ABS-CBN’s Charo Santos-Concio

NEW YORK: TV AsiaPac speaks with Charo Santos-Concio, the president, CEO and chief content officer of ABS-CBN Corporation who is the Gala Chair for the 43rd International Emmy Awards, which takes place tonight in New York City.

TV ASIAPAC: Tell us about the programming strengths of your free-TV platforms.
SANTOS-CONCIO: Our dramas have strong narratives and highly engaging characters. We make sure that even before a story line is developed we come up with well-researched characters whose values are relatable to our viewers. There is also a good mix of different genres in our programming—our programming grid offers a complete portfolio to viewers.

TV ASIAPAC: The Philippines is a key growth market in AsiaPac. How is the advertising market for ABS-CBN?
SANTOS-CONCIO: The advertising market for free TV is expected to grow between 5 percent and 7 percent [this year]. Our business also includes DTT, radio, regional channels, print, cable, cinema, international channels, live events, theme parks, mobile communications and our online platforms. Each of these has an advertising component with varying growth rates, with the online space showing a very promising level of growth. The ability to provide an advertising solution across all platforms is attractive to advertisers.

TV ASIAPAC: You produce so much of your own content. How are you driving creativity within your studio entertainment division?
SANTOS-CONCIO: We make sure that our content creators are exposed to [real-life stories] so that they capture and reflect the needs of the audiences. While creative independence is encouraged, with new ideas, new experiences shared, the key is creative collaboration between our producers and creative teams. We don’t limit ourselves to content creators for broadcast only. Our doors are open to various content creators for our other platforms. A morsel of creative genius can come from anywhere these days.

TV ASIAPAC: What role does foreign content play on your free-TV assets, and how important are formats in the mix?
SANTOS-CONCIO: In a predominantly single TV household like the Philippines, offering a complete programming experience that can target the whole family is very important.  The selection of foreign content is very deliberate and should be complementary to the strong local programs of ABS-CBN. Our successful local adaptations of big franchises like The Voice, Big Brother and Your Face Sounds Familiar strengthened our nationwide ratings as they offer new experiences for the whole family. They are considered event programming in our weekend prime-time grid.

TV ASIAPAC: How is your pay-TV segment performing?
SANTOS-CONCIO: ABS-CBN is present in the pay segment from both the content and access sides of the business. We’ve been fortunate that most of our cable channels are number one in their respective genres. Cinema One, our local movie channel, is the number one cable channel in the Philippines. Pay TV has multiple revenue streams—advertising, subscriptions and some promising early experiments with pay per view, VOD and SVOD. We are showing growth across all three streams. ABS-CBN owns the largest digital cable TV operator in the country, Sky Cable. Sky is about to launch Sky Direct, a direct-to-home service which expands our nationwide coverage. Through our recently launched OTT service Sky On Demand, bundled with Sky Mobi, a wireless broadband service, subscribers can now access their cable channels on the go and whenever they want them.

TV ASIAPAC: How are you reaching local audiences outside of the traditional TV screen?
SANTOS-CONCIO: Things are definitely changing. Ubiquity is important in a fragmented landscape. We’re busy rolling out our free DTT service while a DTH service will be launched soon. Through our online and mobile platforms, iWANTV and ABS-CBN Mobile respectively, there is now an increased awareness of video-on-demand viewing. ABS-CBN is gaining audiences online and among smartphone users because of these two platforms.

ABS-CBN Mobile is now offering a groundbreaking project—an exclusive mobile movie series under the banner “Starflix.” The first movie [features] well-loved stars and is helmed by a blockbuster director. We are also developing our paid OTT offerings, which we hope to launch soon.

TV ASIAPAC: What is the state of the DTT transition in the Philippines?
SANTOS-CONCIO: ABS-CBN has been getting ready for this digital shift for years, with our first DTT trials conducted as far back as 2005. ABS-CBN was the first to launch a DTT service in the country—TVPlus launched in February 2015. Prior to the launch, only 8 out of 10 households had access to free TV. Due to limitations in analog transmission, only a little more than half of these homes receive the leading channels in clear or tolerable quality. With TVPlus, Filipino viewers are finally able to experience dramatically clearer images and sounds. Additionally, the TVPlus DTT service offers Filipino families an additional six DTT-only channels from ABS-CBN, together with access to the government’s emergency broadcast system.

TV ASIAPAC: How is your international channels business performing, and what are your goals for this segment?
SANTOS-CONCIO: Our global business is performing very well, with about 3 million viewers out of the 8.6 million overseas Filipinos subscribing to our service—36 percet market penetration. The bulk of our international growth will be coming from our digital platforms. Our ultimate goal is to penetrate 100 percent of the overseas Filipino market, wherein all members of this segment would use at least one ABS-CBN product or service on a regular basis. We’ve also began expanding our audience by introducing English subtitles to our service, which is now attracting a growing non-Tagalog-speaking audience across various regions.

TV ASIAPAC: And your program-sales segment? What are some of the key markets for Filipino content?
SANTOS-CONCIO: Asia and Africa have remained the biggest buyers of our scripted and non-scripted content over the past ten years. Central Asia, specifically Kazakhstan, is our newest export market. We are looking to break into the Latin American market soon.

TV ASIAPAC: Why do you think ABS-CBN shows resonate with audiences from other markets?
SANTOS-CONCIO: Our cultures and beliefs may be diverse but the fundamentals that global audiences look for remain the same—strong love stories, family values and inspirational characters. Our dramas highlight characters that inspire and empower, and in them, people from any part of the world can see their aspirational selves. The themes of courage, perseverance, fortitude, strength of character and the ability to rise above crises and tragedy—without compromising values—are universal. All this, coupled with great storytelling, award-winning acting and production work, make for borderless content.

TV ASIAPAC: Are you looking at format sales of your shows?
SANTOS-CONCIO: Yes, definitely. The Promise was locally adapted by Cambodia in 2014, and we see more and more Asian countries expressing interest in format buys for our content. We have begun talks with a Latin American partner for some of our dramas, and this is especially significant for ABS-CBN, since the Philippines has been an avid consumer of Latin telenovelas for decades.

TV ASIAPAC: What are your key priorities for ABS-CBN in the next 12 to 18 months?
SANTOS-CONCIO: Staying relevant in a fast-changing landscape requires a lot of investment in innovation and experimentation. To that end, we’ve focused on growing the digital side of our business—digital terrestrial television, our direct-to-home platform, our mobile business as well as our online and over-the-top products, which include various apps. We are also very focused on the growth of our new multichannel network play.

We are investing heavily in identifying new content creators and skills and ultimately creating new content for all these platforms—rather than just re-purposing. Understanding the changing audience also requires investment in audience research, analytics and infrastructure (both front and back of house). But while the landscape and audience may change, we are also committed to remaining true to our mission—to be of service to the Filipino.