Now off air, ABS-CBN once lauded in PH’s digital broadcast shift plan

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 29 2020 06:11 PM

A store-owner watches the final airing of TV Patrol moments before ABS-CBN signed off on May 5, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA—The Philippine government once touted shuttered broadcast network ABS-CBN for keeping pace with “rapidly evolving technologies” in a document that outlined the country’s shift to digital TV technology.

The Framework of the DTTB Migration Plan, which seeks to complete the transition from analog to digital transmission by 2023, described ABS-CBN as “the largest multimedia network in the country,” citing its “humble beginnings” and “undeniable successes” over 60 years.

DTTB refers to digital terrestrial television broadcasting, which provides viewers with “enhanced TV picture and sound quality” while allowing broadcasters to offer “broader” programs and services.

In 2013, the Philippine government picked the Japanese standard for such digital technology, owing to its lower cost and an emergency warning system.

“In the face of changing governments, despite natural disasters, and amid rapidly evolving technologies, ABS-CBN remains steadfast in its commitment to serve the Filipino,” the October 2017 document said. 

“The organization is continuously evolving to provide better service through radio, free TV, digital terrestrial TV, cable TV, film, movie, music, publishing, online, events, licensed products, cash remittance, and various advocacies.”

But some of these initiatives have riled a group of cable TV operators, which is calling on Congress to reject the network’s application for a new franchise.

The Federation of International Cable TV and Telecommunications Association of the Philippines (FICTAP) alleged that ABS-CBN’s TVplus product was “killing” the cable TV industry.

For a one-time purchase of this digital black box, formally known as a set-top box, viewers can experience clearer digital signal. It also offers a pay-per-view feature called Kapamilya Box Office (KBO) channel for select movies.

COST-EFFICIENT

FICTAP president Estrellita Juliano-Tamano has accused ABS-CBN of violating the terms of its previous franchise by introducing multiple channels, insisting on a supposed “one franchise, one channel” rule.

But the government’s own digital TV migration plan notes that digital transmission allows the “broadcast of multiple SDTV (standard definition TV) programs and/or in high definition TV” using an assigned 6 MHz TV bandwidth.

By harnessing the “cost-efficient” digital technology, broadcast companies can develop “new revenue streams” by offering “more programs and services and better-quality content,” according to the migration plan.

A 2014 National Telecommunications Commission circular also “encouraged” broadcasters to introduce new programs, including those in HD format, “in addition to the analog legacy program.”

“Talagang ini-encourage namin if you have this 6 MHz bandwidth,” said engineer George Tardio, a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) official who was in charge of the digital migration plan under former Secretary Rodolfo Salalima.

Tardio acknowledged that cable TV operators would naturally raise concerns over products, such as ABS-CBN’s digital black box. 

But he said the DICT was “not remiss in our consultations and collaboration” with groups such as FICTAP.

As of late last year, ABS-CBN has sold around 9 million TVplus units, which were rolled out in 2015.

HOUSE HEARING

FICTAP’s allegations are expected to be tackled in detail in forthcoming joint hearings of the House committees on legislative franchises and good government.

The NTC shut down ABS-CBN last May 5, a day after its original 25-year franchise expired, despite a renewal application that had been pending in the House of Representatives since 2014.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano finally called for a committee hearing last May 26 with only 5 session days left before Congress goes on break.

Cayetano, however, said congressmen could continue hearings before session resumes on July 27. 

“We will listen to the facts as they are presented and weigh the opinions as they are given,” he said at Tuesday’s hearing.