The First Serious Challenge to TV Patrol’s Supremacy

Weakened by Predictability and a Daily Soap Series
From 1987 to 1995, TV Patrol lorded over competing programs in its time slot.  The word DOMINANT is an understatement to describe the extent at which  the newscast’s leadership position in the early evening block. On an average day, it captured sixty to seventy percent of  TV viewers, higher if there was a big news story. It anchored ABS-CBN’s primetime ratings with the bulk of ABS-CBN’s primetime audience comprised of viewers of the news program.
But in the mid-90s, TV Patrol  faced the biggest threat to its supremacy as the following factors come into play:
  1. Predictability brought about by too many sponsored segments. With high ratings, advertisers lined up to buy commercial spots and booked these for long periods of up to one year.  All of TV Patrol’s  major segments were fully sponsored. Because of these commitments, the producers were contract-bound to produce and air  contents associated with a sponsored segments even as the situation called  for a longer treatment  of  another news item. For example, a sports segment is aired even if there is no significant sports news item or issue that is worth airing.  The sequence of TV Patrol’s segments became so  predictable that audiences who surfed to other channels knew when to switch back to the news program to catch up on the TV Patrol  segment they want to watch.
  2. Counter programming via an evening soap gained traction.
    Villa Quintana Logo (Image from Wikipedia)

    In 1995, GMA-7 introduced a daily soap opera against the first  30 minutes of TV Patrol.  The show was Villa Quintana, a co-production with Viva Films.  It is a story of young lovers, Isagani Samonte (played by Kempee de Leon) and Lynnette Quintana (played by Donna Cruz). It followed a popular plot:  boy and girl very much in love with each other despite the feud between their families. In the end, they will die (suicide) for love.  Villa Quintana failed miserably during its first few months on air, but since it was a co-production with another company, GMA -7 cannot just cancel the program. In the meantime, because of  the predictability of the sequence and the length of segments in TV Patrol, viewers had a chance to take a peek at Villa Quintana.   And some of them liked what they saw and  eventually become followers of the  soap.  Thus, Villa Quintana, after several weeks on air, started to gain traction and hit a double-digit audience share level. This was the first time a competitor of TV Patrol hit such shares levels.Moreover, it showed that TV Patrol can be beaten, not by a news program but through a daily soap opera.

  3. The entry of Marimar.
    Marimar - the most serious challenge to TV Patrol in the mid-90s (image from Wikipedia)

    Marimar was introduced into the Philippine programming scene by an advertiser, Procter & Gamble, who peddled Televisa soaps into the country in exchange for free spots within the program.  It  was first offered to ABS-CBN but at a price which the network felt was so exorbitant compared to what was spent producing  its afternoon daily soap opera Mara Clara or its evening serials. It was also rejected by GMA 7,   so that  P&G partnered with RPN 9 and aired Marimar at the slot opposite the second half  of TV Patrol and GMA’s early evening newscast.

    Marimar was the first program that challenged and almost toppled TV Patrol’s supremacy of the early evening time slot. Its story developed quickly. It  has a fast pacing, and offered new elements such as a talking dog and a carefree, beautiful character played by Thalia. The audience loved the novelty that Marimar offered.

    Marimar caught the Philippine TV industry by storm. It ate up not only the ratings of TV Patrol but also those of  the entertainment programs after the newscast.  RPN9  cashed in on the program. They overloaded the program with commercial spots, so that the 30-minute episode extended well over an hour. The total running time of commercial spots within Marimar were longer than the program content.  Initially, the audience doesn’t seem to care. They love the new soap and continued to watch it, day by day.

    Moreover, P&G has several Thalia soaps in its inventory. With the success of Marimar,  the telenovelas of Televisa have become hot properties up for grabs by the highest bidder. For the first time, not only TV Patrol but the whole ABS-CBN primetime block is facing a serious challenge.


ABS-CBN’s Counter-Attack 

To be sure, ABS-CBN was not caught flat-footed with the developments.   ABS-CBN Research and Business Analysis, which I headed then,  had been providing top management with a regular monitoring and analysis of the shifts in audience preferences and of  the week on week viewership of various programs. In various memos and personal briefings we pointed out the threat faced by our early evening  slot. We also discussed extensively the development in various management and programming meetings.  As head of research I had very long discussions and strategy sessions with the chief programmer of the network, Freddie Garcia.

There were reasons, internal to the network, why it  failed to react quickly to the threat(maybe in future blogs, I will write about these). Nevertheless, we agreed on the following principles as a working bases for the subsequent network moves:

  1. Evening soaps is now a reality. We need to have one evening soap to counter Marimar.
  2. We have to stop TV Patrol’s predictability. It should not be tied up to airing pre-set segments day-in and day out.
  3. We have to buy all the other Thalia properties and similar telenovelas.


And the programming moves were as follows:

  1. Freddie Garcia negotiated with P&G and got the rights for Thalia properties.Predictably, P&G  bundled these with several other telenovelas of Televisa. The price was exorbitant  but it was a paltry price to pay versus what would have happened if another network will have gotten hold of these properties and programmed them versus ABS-CBN’s primetime slot.
  2. Then, he instructed the production group headed by  Charo Santos to prepare Mara Clara for its transfer to primetime pitting it against Marimar.  Mara Clara started airing in 1992 and was a Monday to Friday afternoon series about two girls who, by a twist of fate, each lead the life that should have been the other’s, and only a diary can put an end to the mess.  It was daytime’s most popular program, rating even higher than the top evening programs at that time. It also has strong following among women – mostly housewives, who were not about to give up the television to anybody specially if they were watching their favorite shows.  I told Freddie these core audiences will follow Mara Clara to primetime.  And if we will make its pace faster  and not overload the program with commercials it will beat Marimar! (which it did)
  3. The third move is to cut TV Patrol to 30 minutes. The strategy was to initially do away with segment sponsorships to make the newscast more fluid and less predictable. It will also use only one anchor. Most of the guys at the news department did not agree with the changes. I attended that meeting with the anchors, reporters, producers and other key staff of the program and I almost fell off my chair when after hearing the objections of most of the people in the room, FMG said something to the effect of  “pagbigyan nyo ako sa decision ko na ito. If this will not work, I will resign!” .  The changes was scheduled to start April 1, 1996.      And so it came to pass that on  April Fools Day,  April 1, 1996, Noli de Castro became the sole anchor of the newscast, and  TV Patrol’s airing time was cut to 30 minutes. (I told some of my staff then that there is a built in justification for the the move: If it  will not work, we can easily claim that it was just an April Fools Day joke).


Fortunately for ABS-CBN,  the counter programming strategy worked.  We had the other Thalia telenovelas in our inventory so there was nothing the other channels can offer viewers. After Mara Clara,  ABS-CBN TV production started producing a lot fo 30-minute primetime soaps, the first of which were the back to back tandem of Mula sa Puso and Esperanza. TV Patrol retained its leadership, but we can longer say with certainty that it anchored ABS-CBN’s primetime..

But the TV landscape has already changed.  Daily series has become a new feature of early evening programming. A typical weekday evening primetime programming would have three distinct blocks: an early evening newscast; a daily telenovela or drama block; and, a once a week program or movies.    Today,  the once a week program block has been replaced by even more daily dramas, telenovelas or koreanovelas.



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TV Patrol’s Early Years – Key Success Factors


TV Patrol's 25 year logo. (Image from Wikipedia)

One of the most interesting media development I was fortunate to have monitored, studied and analyzed  was an early evening news program which anchored the rise of the then fledgling ABS-CBN to the number 1 position in the Philippine TV industry.  Here is my take of what made the program a success:


The Birth of TV Patrol

On March 2, 1987, TV Patrol first went on air.  It  was launched as an out-and-out tabloid-style newscast. From March 2 to July 3, 1987,  it was 30 minutes long and was expanded to 60-minutes in July 6 of the same year. It had less of the hard news and more of the entertainment, more of the  blood and guts. It featured anchors Noli de Castro, Mel Tiangco,Robert Arevalo (who was replaced a few months later by  Frankie Evangelista), and Angelique Lazo.

With animated use of colloquial Tagalog, a healthy dose of editorializing, and winning segments such as Pulso, Mission Expose, Lingkod Bayan, Pulis Report and Star News, the show appealed to the CDE sectors like no news show had ever had. There was also  a conscious effort to support the news with videos no matter how raw, bloody or graphic these videos maybe. Occasionally  there were live reports from the field, but mainly audio feeds betraying the newly-established network's lack of equipment.


Success Factors

What made the show successful?

A key success factor was a hungry and determined news team.  Whatever  the struggling network and the news department lack in resources, was more than made up by the ingenuity and the sheer determination of the whole team: top management, anchors,  reporters, cameramen, writers, and the other newsroom staff, to the extent of even using their own resources if only to come out with a good story every 6:00 o'clock on weekday evenings. 

Second, the program concept and design filled up a glaring gap in the news market. In a survey we conducted on the news audience, programs and personalities conducted during the first quarter of 1987, we identified six key attributes viewers anted in a news program:   Moreover, the qualifiers behind each of the attributes, revealed clear directions as to the contents of a newscast the audience would want to watch namely: 

  1. Credibility:  It is credible if it is not propaganda; if it reports on what is really happening in the country. It reports on crime, corruption, abuses of those in authority, problems not attended to by the government; reporters are in the scene of where the story happened.

  2. Clear delivery of news: Delivery is clear if it is in a dialect the viewer could understand (Tagalog) and if it is delivered in a clear, loud voice.

  3. Graphic Videos: They want video support for most of the stories aired during the newscasts and they want the video shots and interviews of those involved in the news. Moreover, they don't mind seeing the blood and the gore for as long as it is a true video of the crime that is being reported.

  4. Fights for me: Listens to my complaints and helps me bring it to the attention of higher authorities.I could go to them and they will help me with my problems as regards police, military and other government abuses

  5. Provide Public Service: Provides help when in case of calamities. Helps me get free medical services and medicines.

  6. Provides News About my Favorite Stars:  gives updates on what is happening with my favorite stars.


As to which newscasts on air has these attributes, the survey analysis revealed that there was a big gap between what the audience wants and what was aired by the TV networks. I was then the General Manager of Pulse Research Group — the research firm that conducted the the media survey, and upon reading the topline results  I remembered making a comment that it is high time for any of the TV networks to set up a mass-based TV newscast.  The leading newscasts then were in English. There were only a few stories about the stars and celebrities. And there was hardly any public service item on the story line-ups.

The main segments of TV Patrol filled the market gaps: Lingkod Bayan for public service; Star News for reports about the audience favorite stars and personalities;   Mission Expose featured abuses and shortcomings of government officials and more importantly gave the audiences a message that the program fights for them and helps them face up to abuses by those in power; and,  Pulso provides the newscasts editorial stand on the pressing issues of the day.  
Moreover, the use of Tagalog as a medium and the booming voice of the lead anchor  are ingredients that made for a clear delivery of the day's news. 
A third factor is that the other networks were weakened by changes in its top management and the departure of key personnel. Right after the EDSA revolution Channels 4, 9 and 13 were taken over by appointees of the revolutionary government.  Some of these appointees had  limited television experience.
There was also an exodus of GMA-7's top level  network managers towards ABS-CBN. This group was composed of  pre-Martial Law ABS-CBN employees who heeded the call of Mr Eugenio Lopez Jr and came back to help rebuild the station.  Among these are Freddie Garcia and his Sales and Marketing team, along with key engineers left GMA and joined ABS-CBN, bringing with them the years of network experience and the goodwill earned from years of relationship with advertisers, film suppliers and various on-air and off-air talents. It was Freddie Garcia Garcia who thought of the TV Patrol concept after the ABS-CBN's first attempt at an early evening newscast (Balita Ngayon, anchored by Robert Arevalo and Mel Tiangco) did not cause a stir in ratings and in revenues. 
Ratings Dominance

TV Patrol caught the industry by storm. It was embraced by the TV audiences so that every night, 60% to 70% of TV viewers were tuned in to the program. Nevertheless, the advertising community initially balked at putting their ads on the program because of its tabloid character. But the audience numbers was substantial enough to ignore and revenues eventually started to  come in. Eventually, TV Patrol became the first TV news program in Philippine TV that generated profits.

More important for the network, TV Patrol provided a substantial lead-in audience for the rest of the evening's programs. In id-1987 , when I examined the ebb and flow of various network programs, i observed this trend and bodly predicted to my then boss Rosie Chew, ABS-CBN will evntually lead the evening primetime ratings, overtaking the primetime leaders  IBC 13 and GMA 7.  Which was what happened in 1988.


25 Years Later

A lot has changed since then. TV Patrol now has 18 regional editions, and viewership spanning the globe. It now uses state of the art equipment and is making use of whatever modern technology that money can buy.  It has faced strong challenge by rival newscasts. In fact,  during some survey periods and in some broadcast areas it has yielded the top spot to competition.  Throughout its 25 years of being on air, it has undergone several changes: segments, logo,  anchors, time slots and even its behind the camera personnel.

I have joined the network in 1990 and have left them in 2005. I was not just a witness to the various changes that happened to the program; in some instances I recommended some of those major changes.  There is a lot of  behind the scenes stories that makes for a good blog post. In the meantime, let me congratulate the men and women behind the TV  Patrol, whether they are still with the network, are now with its competitors, or are working/relaxing outside of network life.







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