What the nation had lost with Congress’ denial of the ABS-CBN’s franchise extension for another 25 years was not the programs the people had grown accustomed to watching for more than half their lives. It’s the technology the network had invested in for decades that is now laid to waste.
For any risk taker willing to take over the now available bandwidth that only Congress can grant, it will take years — even decades — before his dream network can achieve what ABS-CBN had done in the more than 30 years that it provided the nation with news and entertainment programs.
It should be ready to spend so much money, too, if a company or a consortium would want to be close to what ABS-CBN had done in its again abbreviated life.
The network is the largest in the country with a 44 percent share in public viewership, according to Kantar Media. Its closest pursuer is GMA Network, which has 33 percent. The third media player, TV5, was still struggling to increase its share of viewership to double figures as of last year.
Congress’ decision against further granting ABS-CBN with a free-to-air franchise was a political one. It was clear when House Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta stated that Congress can decide against the franchise even if the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Securities and Exchange Commission and other government agencies had exculpated the network from any violation.
If Congress says no, it’s no. And Marcoleta was right.
If Congress does not want to listen to reason, then it could elect not to. Marcoleta was right, alright.
Congress is right if we are to box that decision on the mere technicalities of its role. Its members live in a box anyway, restricted by their own wants, needs, ambitions and survival.
It’s too late now to save ABS-CBN. Its owners can fend for themselves. Its displaced employees are the biggest losers in this game. Being out of work at this time of a global crisis will be too hard to bear for them and the people they support.
The network’s exit, however, will drag the shift to digital programming. ABS-CBN had been the pioneer and anchor of that technological transformation that put the country’s broadcast system at par with the others.
Japan is of help in this transformation. But ABS-CBN risked so much in embracing the technology since a migration from analog television to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) was made possible through NTC Memorandum Circular 07-12-2014.
It was the new rules and regulations for DTT broadcast services for the industry to keep pace with developments in technology and ensure the competitiveness of Philippine broadcasting.
ABS-CBN quickly introduced the digital box, a gadget that converts digital signal to make it compatible with old televisions as it waited for years before digital TV units became available and widely used.
The old technology it left will be freed up for telecoms use.
The new technology also gave ABS-CBN extra channels. It dedicated one for sports, another for its educational programs, one for entertainment and another for its radio news programs.
The new technology is also aimed at providing the government with a venue for faster transmission of information and warnings in case of disasters and even pandemics. ABS-CBN was a player in those concerns before its shutdown.
Those once granted to ABS-CBN are the same privileges now enjoyed by the other networks.
It is only now that GMA, its closest rival, is trying to distribute its own digital box. A late player, GMA hopes to cash in on the vacuum left by the now defunct premier broadcast network.
Last we heard, there will be a mandatory shut-off of analog television services in a couple of years. That would mean five percent of the 15 million Filipino households with TV sets but without access to digital television.
That would deny them of information and entertainment for a long time, unless the government subsidizes the sale of digital TV sets. The Philippine government does not have the capacity to do it at this time, though. The Department of Information and Communications Technology, however, thinks the government will have to step in with financial support.
It will be a big burden for the government if it does so. It could not even properly maintain its provincial TV and radio operation in, say, Batanes where its station has been dead for many months now. The government would need private support to make efficient the dissemination of information, especially during these trying times.
Even the National Capital Region is still behind with this advancement. Only 70 percent of its residents have access to digital TV.
Now, we have a lot of catching up to do.