Switching Channels

Battle of the news channels

AP PhotoAP PhotoTV networks used to devote less airtime to their news and public affairs programs because they generally do not generate enough advertising income to support the huge expense required by broadcast journalism. Times have changed. ABS-CBN was the first to open a news channel with its ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC), formerly known as Sarimanok News Channel.

Last month, TV5 and GMA-7 decided to challenge the dominance of the 15-year-old ANC. On Feb. 21, The Kapatid Network launched Aksyon TV on UHF Channel 41 while the Kapuso organization premiered its own version, GMA News TV on Feb. 28 through the network's other VHF channel, the former QTV-11.

TV5 can be viewed on Destiny on Channel 7 but not yet on the Lopez-owned Sky Cable, which has a commanding share of the cable market. The Lopez group, of course, owns ABS-CBN so loyalists of TV5 are crying "foul." Since I am a Sky subscriber, I have not been able to watch any of the Aksyon programs.

GMA News TV broadcasts through Channel 11 on free-to-air TV and Channel 24 on Sky. While ANC is on the air 24/7, GNTV signs off at 12 midnight and returns at 6 a.m. I anticipate, though, that it will match ANC's 24-hour schedule in the future, The Kapuso news channel uses Tagalog for all of its shows, which means that it's targeting the mass audience. This seems logical as a huge percentage of free-TV viewers belong to the CDE socio-economic class. ANC talents and guests usually speak English based on the assumption that cable subscribers belong to the ABC economic group.

GNTV identifies itself as a news and public affairs channel, and there's plenty on its schedule. Aside from the regular newscasts and hourly updates, issue-oriented shows are plentiful. I am particularly interested in Winnie Monsod's "Bawal ang Pasaway" (not the kind of title you would put on an ANC show) which will probably feature Winnie's well-researched comments on pressing issues of the day. Jessica Soho's "State of the Nation" had a revealing look at the state of the shipping industry the other day. Veteran journalist Malou Mangahas, who is known for her investigative reports, will be handling hot documentaries.

I notice though that the channel has more lifestyle and entertainment shows compared to ANC. This can probably be explained by GNTV's masa-oriented programming. There's a daily show biz newscast hosted by Rhian Ramos, a gossip show called Tweetbiz Insiders, a fashion-oriented production hosted by Solenn Heusaff, and various shows targeted at housewives. Then there are the holdovers shows like "American Idol" which will still run for three more months. There are also religious programs.

With three news channels, viewers who are tired of the endless teleseryes and talent  search  formats will now have more relevant choices. I wonder, though, how this will affect the profit and loss figures of the Big 3 networks. To start with, advertisers only allocate a small portion of their budgets to non-entertainment shows. With additional news groups competing for the small advertising pie, none of them will probably realize a profit.

I realize, of course, it's not all about a healthy bottomline. It's the psychic income that is driving ABS-CBN, TV 5 and GMA-7 to beef up their news departments. Prestige is a valuable commodity that can be more precious than the monetary earnings of a network.

Disclaimer: The views and observations of the author do not represent the position of Yahoo! Southeast Asia on the issue or topic being discussed.

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