- 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.
- Counter programming via an evening soap gained traction.
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.
- The entry of Marimar.
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.
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:
- Evening soaps is now a reality. We need to have one evening soap to counter Marimar.
- We have to stop TV Patrol’s predictability. It should not be tied up to airing pre-set segments day-in and day out.
- We have to buy all the other Thalia properties and similar telenovelas.
And the programming moves were as follows:
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.