Felipe Gozon on the new TV, the challenges

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - November 23, 2020 - 12:00am

Felipe L. Gozon built GMA-7 into the most outstanding network today. The largest broadcasting company in the country, it has 52 TV stations and a total of more than 80 million viewers nationwide.

GMA’s credibility as a source of news is magnified by the growing presence of fake news. This TV is also becoming a major instrument in education due to the closure of schools.

I asked Felipe L. Gozon (Henry), what now? Here is his response:

The pandemic showed that people will tune in to trusted sources of news in whatever platform that is available to them. Over the past few months, we’ve seen our viewership on digital platforms such as YouTube and Facebook soar, with our rankings reaching No. 5 worldwide in May 2020 – higher than many international news outlets such as CNN, BBC and Fox News – because Filipinos here and abroad could not get enough of news content amid the lockdowns. The livestream of our flagship newscast “24 Oras” remains the most watched on digital platforms every night.

Television is more than ever needed at the time of pandemic because it allows people to be informed and involved in helping combat COVID-19 in the country. GMA’s present reach is more than adequate for the Filipino masses to access and the daily broadcasts of news updates and entertainment programs somehow ease people’s suffering for staying at home during the community quarantine period or for not being able to go to work.

Among many other things, the pandemic has also taught us to reimagine the workplace. Out of necessity, the COVID crisis has forced us to discern which work activities need to be done in the same physical space with other people and which can be just as effectively, and more safely, done at home. This may have the consequence of creating new work production models that will continue even after the pandemic is over.

Working remotely or at home is possible because technology enables us to efficiently communicate with colleagues, including the myriad Zoom meetings many of us attend.

While people are increasingly going online, we’re still seeing people choosing to watch free-to-air television, with the wider reach of the digital television signal. Case in point: 24 Oras remains our most-watched primetime program even though the livestream is available for viewing online.

What we’ve found is that people use online increasingly for catching up; more than half of the viewership of our newscasts online come on demand, that is, watch them after the live airing.

In the Philippines where subscribed TV viewing remains smaller as compared to free-TV viewing, there is more potential for development in the latter as more are reached by digital terrestrial TV (DTT) broadcasting. The technology provides clear images and quality sound, but also additional channels, offering more choices for the viewing public.

The development in the next few years will come in the form of content creation and innovation, maybe not yet in content distribution.  Our creative teams have been reminded that it will no longer be going back to pre-COVID normal and that it is all about going back to life.  We have to be able to tell stories that excite our audience and make them emotional and brave to face the new, different life.

At present, television remains one way. There is no feedback mechanism in place that can help us know our audiences better. We need to rely on panel-based surveys.  If direct feedback was possible, operators like us will be able to serve our audiences better by, for example, serving them content, and even advertising, that they are more likely to find relevant based on information that we have gathered on a per viewer level instead of through sampling.

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TV cannot be a good substitute for the classroom experience because of the absence of effective interaction between teacher and student. But TV can complement the various approaches in “blended education,” the combination of online and offline methodologies that the Department of Education has mandated for schools.

Teaching teenagers is also a daily performance that, if done well, can approach the level of art, requiring not just knowledge but creative ways of retaining attention and motivating students to learn. With the production values of TV, creative teachers can be packaged to be educators on TV, complementing the modules where students can interact with their teachers. The best educational TV has always been entertaining.

TV is the most pervasive medium in the country, it is the most cost-efficient medium and it is the most popular. GMA has offered the DepEd airtime of  two of its Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) channels for free to help the government and the DepEd in its blended learning thrusts. One DTT channel is for elementary and another for high school. Those who have existing digital set-top boxes will be able to watch/use these DTT channels for free because we will not have the conditional access for these channels.

In the Philippines, the future of TV is more television –more television consumed in different platforms, more television formats, more television/video content materials. Unless the economy improves so that the upliftment of the economy is felt by farmers and fishermen and the lower economic class themselves, the local market will always be free-to-air television skewed. We have 7,100 islands, about more than 300 square kilometers of land area of which 41 percent is agricultural land (which continues to be underdeveloped so that we are now left behind even by Thailand and Vietnam).  Until these sectors see significant economic improvement, it will take longer for the country to move towards First World technology.

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We support and reward quality journalism so that the communication system produces quality information. There must also be continuing public pressure on the powerful social media platforms, especially Facebook, to face up to its responsibility not to allow the spread of falsehood, hate and threats of violence.

Meaningful criticism requires knowledge and good intention. You develop professionals with both qualities while they are still in school. We must do a better job of educating citizens and especially knowledge professionals like journalists.

We have no control over social media which is, sadly, fast becoming the go-to source of information by many. That is also where fake news proliferates. It is encouraging though to see that there are efforts from platform owners such as YouTube and Facebook to self-police. It will be interesting to see also how the government becomes involved.

What is within our control are media platforms that we operate. That is where we commit to ensuring content that we distribute remain current, reliable and factual.

Criticism done correctly can be made more meaningful. Keep it factual, make the objective known. And sincerely maintain positive intent when criticizing, as your audience can sense if you have constructive objectives or are just out to render damage on someone or on something. In the case of GMA, a communication company that is looked up to by many, the so-called Peter Parker (Spider-Man) principle applies: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Having the trusted reputation that it maintains, whereby people could take its messages, criticisms included, as gospel truth, criticisms definitely need to be made meaningful and purposeful.

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