media industry

Romualdez’s Prime Media says joint venture with ABS-CBN only for radio, not TV

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Romualdez’s Prime Media says joint venture with ABS-CBN only for radio, not TV

HOUSE SPEAKER. Representative Martin Romualdez presides over the House session.

House of Representatives' Twitter

House Speaker Martin Romualdez's holding firm, Prime Media, says it 'recognizes the power of radio...due to its wide reach, affordability, and accessibility'

MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Martin Romualdez’s Prime Media Holdings Incorporated said on Monday, May 29 that its partnership with Lopez-led ABS-CBN Corporation is only for radio and not for free TV. 

In a disclosure with the Philippine Stock Exchange, publicly-listed Prime Media said its joint venture (JV) with ABS-CBN “will only produce and distribute radio content.” 

“The objective of the JV is to provide accurate and balanced news and information to the country and public service. The content produced by the joint venture will be distributed to radio, cable TV and other platforms, including the stations under Philippine Collective Media Company (PCMC). The business model is similar to various local studios and production companies but the content we will produce are not for free TV broadcast,” Prime Media president and chairman Manolito Manalo said.  

Sources earlier told Rappler that the joint venture company will be using the 630 kilohertz (kHz) frequency on the AM band previously used by ABS-CBN’s radio station DZMM. ABS-CBN anchor Karen Davila likewise said as much in a tweet last week, that TeleRadyo, one of two general news channels of ABS-CBN, would be shut down on June 30, 2023 “but DZMM will return on AM radio reaching millions of Filipinos once more.” 

“Prime Media recognizes the power of radio as a means to connect people, raise awareness, and influence positive social change due to its wide reach, affordability, and accessibility,” the company told the bourse.

Rappler called Manalo’s office, the Ocampo Manalo Valdez and Lim Law Firm or OMLAW where he is the managing partner, on Monday hoping to get more details on this latest disclosure and other information on the joint venture with ABS-CBN, but his secretary said he was “not interested.” 

One of Rappler’s articles last week said the joint venture could choose to use ABS-CBN content for Prime Media’s digital television but today’s disclosure means this was not part of the company’s plans, for now, at least.  

ABS-CBN’s blocktime agreement with Amcara Broadcasting Network for its digital broadcast for its set-top box, TV Plus, popularly known as “black box,” was one of the violations which lawmakers pounced on during the hearings in 2020 on ABS-CBN’s bid for a new 25-year franchise. 

SAGIP Party-list Representative Rodante Marcoleta, one of the staunch opponents of ABS-CBN’s franchise, had vowed to look into a similar joint venture deal between ABS-CBN and businessman Manny Pangilinan’s TV5 in August 2022, prompting the two sides to scrap the partnership on September 1, 2022.

In what appears to be an assurance to lawmakers, Manalo also said on Monday that PCMC is an “independent organization,” and that ABS-CBN “will not be involved in Prime’s or PCMC’s operations.” 

“The partnership with ABS-CBN is, without a doubt, a great business opportunity. More importantly, it is an ideal example of corporate social responsibility; meant to address information gaps and provide public service. For the shareholders of Prime, the transaction will enhance their shares’ value through the revenue stream expected to be generated from its equity investment in the joint venture,” Manalo said. 

Rappler reported last week about the expansion of Prime Media’s broadcast footprint after Congress amended the franchise of its subsidiary, Philippine Collective Media Corporation, in December 2020 or just five months after the lower House denied ABS-CBN a franchise extension. 

Infographic shows the growth of House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez’s Favorite Music Radio (FMR) stations from 2008 to 2023. Most the new stations were established after Congress amended in December 2020 the Philippine Collective Media Corporation’s franchise from regional to national.

Then-House Majority floorleader Romualdez and his wife, Tingog (Voice) Party-list Representative Yedda Marie Romualdez were among the 70 lawmakers who voted against a new franchise for ABS-CBN. 

PCMC was founded in 2008 by Romualdez and got a franchise to operate radio and TV stations in his home region, Eastern Visayas. The station’s brand is Favorite Music Radio or FMR, which are also the initials of Romualdez’s full name, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. He is a first cousin of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and is a constant companion in the president’s official events.

PCMC’s president is the current House deputy secretary-general, Sofonias Gabonada Jr., known as an aide of the Romualdez couple. Gabonada was also a campaign officer of the Uniteam tandem of Marcos and then-Davao mayor Sara Duterte.

The use of the 630 kHz frequency by the joint venture company would fill a gap in Romualdez’s broadcast footprint. FMR now has a presence in Visayas, Mindanao and parts of northern Luzon, but is weak in vote-rich greater Metro Manila area.

Prime Media had been a long-dormant holding company with plans to invest in media and other businesses, but it became active in the bourse after ABS-CBN lost its franchise in 2020. It is a subsidiary of RYM Business Management Corporation, a private holding company of Romualdez.

ABS-CBN used to be the Philippines’ largest media and entertainment company until it was ordered by the National Telecommunications Commission to close its free TV and radio operations on May 5, 2020 after its legislative franchise expired.

It has been in the red since it lost its franchise and has been forced to lay off thousands of its 11,000 employees, with an additional 68 TeleRadyo staff set to lose their jobs by the end of next month. However, it has been able to reduce its net losses – from P13.5 billion in end-2020 to P2.6 billion in December 2022. Its current liabilities of P2.7 billion as of end December 2022 still exceed its current assets. 

ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak said during a stockholders’ meeting on May 25, Thursday, that it is “still an uphill climb to profitability, but the light at the end of the tunnel has become sharper and brighter.” It has entered into content partnerships with leading network GMA, as well as with TV5 and Brother Eddie Villanueva’s A2Z. Its prime-time entertainment shows are now available on TV5 and A2Z as well as various digital platforms. –

(Disclosure: The author is a former editor-in-chief of ABS-CBN News online, the general news website of ABS-CBN Corporation.)

FAST FACTS: Romualdez’s Prime Media Holdings Inc.

FAST FACTS: Romualdez’s Prime Media Holdings Inc.

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.