ABS-CBN shares fall after Villar-led media firm bags idle frequencies

Ramon Royandoyan - Philstar.com
ABS-CBN shares fall after Villar-led media firm bags idle frequencies
This view shows the ABS-CBN network headquarters in Quezon City in the Metro Manila area on May 5, 2020. The Philippines' top broadcaster ABS-CBN on May 5 was ordered off the air over a stalled operating licence renewal, drawing fresh charges that authorities were cracking down on press freedom.
AFP / Maria Tan

MANILA, Philippines — Shares in ABS-CBN Corp. skidded on Wednesday after regulators awarded two frequencies previously held by the former broadcast giant to another media company owned by tycoon Manuel Villar Jr.

ABS-CBN stocks lost 10.14% to close at P12.76 apiece as investors reacted to news that the National Telecommunications Commission allowed Villar-owned Advanced Media Broadcasting System Inc. to operate channels 16 and 2 — two iconic frequencies that ABS-CBN lost after Congress denied the network’s application for a new 25-year broadcast license.

The NTC, in a statement on Tuesday, said it initiated an order promulgated back on January 5 to grant Advanced Media a provisional authority to "install, operate, and maintain" a digital TV broadcasting system in Metro Manila using frequency Channel 16, ABS-CBN’s old digital frequency.

The award also granted Advanced Media’s request for a simulcast, albeit temporary, over Channel 2, the historic spectrum where ABS-CBN’s free TV programs had been seen by millions of Filipino viewers for decades before the precious broadcast asset was recalled.

The NTC did not respond to Philstar.com’s text messages and phone calls as of reporting.

"This temporary assignment is for simulcast purposes only, and only until the analog shut-off scheduled in 2023,” the NTC said in its statement. “The temporary assignment was granted to ensure service to both analog and digital TV signal users as the country transitions to digital TV.”

The development was first reported by Bilyonaryo.com. As it is, broadcast spectrum is a limited public resource and the NTC’s decision would make it hard for ABS-CBN to regain the frequencies it lost during its painful shutdown, which was a first since the Marcos dictatorship. In 2020, legislators allied with President Rodrigo Duterte at the House of Representatives killed ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal bill at the committee level.

But for Luis Limlingan, head of sales at local brokerage Regina Capital, the transfer of frequencies to Advanced Media is unlikely to affect the Lopez-led network’s financial performance since ABS-CBN already found a way to keep its shows airing.

ABS-CBN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"The question is will income be affected, I don't think that will be the case. If the stock price reflects the profitability of the company then the selling could be irrational or out of emotion," Limlingan said in a Viber message.

"Right now, so long as programs are intact, viewers will be watching, ads will be there. I don't know what their [ABS-CBN] ideas will be moving forward, but it will be interesting to see how they can improve company's operations," Limlingan added.

Terry Ridon, convenor at infrastructure think-tank Infrawatch PH, said "investor confidence will be dampened with this development."

"It diminishes the investment objectives of the amendments to the Public Service Act, as this action shows serious political risk on future investments in the Philippines," Ridon said in a commentary. "The way forward now is for the media entities to step back from the award and wait for a new government to provide fresh mandates on the ABS-CBN question."

Villar shares up

Meanwhile, shares in listed firms controlled by Villar, the country’s richest man and a major backer of Duterte, saw gains on Wednesday, bucking losses in the main index.

AllDay Marts Inc. jumped 1.69% during the morning trade while Vista Land and Lifescapes Inc. rose 1.44%. Vistamalls Inc. was the biggest winner after rallying 17.86% at the end of midweek trading.

AllHome Corp., however, was down 1.72%.

Last year, Advanced Media was sold to Villar’s Planet Cable Inc., a multi-system operator offering cable-TV services, cable-internet and digital video broadcast. The media company secured a fresh 25-year license in 2019.

Congress approved the transfer of control over Advanced Media to Planet Cable in 2021. The NTC said Advanced Media was "the first applicant" that wanted to be granted authority to install, maintain, and operate digital TV services in Metro Manila way back on Oct. 5, 2006, adding that the company has been "waiting" for an available digital TV frequency since 2006.

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