attractive.

There was a time when Latin soaps known as telenovelas were in vogue. Credit RPN 9 for starting the telenovela fever with Marimar. Soon both ABS-CBN and GMA rode on the telenovela bandwagon and RPN-9 could not keep up with the leaders.

Recently, ABS-CBN experimented with a soap many dubbed the “chinovela” because it originated in Taiwan.” It was called Meteor Garden and featured the singing group F4.

Even the most optimistic executives of the network could not anticipate the tremendous response of the televiewers. Meteor Garden zoomed to the top of the charts and the Taiwanese heartthrobs over-took Thalia as the latest pop icons.

GMA could not take this lying down and soon bought its own “chinovela” to compete with Meteor Graden but it was obvious ABS won this round. Now Chinese-sourced soaps are outrating their Latin counterparts.

If Meteor Graden was a coup for ABS-CBN, GMA would have its share of victories. Maalaala Mo Kaya is a long-running drama series in ABS-CBN that dramatized supposedly original letters from viewers narrating true-to-life stories. The show gained a reputation as a showcase of the network’s directorial and acting talents. It was also rating quite high.

Then GMA decided to come up with a series called Magpakailanman, which dramatizes stories of real celebrities like activist-beauty queen Nelia Sancho and Sex Bomb dancer Rochelle Pangilinan. It is hosted by Mel Tiangco better known as the “Partner” of Jay Sonza and the newscaster on Front Page. Initially, it did not go against Maalaala Mo Kaya but when the ratings came in, the network knew it had a winner and aired it opposite Maalaala.

Although the ABS-CBN drama series was still ahead, Magpakailanman was only a few points behind. Because of the format’s success, even Maalaala Mo Kaya changed its approach so that it too came up with real-life stories of celebrities.

This is what the competition has done to the two leaders. When one network comes up with a successful show, the other has to come up with own to prove that it is the better network. We are reminded of Jollibee and McDonald’s. Once one puts up one outlet in a given location, the other has to follow suit.

The noontime slot has always been GMA’s pride and joy. Eat Bulaga, which is a co-production with Tony Tuviera’s TAPE has always outrated whatever ABS-CBN has to offer on the same slot. (Ironically, Eat Bulaga used to be on ABS-CBN.) In the early days, it was child star Aiza Seguerra who contributed greatly to the success of the show. These days, it’s the Sex Bomb Girls and their gyrating pelvises that have livened up the show.

Not to be outdone, ABS-CBN came up with Masayang Tanghali Bayan replacing Magandang Tanghali Bayan and its own set of gyrating dancers, the Gee Girls as well as sexy star Aubrey Miles and Fil-Austrian Cindy Kurleto. It also upped its prize in the game portion “Urong Sulong” to P2 million compared to Eat Bulaga’s P 1 million.

Willie Revillame, who was suspended years ago for his tasteless jokes on the old MTB, didn’t quite learn his lesson and continued with his naughty remarks. The regulatory body Movie, Television and Radio Classification Board (MTRCB) took notice and called the attention of ABS-CBN which promptly suspended the comedian as well as co-host John Estrada. Eat Bulaga would have its share of trouble from MTRCB. Joey de Leon had his own naughty encounter with a contestant and also got suspended.

This is what competition has done to the noontime show. One tries to outdo the other in terms of off-color humor hoping the MTRCB is not watching. There was a time when Eat Bulaga used the gimmicks of a foreign show Fear Factor to enhance its ratings.

Contestants were made to eat unappetizing delicacies like rats and cockroaches and that too prompted the MTRCB to issue a warning. That segment is no longer aired on Eat Bulaga.

The competition has also affected the stars of both networks. There have been “defections” on both sides although most of the defectors have gone from ABS-CBN to GMA. The idea being floated around is that the network has not treated them well. An ABS-CBN insider told us however that the network was only too glad to let go of these stars because they were no longer attracting ratings.

The network war has extended to non-programming issues. GMA has complained to the National Telecommunications Commission that Sky Cable, a sister company of ABS-CBN, is tampering with its signal especially during slots when their popular shows are aired, a charge strongly denied by Sky Cable. GMA launched a publicity effort that pictured the network as the underdog trying to fight a giant company.

Recently, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) suspended GMA for a show that featured Rosanna Roces engaging in a naughty segment with a guest. The network reacted by withdrawing from the organization. KBP is trying to find a way to get GMA back to the self-regulatory body of the radio-TV industry.

ABS-CBN has its own beef against its rival network. It has accused GMA broadcaster Mike Enriquez of saying on the air that ABS-CBN falsifies its ratings report printed in newspapers. The case has been elevated to the KBP.

So who is winning? ABS-CBN continues to be the market leader even as it acknowledges that GMA has improved a lot since the days when it was content to be No. 2. Meanwhile, expect more fireworks from both companies in their continuing effort to win the ratings war.

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