40 years later: The evolution of Viva and how it stayed in the game

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Nov 11 2021 10:53 PM | Updated as of Nov 12 2021 01:06 AM

Courtesy of Vincent del Rosario
Vic del Rosario (right) founded Vicor Music with Orly Ilacad (left), with Pilita Corrales (middle) as one of its major artists. Courtesy of Vincent del Rosario

Call it “idolatry,” the way Viva Communications president and CEO Vincent del Rosario, terms it on how he regards his dad, Vic del Rosario or fondly Boss Vic, as his role model.

“If I can retrace his steps from the time he started Vicor with Tito Orly [Ilacad] with only P2,000, ang sarap,” Del Rosario told ABS-CBN News. “Nag-usap ang mag-pinsan. Si Tito Orly was a popular band leader at that time for The Ramrods.”

Del Rosario was born on the year his dad and Ilacad put up Vicor in 1966. They had P1,000 capital, respectively. Ilacad had a background in the entertainment industry, while the senior Del Rosario had none.

“My dad was telling us he was forced to look for something worthwhile to do and he was under pressure because he already had a kid,” Del Rosario disclosed.

“He had no background in entertainment. But in 1981, he started Viva Films. Nataon lang that he had a star whom he believed in and he bet the house on it.

“If ‘P.S. I Love You’ didn’t make it with Sharon Cuneta, tapos na. My dad said, ‘I’m done with one movie. Balik na ako sa music’.”

The success of Viva Films was sustained and the production of successful movies continued.

“Nasuwertihan naman ‘yun at nagpatuloy,” Del Rosario asserted. “Several years later, pumasok na si Robin [Padilla], Andrew E. Na-sustain nila ‘yung momentum. Then, Regine [Velasquez], Sarah [Geronimo] and Anne [Curtis] came.”

This year, Viva is marking its four decades in the entertainment industry. Worth remembering in its milestones was how it transitioned to making movies from Vicor, even when the senior Del Rosario didn’t have any prior experience in producing films.

The son never worked anywhere else. Straight out of high school in 1986, he started to work for the family business.

“On the fifth year of Viva, my dad was saying, ‘Ang lapit ng school mo sa office, Escolta,” Del Rosario recalled. “San Beda ako nag high school.

“After classes, punta ka ng Sta. Cruz at Escolta. Katok-katok ka doon sa mga opisina. Bibigyan kita ng mga kokontakin.’ Sa kanya, he felt part of it was foresight. Mamili tayo ng mga pelikula from other producers.”

The mandate to Del Rosario was clear. “With technology happening, at that time Betamax pa lang. Nagulat ako. ‘Mamili ka ng video rights, TV rights from other producers.’

“Ang mindset ng producers, cinema ang revenues. Nakikita ko ‘yung time na ang cinema, hindi enough to generate return on your investment.”

So his dad asked Del Rosario to acquire films from other local producers. “What we were producing, which was less than 10 a year at that time, was not enough,” Del Rosario shared.

“Just like in music, my dad was running Vicor with Tito Orly. My dad was saying the value of a content company is its library. In the same manner, Vicor became a strong business for the family. It had the biggest library at that time. He wanted to replicate the library of Vicor.”

Even if he had a lot of things on his hands, everything was still apparently not seriously sinking in with the young Del Rosario then.

He was simply a good disciple. “Basta utos, sinusunod ko,” he said. “I guess that was a good excuse not to be active in school work.”

After 1 o’clock, when he was finished in school, Del Rosario would head to Escolta, where Viva had a small booking office in the eighties.

“I would be given a list by the secretary from my dad. ‘Ito ang mga producers na pinapupuntahan ng daddy mo.’ There were a lot of independent producers at that time. Alaga nila ako because I could bring in additional revenues for them."

“Eventually, in five years, we bought 500 local titles. If you look at our library, there were 60 percent movies that we produced, the 40 percent, we acquired from other producers."

“Good enough because up to now, those movies are still part of what we are offering at Vivamax and before, sa PBO [Pinoy Box Office] cable channel. That was the job that I started with.”

After a year of doing the rounds at Escolta and Sta. Cruz, Del Rosario was confronted by his dad. “He said, ‘Tulungan mo na lang ako. Nakikita ko ang grades mo, nadidismaya lang ako.’ I was a freshman all my college life. I never got to finish college.”

He had no salary printed in black and white from the onset. “I was given a gasoline allowance,” he bragged. “For every movie that I was able to acquire, I was given P1,000. Maybe that was my incentive na huwag na akong mag-aral.”

Del Rosario is the eldest in a brood of four children that includes Veronique, Valerie and VR. The youngest is assigned to the family’s food business.

“On Sundays, the talk in family lunch was not what you will take up in school, but what’s happening in the music industry or what is happening to our artists. We were indoctrinated early on.”

On weekends, Del Rosario and his siblings would trek to record bars with their dad, simply observing what he was doing.

Vincent del Rosario. Handout
Viva Communications President and CEO Vincent del Rosario. Handout

“With dad, seven days a week, 24/7 ang work,” Del Rosario allowed. “Up to now, kahit pandemic, he would go around in malls to check on our restaurants, kasi close pa ang mga movie houses.”

As children, not one of them was really obliged to help in the family business. “We were only given one mandate, never get into the creative side of the business,” Del Rosario maintained.

So, in filmmaking, they were not allowed to get into directing. “He told us to look at it as a business, not a creative outlet. Unang una, wala kaming K [karapatan] na maging artista."

“Even in making decisions on what to greenlight or what to approve, he will always say, ‘You know, ‘yung trophy case natin sa office – it was just in a small wall – happy na ako na huwag ng lumaki ‘yan.

“Kasi, kapag nadadagdagan ‘yan, isa lang ang ibig sabihin. Nahihilig kayo sa arts. Let us give Pinoys happiness and enjoyment through our content.’ That was the mindset. Down the line, even to our employees, that was what we are always thinking."

“Ano ang papanoorin sa SM or sa mga probinsiya. We were comfortable with that. Walang pretensions na awards.”

That Del Rosario didn’t get to finish college, because he started to work immediately for the family business, is not something to crow about.

“I always tell him, ‘Alam mo dad, wala akong misgiving na hindi ako nakatapos.’ In the same manner, my dad only finished high school. Working with him, parang nag-Phd [doctorate] na ako."

“Then he said, ‘Oo nga. Nag-doctorate ka na sa akin, okay na ‘yan. Importante ‘yung mga anak mo. All my three kids, they’re done with school. Quota na ako. Pero araw-araw, ganu’n pa din naman. Turo-aral.”

Through the years, Del Rosario has consistently been a good soldier. “If he asked me to do something, even if sometimes, I disagree, I find wisdom to still do it,” he said.

“I keep it to myself. Then later on, I will tell him, Alam mo dad, nu’ng sinabi mo ‘to, medyo kontra ako. But since I’m under your employ, I deliver what you ask. Gagawin ko ‘yun.

“I guess I always have a hard time contradicting him, especially in front of other people during meetings. Then if he asks me, on a personal call, when he asks me to call him up, I will suggest, Dad, baka pwedeng ganito.”

On his biggest disagreement with his dad, Del Rosario said his dad has the habit of nurturing people or associates that have their respective agenda.

“Sometimes, if I notice that if that agenda contradicts the agenda of the office, I will disagree. I will sit down and tell him about it.”

Admirably, his dad has kept an open-door policy all these years. Literally. “When you go to Viva, you’ll see his office, it’s always open. No need for a meeting or an appointment. Pasok ka na."

“Or if ever wala ka naman appointment and he’s talking to someone, he will just tell his secretary, pahintayin mo, harapin ko later.”

Through history, Viva’s Boss Vic is also “very forgiving,” observed his son. “To those who wronged us, at the end of the day, he will always tell us, ‘Kapag wala ‘yan, hindi tayo nakapag simula ng maayos. Hindi tayo nakatagal kung suplado tayo sa mga kasama.”

Courtesy of Vincent del Rosario
Viva founder Vic del Rosario. Courtesy of Vincent del Rosario

Family always comes first. That’s what Boss Vic always instills to Del Rosario. “When we do our work, when we run the business, we will always think about what is good for the next generation."

“Now that the new generation is working for us, is this good for the families of our employees? We always look into that.”

There was nothing major that his dad did that Del Rosario disagreed with. “I toed the line,” he acknowledged. “As siblings, we just toed the line. We sink or swim. We owe it to him to listen, follow and abide by his rules.

“In instances that we will have partners or there is opportunity to have a partner in Viva, my dad will always say, ‘Baka maganda we should grow the offer rather than accept it right away.’"

“Maingat na maingat siya. I guess that’s why we remained in private hands for a long time. In this business, we are not answerable except to ourselves.”

There is a plan, however, for Viva to go public in the succeeding years. “When it happens, we will be in the scrutiny of our shareholders,” Del Rosario explained. “Sa ngayon, wala pa. We have a plan to go public, but in the right timing perhaps.”

In the 10 ten years, Del Rosario expects one or two of their business units to go public. “So dad can enjoy the value ng pinagpaguran niya,” the eldest son said.

Viva hopes to go public before the company reaches its golden year. “The past five years, urong-sulong. Hopefully matuloy, kasi ‘yun ang dream ni dad.”

Last January, Viva started the streaming site, Vivamax, which is now available in 70 territories after only eight months. “Some were even our competitors, but they all extended a helping hand to help push this Filipino streaming site that is very new.

“Nakakatuwa. Nagkampi-kampi. At the time that we launched, walang sinehan. Maraming tumulong sa amin, nagbigay ng content, nag-lisensiya produkto.”

Three years ago, Vivamax was already in the planning stage. It was simply fast-tracked because of the pandemic.

Courtesy of Vincent del Rosario
Viva founder Vic del Rosario. Courtesy of Vincent del Rosario

“We were contented just licensing to other platforms because we have so many movies,” Del Rosario said.

“I think before we started Vivamax, we were the biggest supplier of Filipino content to Netflix. Then, when the pandemic happened, my dad felt it was time to launch Vivamax because consumer behavior might pivot.”

His dad pointed out to Del Rosario that when they started on cable TV, the ones dominating the market were the foreign channels. “You talk of HBO, ESPN, CNN. But through the years, PBO and Cinema One came into view.

“When you look at the survey the past two years, it’s all local. In the rural market, the provinces, you will see that preference will shift to local content which is more relatable.”

The success of Viva is that the company was able to marry artists management with the content that it produces.

“Many producers are reliant on artists that they borrow from talent agencies,” Del Rosario said. “We didn’t want to be dependent on borrowing. Maganda sa amin, is we have our talent roster, then doon ka maglaro.”

Today, the continued relevance of Viva extends to its other successful subsidiaries and not just limited to one aspect of the entertainment industry. Aside from film, there are recording, cable, music, artist’s management.

“The biggest hit ngayon sa Pilipinas, outselling the combination of BTS and Coldplay, is ‘yung song ni Arthur Neri,” Del Rosario informed. “His “Pagsamo” is a big hit.”

Viva Artists Agency (VAA) has around 400 talents to date. Meanwhile, they also have 600 talents in Oomph, where they basically handle influencers, the biggest names on YouTube, the stars in the digital world, although not all of them are household names.

“So that’s a thousand combined,” Del Rosario beamed. Passing on the baton to Del Rosario and mentoring the son did not prove to be that hard for the dad.

“In a selfish way, he will always say, ‘Kaya mo ‘yan. Dito kami, alalay na lang sa ‘yo. We’re your caddies.’ I think it adds years to my dad. It makes him younger when he’s active in work."

“Nakikita ko kapag holiday, especially long weekend, para siyang lalagnatin kapag walang trabaho. That’s his lifeblood. We feed off on that. We encourage him. It makes him young. Pero ang hirap. He’s still the last person to leave Viva kapag pumasok siya sa office. "

“Before the pandemic, he had three holidays within the year to travel out of the country with the family. He did it in batches.”

The biggest lesson that Del Rosario learned from his dad, “He always tells me, ‘Hindi masamang magkamali, because you learn from your mistakes. Ang masama, ulitin mo ang pagkakamali na ‘yan. Magagalit na ako sa ‘yo.’

“It’s about learning from your mistakes and being adventurous. That’s the only way you can expand your opportunities, if you get out of the box."

“Like Vivamax. If you will look at it, there was no need for us to launch it. We get good revenues from Netflix. But you control the highway and you control your destiny. We still launched Vivamax. I guess the pay-off will come soon."

“For now, abonado pa kami. But we’re happy with the numbers. We hit a million subscribers in eight months. We are launching in North America and Canada on Thanksgiving.”

For the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) this December, Viva is fielding two films – director Lawrence Fajardo’s action-drama “A Hard Day,” an adaptation of a South Korean action-thriller with Dingdong Dantes and John Arcilla; and director Fifth Solomon’s “The Exorcism of My Sizsums,” with sisters Toni and Alex Gonzaga.

Del Rosario knows Viva needs to wrap up the production of content or discover artists. “We have to work hard to make our company relevant."

“Kahit sabihin mo your last movie was a hit, bukas, wala nang value ‘yun. Nakalimutan na ng tao. You have to create another hit, another exciting artist. That’s the game."

“We have a very strong work force and people in the industry helping us through thick and thin. I think the next few years will be very exciting for us, for the family.”