Closure bad for the economy

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

The shutdown of ABS-CBN is bad for the country and our economy. Shutting down may satisfy vengeful spirits of some politicians, but is definitely not in the national interest.

ABS-CBN is not your run-of-the-mill broadcast company. Shutting it down will set back the country’s broadcast industry (and our digital journey) by at least five years… maybe more.

Why? It is, after all, the only broadcast entity that has invested heavily in state-of-the-art technology.

ABS-CBN’s heavy investments in technology has made it the only link of government and commercial advertisers to many far-flung areas of the country. Some eastern coastal areas of Luzon hit by the last typhoon didn’t know it was coming because ABS-CBN had already been shut down by that time.

When it was shutdown, there were 80 million ABS-CBN viewers nationwide. There were also eight million TV Plus black boxes viewing ABS-CBN channels.

Additionally, over 250,000 pupils in far flung areas depend on Sky and Knowledge Channel for distance education. All of them and hundreds of thousands of households in the country no longer have access to TV or radio after the ABS-CBN shutdown since GMA does not reach them.

Major advertisers in our $3 billion ad industry felt the negative impact of the shutdown. “It’s like they removed 50 percent of the advertisers’ reach. This is a big impact for us,” one industry practitioner observed.

Citing data from a third-party research firm, the practitioner said millions just shut their televisions off after the shutdown, instead of switching to other channels after 8 p.m.

Internationally, ABS-CBN was also the only network that invested heavily to cover all areas of the globe where there are a lot of OFWs. The network’s news bureaus in the Middle East, Europe and North America keep the Filipino diaspora tuned in to the motherland.

In effect, the ABS-CBN bureaus abroad served as a second consulate for Filipinos to go to when in need. The bureaus also helped the embassies and consulates reach out to the Filipino communities in their areas.

ABS-CBN is a Filipino institution that impacts the economy. The large sums of money invested by ABS-CBN on its infrastructure will be a total loss to the economy in a shutdown. Writing off all of those would be a waste, given our country’s limited resources.

Furthermore, banks, other financial institutions and investors, will be negatively affected in a big way by a shutdown.

Since ABS-CBN is one of the larger taxpayers, a shutdown means a big loss for the National Treasury. The impact of job losses goes beyond the 11,000 staff as there are thousands more who provide all sorts of services for the company. At a time of a serious pandemic, every little bit counts in terms of taxes and jobs.

The bigger loss to the economy is losing a company whose culture of innovation is precisely what the country needs to move the economy faster.

ABS-CBN has invested big to continually improve its production values to world class standards. This allows it to penetrate an export market for Philippine-made telenovelas and movies.

We are showing telenovelas and movies in neighboring countries like Malaysia and Singapore, and also in Kenya and other African countries, and North America through The Filipino Channel.

Just recently, ABS-CBN inaugurated its Universal Studio-like soundstages in Bulacan so more of world class programs can be produced with the best quality and efficiency. No one else is making such large investments for the future of our local entertainment industry.

It should be easy to check the books of ABS-CBN and its competitors and see that ABS-CBN plows back much of its earnings into the business. Others mostly milk their public franchise for dividends to their owners. ABS-CBN invests for its long-term partnership with the Filipino people.

Investing in technology and people is in the DNA of ABS-CBN from the start. Again, check out the history of local broadcasting and see how ABS-CBN pioneered in such developments as color television.

Another example, the big dream of Geny was to broadcast nationwide. He calls it Bridges on the Air, just what our archipelagic country needs.

Just before martial law was declared, we were able to broadcast our newscast, The World Tonight, to Cebu at the same time it was being aired in Manila.

Here are some firsts by ABS-CBN:

First live news report via satellite; first regional newscast to be broadcast via satellite – Davao TV Patrol; first digital newsroom; first portable “manpack” microwave news system; the largest newsgathering group in the country; the first ENG (electronic news gathering) and SNG (satellite news gathering) trucks for news.

Ironically, it was this enthusiasm with new technology that some congressmen are now using against the network.

I remember during the first half of PNoy’s administration, I met several times with the current NTC commissioner who urged me to write convincingly about digital broadcasting so PNoy finally decided to adopt it. I did and again, ABS-CBN was the first to launch it.

In fairness to NTC commissioner Liel Cordova, he admitted that ABS-CBN did not violate the terms of its old franchise when it introduced multiple programs through its TVplus digital boxes. I am sure that’s not what some congressmen wanted to hear.

The strength of ABS-CBN is content production for which it does not need a franchise. It can become like Netflix or Disney and be accessed digitally on mobile phones. But because our broadband service is so inadequate, ABS-CBN still needs a franchise to reach most Filipinos on television.

Overall, the optics of shutting down ABS-CBN will be bad for the country. It will scare investors, particularly foreign, as this highlights a large political risk in doing business here. If our politicians can be so whimsical and vindictive to screw a national institution like ABS-CBN, what investor is safe?

Hopefully, there are enough sensible legislators who will see the value of ABS-CBN as a national asset that should not be thrown away because of petty politics. But based on the conduct of the hearings, we can only hope and pray hard.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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