ABS-CBN Turns 60


PREMIUM: CEO Charo Santos-Concio speaks to TV Asia Pacific about ABS-CBN’s milestone 60th anniversary and articulates her strategy for taking the company into the new-media age.

TV ASIA PACIFIC: To what do you attribute ABS-CBN’s continued success?
SANTOS-CONCIO: We’ve remained relevant all these years because of our commitment to being in the service of Filipinos worldwide. We dialogue with our [viewers], we listen to what they say, and we plan, strategize and deliver our products and services with a clear understanding of what they want and need from us.

TV ASIA PACIFIC: Coming into the CEO position, what are your main priorities for ABS-CBN?
SANTOS-CONCIO: At one of our shareholders’ meetings last year, I spoke of investing in the future while keeping an eye on the present. That remains our main priority. This translates into content supremacy, understanding the changing audience and landscape, managing across an ever-growing portfolio of businesses, channels and platforms, driving synergies across the organization and developing, identifying and retaining our greatest asset— people.

TV ASIA PACIFIC: ABS-CBN faced some major challenges in the ’70s and ’80s. Do you think those experiences made the group more capable of withstanding the major shifts taking place in the media business today?
SANTOS-CONCIO: Experience is a great teacher—we’ve learned as much from our failures as we have from our successes. We remember how ABS-CBN’s voice was muted over the martial-law period and how a single-minded and determined team was able to reboot ABS-CBN from almost nothing in the mid-’80s to being the industry leader and tastemaker in two years.

We’ve been able to not only evolve and grow with our audience and with the changes in technology, but more importantly to stay relevant as an organization and a business by being our harshest critic and by demanding nothing but the best from ourselves. Our secret sauce lies in our people: we truly are “kapamilya”—family. Media, now more than ever, is in a state of flux. Our commitment to excellence in content, service, globalization and talent will continue to be critical in the years to come.

TV ASIA PACIFIC: In what demographics, day parts and markets are you experiencing the greatest ratings successes at your free-to-air channels?
SANTOS-CONCIO: ABS-CBN is the dominant leader in soaps, reality and game shows. Our creators’ ability to bring significant depth to our characters in soaps, to show the internal conflicts and journey of participants in our reality shows and to highlight the person behind the contestant in our game shows make us a formidable player in the free-TV space. We have also been very successful in delivering child-friendly soaps that not only have compelling story lines but are imbued with a lot of important values. We make sure that we showcase the great talent of the Filipino in our musical variety shows. We are also the leading news provider in the free-TV space. These genres make us very popular among children, females (teens and up) and adult males. ABS-CBN is the leading free-TV player in the morning and evening.

TV ASIA PACIFIC: There are large populations of Filipino residents around the world—how are you helping them keep in touch with the country?
SANTOS-CONCIO: ABS-CBN Global reaches Filipinos wherever they are in the world. We currently have TFC (The Filipino Channel), ANC Global (our news channel), Cinema One Global (our Filipino movie channel), Bro and various VOD, SVOD, IPTV and DTH services as well as our newly launched tfc.tv online viewing portal. Apart from our TV content, we regularly mount live events, bring our Star Cinema movies to local theaters as well as offer our Star Records and home-video releases online and through local retail outlets. Our subsidiaries also offer remittance and cargo services. Finally, we partner with government and non-governmental organizations to mount programs that encourage the overseas Filipinos to stay connected with their roots and empower them to participate in nation building.

TV ASIA PACIFIC: What skills do you think you bring to the CEO role given your significant production background?
SANTOS-CONCIO: I came from a creative background, but as CEO, I have to constantly confront the issue of how to balance creative excellence, strategic, disciplined work and business and financial viability. When I am in a meeting for example, I let people know when I am wearing my creative hat or my CEO hat. Stretching and complementing these "left brain" and "right brain" roles to make things really work for the company are my daily challenges. The instinct is generally to spread the ideas around the table and hope one of them is another May Bukas Pa or Walang Hanggan, two of our most successful soap operas in recent years. As a company our strategy has been to launch something that we feel is differentiating and can provide impact on the lives of the Filipinos.

The best thing that I learned in my creative work is to really look at ideas from the perspective of the consumer, consistently asking the questions, ‘What’s in it for our audience?" and "What’s in it for the fans of our talent and the loyal viewers of our programs?" If there’s nothing there for them, the idea should be junked. Being consumer-centric is one of the best things I can bring in my CEO functions.

TV ASIA PACIFIC: How important is the pay-TV business for ABS-CBN?
SANTOS-CONCIO: We have pay-TV investments domestically and internationally both as a platform operator and as a pay-TV channel provider. Internationally, ABS-CBN Global has various IPTV, DTH and online platforms, aside from our pay-TV channel brands and VOD/SVOD offerings. Locally, we have a significant stake in Sky Cable. Sky Cable recently acquired the assets of one of the biggest local cable operators, making it the dominant cable platform in the Philippines. The domestic cable side is growing by about 12 percent per year, which is outpacing the growth in the advertising sector. Strategically, it is also important that we are developing direct relationships with our customers, which, over time, leverages our ability to cross-sell and upsell other products and services from ABS. Having a subscription business also evens out potential volatility on the advertising side, creating some stability on overall revenue volumes.

TV ASIA PACIFIC: What are your key initiatives for making content available on multiple platforms?
SANTOS-CONCIO: Iwantv, which is our primary vehicle for delivering online video, is now among the most viewed local sites. It continues to grow significantly in terms of users and minutes viewed per month. This is an indication that our customers are looking for alternative ways of consuming our content, especially on platforms that give them the flexibility to watch what they want, when they want and where they want. Our Global division has also introduced a similar product for overseas viewers called TFC.tv.

TV ASIA PACIFIC: What are your main priorities for the company this year and next?
SANTOS-CONCIO: Foremost is the need to maintain leadership in content across our platforms. We need to keep teams motivated while keeping an eye out for fresh talent—both in front and behind the cameras. We continue to look to production efficiencies and monetizing content across our platforms.

We’re very focused on our new business initiatives—making sure that they’re given the best opportunity for growth. This requires new skills and thinking as we prepare for an inevitable future of more fragmented audiences and even more platforms.

We’ve grown to be a very diverse company that has operations across multiple locations locally and internationally. This kind of growth has its challenges and we are working to ensure that we continue to think and act as one cohesive unit and that we continue to move as quickly as if we were a start-up. Cross-division communication becomes even more important at this time.

Finally, it is crucial that as ABS-CBN celebrates its 60th anniversary, we need to ensure that we remain grounded through the values and principles that got us here…and in the mission that continues to be our guidepost—that of being in the service of the Filipino worldwide.