TVJ’s ‘Eat Bulaga’ and ABS-CBN’s ‘It’s Showtime’: The plight of Filipino content creators

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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TVJ’s ‘Eat Bulaga’ and ABS-CBN’s ‘It’s Showtime’: The plight of Filipino content creators

FRANCHISE. Composite screengrabs of 'It's Showtime Indonesia' and 'Eat Bulaga! Indonesia,' two Filipino TV shows that have been franchised.

Facebook It's Showtime Indonesia and Facebook Eat Bulaga! Indonesia

While South Korea's creative economy continues to expand worldwide, the news about 'It's Showtime' and 'Eat Bulaga!' depicts a local industry that's struggling, under-appreciated, and lacking in government support

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino content creators were on the spotlight this week with the transfer of ABS-CBN’s It’s Showtime from TV5 to its former rival, GMA’s channel GTV, and the formal contract signing between TV5 executives and showbiz trio Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey de Leon (TVJ).

While South Korea’s creative economy, exemplified by Hallyu (Korean wave), continues to expand and make its mark worldwide, the developments involving these two content creators – ABS-CBN for It’s Showtime and TVJ for Eat Bulaga! – depict the situation of the Philippines’ creative economy: struggling, under-appreciated, and lacking in government support.

Amor Aljibe, a mainstream film executive and independent film producer who teaches special courses on K-drama, told Rappler, that unlike Korea, the Philippines still does not have a national strategy and industry that would support a Pinoy cultural wave.

The plight of ABS-CBN is well known: perceived by then-Davao mayor Rodrigo Duterte as having treated him unfairly in the 2016 presidential elections, he went on to make sure that the Lopez-led company would not get its franchise renewed. In 2020, the Philippines’ largest broadcast company lost its free-to-air frequencies, and the House of Representatives rejected its franchise renewal. It started to bleed financially and is still in the red.

Since losing its franchise, the Philippines’ largest exporter of entertainment content has had to sign deals with its fiercest competitor, GMA, and even with one of its franchise slayers, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, owner of Prime Media, in order to survive as a company. Romualdez was one of the 50 lawmakers who voted against ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.

At the corporate level, the falling out between TVJ and the Jalosjos family reflects the latter’s under-appreciation of an aging trio’s worth as Filipino content creators. Manny V. Pangilinan’s MediaQuest Holdings Incorporated, however, saw the trio’s staying power and signed a joint venture with TVJ Productions Incorporated.

Perhaps unknown to many, It’s Showtime and Eat Bulaga! are two Filipino creations that have been franchised and exported abroad, proof of a potential Philippine hallyu.

Four years ago or before the pandemic, ABS-CBN signed a franchise deal with Indonesian television network MNC TV. In March 2019, It’s Showtime Indonesia with Indonesian talents was launched with a live audience, complete with its theme song in Bahasa and Indonesians taking part in Filipino-created segments. The show was short-lived, however.

TVJ’s ‘Eat Bulaga’ and ABS-CBN’s ‘It’s Showtime’: The plight of Filipino content creators

Back then, ABS-CBN said it was its “first non-narrative format franchise buy by a foreign and solidifies its position as a reliable content provider in the international arena.” 

Seven years before this, Eat Bulaga!, then run by Television and Exponents Production Incorporated (TAPE) CEO, Antonio P. Tuviera, became the first Filipino TV show to be franchised internationally.

Eat Bulaga! Indonesia began airing in July 2012 and had a two-year run. In an interview by GMA’s Jessica Soho back then, Tuviera said he couldn’t believe it when he was told that the show would get an Indonesian version and not just translated in Bahasa.

It had its own “Bossing Vic Sotto” – comedian Uya Kuya – and aired on Indonesian network, SCTV, minus girls wearing skimpy clothes to suit Indonesian culture. Some netizens said then that having Eat Bulaga! Indonesia reflected Filipino world-class creativity.

TVJ’s ‘Eat Bulaga’ and ABS-CBN’s ‘It’s Showtime’: The plight of Filipino content creators

The show’s ratings declined reportedly after Uya Kuya left the show, and The New Eat Bulaga! Indonesia was launched in another channel, ANTV. These shows collectively lasted for four years, and made another run this year.

In 2019, on its 40th year, Eat Bulaga! got its second international franchise, in Myanmar.

TVJ’s ‘Eat Bulaga’ and ABS-CBN’s ‘It’s Showtime’: The plight of Filipino content creators
Pinoy Hallyu

Before it lost its franchise, ABS-CBN was then the Philippines’ leading media and entertainment company, and it had a strong international presence via The Filipino Channel on cable television and its international division unit selling teleseryes and its rich library of Philippine films.

Just around the same period as the beginnings of Korea’s Hallyu, Jericho Rosales and Kristine Hermosa became household celebrities in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, as ABS-CBN’s Pangako Sa ‘Yo (The Promise), with subtitles, became a hit soap opera. The teleserye was also shown in Africa and China, and it got a Cambodian remake. Rosales was dubbed an “Asian drama king,” and Pangako Sa ‘Yo became ABS-CBN’s “most successfully distributed” teleserye worldwide.

TVJ’s ‘Eat Bulaga’ and ABS-CBN’s ‘It’s Showtime’: The plight of Filipino content creators

But the Philippines’ cultural wave has made only minor strides and even suffered setbacks.

Aljibe said this indicates the absence of a national policy and a weak industry to support a Pinoy Hallyu. She lamented that after ABS-CBN lost its franchise, many of the more than 5,000 people who lost their jobs remain unemployed.

She said the government and the private sector will have to sit down and agree to invest in a Pinoy cultural wave that could bring substantial benefits for the Philippine economy. This means billions of investments in all the elements involved in storytelling and in training talents. The best output in Philippine films, teleseryes would have to be marketed with big budgets in film festivals and award-giving bodies.

And if a Pinoy Hallyu takes off, it will create demand for all things Filipino, just as there is now demand for Korean culture such as samgyupsal (Korean barbecue) and soju (Korean rice wine). Aljibe said this means making Filipino food, restaurants, Philippine groceries readily available abroad, as well as improving the Philippines as an international tourist destination.

“Korea was able to sustain their Hallyu because they had a national consciousness about it,” she said, adding that it took Korea 30 years to get to where it is now. “We don’t have that…and If you want to go global, you need an industry to make it happen.”

Filmmaker Pepe Diokno said in 2021 that this initiative should be part of a country’s “national development” plan, and would need millions in investments for “decades.”

Is there hope?

Fortunately for Filipino content creators, there is hope – provided mainly by private enterprise.

In the post-ABS-CBN franchise era, Kapamilya content is no longer exclusive. Given the strong demand for ABS-CBN teleseryes, Pangilinan’s TV5 and Eddie Villanueva’s A2Z now show FPJ’s Batang Quiapo, Iron Heart, Dirty Linen on its evening prime time block.

ABS-CBN films are also shown in multiple free TV channels, including on GMA. They’re also available in streaming platforms like Netflix. Many other Filipino films produced by various content creators are available on these platforms.

In January 2023, ABS-CBN struck a deal with former fiercest rival GMA to co-produce the teleserye, Unbreak My Heart, starring Jodi Sta. Maria, Richard Yap, Joshua Garcia, and Gabbi Garcia. It is the first co-production between the two companies.

TVJ’s ‘Eat Bulaga’ and ABS-CBN’s ‘It’s Showtime’: The plight of Filipino content creators

Aside from airing on GMA’s various channels, Unbreak My Heart can also be watched outside the Philippines on streaming service Viu, indicating big demand for new and unique Asian content for streaming platforms. 

“Today, we are able to proudly showcase that on our platform with premium Filipino content not just for Filipino audiences but also for global audiences to appreciate and enjoy,” said Garlic Garcia, Viu Philippines content partnerships head, during the launch. “This is with a vision of bringing the best of the Filipino talent on-cam and off-cam to the world.”                

Viu CEO Janice Lee said their “three-way partnership” would take “Philippine productions to a whole new level, by combining our resources, creative people together.”

Lee said Unbreak My Heart would be streamed to 16 markets of Viu across Southeast Asia, Middle East, and South Africa. She said Viu had a reach of over 66 million monthly active users and 12 million premium users.

In a watch party in May, GMA senior vice president Annette Gozon-Valdes said the co-production was in recognition of ABS-CBN’s strength in content creation. “As I’ve said previously, we’ve always respected you as a superb content provider and with this project, you’ve proven again your excellence,” she told ABS-CBN executives.

All those partnerships generated P6.4 billion in advertising revenues in 2022, the Lopez-led company said in its 2022 annual report. In addition, it said content sales and licensing of over 380 titles to domestic and international clients in Asia, Africa, Middle East, and streaming platforms generated P1.3 billion in revenues in 2022. These have helped ABS-CBN cut its losses as it strives to survive in its post-franchise era.

Make a big push

In its latest annual stockholder’s meeting, ABS-CBN CEO Carlo Katigbak said the company would continue to seek partners on free TV, pay TV, and streaming platforms for its content. 

“We hope to increase our viewership to a far larger base than what we had before. Broadcasting never defined ABS-CBN. What we did best was to tell stories,” Katigbak said. “The heart and soul of ABS-CBN is in storytelling.”

In the case of the joint venture between Pangilinan and TVJ, the basketball and sports patron said his MediaQuest had the hardware but needed TVJ’s entertainment content via their partnership. TVJ hopes to prolong Eat Bulaga!’s life on television until its 50th anniversary in 2029. “Go for G/old,” quipped comedian Joey de Leon in their contract signing.

Former economic planning secretary Cielito Habito, in a recent column, said it was time the Philippines makes a big push for its “creative economy.” Citing figures from the Korea Foundation for Cultural Exchange, he said Korea’s Hallyu had contributed $12.3 billion or P676 billion to its economy in 2019, equivalent to 13% of Philippine exports that year.

“Think of how much more prosperous our economy could be if we could do what the Koreans did to create so much wealth (and jobs) from their ‘cultural economy.’ Given the Filipinos’ widely acknowledged artistic and creative talent, often described to be the richest and most versatile in Asia, this need not be a pipe dream beyond our reach. Now is the time for us to deliberately plan and work on ‘doing a Korea,’ and cash in much more than we have so far been able to, on our creative economy,” the economist said. – Rappler.com

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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.