How Villar gained what the Lopezes lost in ABS-CBN

While we were sleeping, Filipino dollar-billionaire Manny Villar earned the right to (temporarily) use the channels that once belonged to the Lopez family’s ABS-CBN.

I pieced together different media reports (that I woke up to at 5am, January 26) to come out with a timeline of how the “brown tycoon” Villar added a prized media asset to his real estate and retail empire.

This is how it happened:

In 2019…

  • Congress renewed the broadcast license of radio station 103.5 K-lite, operated by Advance Media Broadcasting System, which in turn was owned by the Jose Luis Vera family.
    • Note: Advance Media has been first-in-line (since 2006) to have supposedly asked regulator National Telecommunications Commission or NTC for rights to operate a digital media frequency.

In 2020

  • ABS-CBN failed to renew its expiring broadcast franchise.
    • About 70 lawmakers in the House of Representatives were believed to have voted not to renew following President Duterte’s public tirades against the Lopez family for failing to air his paid campaign ads in the run up to the 2016 elections, which he won.

Also in 2020

  • The Villar Group, mostly a real estate and retail empire, used its fixed-line broadband internet service called Streamtech (launched 2017) to vie for rights to operate the 3rd telco services in the country. Streamtech eventually backed out, and Dito Communications of Duterte friend, Dennis Uy, won.

Sometime in between

  • Streamtech acquired sister firm Planet Cable, which was operating cable services initially for homeowners in Cavite and Laguna where most of Villar-owned real estate developments are located.
  • Planet Cable eventually branched out to other locations in the country, mostly focusing on areas where the Villar-led Vista Land and Lifescapes has real estate developments.
  • Planet Cable also started to partner with telco equipment manufacturers, an early move that Streamtech would later pick up for its telco-and-internet play — likely a precedent for its digital broadcast media ambitions. (Hints: Villar group subsidiary launches new telco – Manila Bulletin)

In September 2021

  • During a Senate hearing on broadcast franchises, Vera family’s Advance Media said it was struggling because of the pandemic. They laid off radio staff, they told a Senate hearing in September 2021.

Note: That pivotal approval seems to be what we all missed. This set off the next crucial steps.

On January 5, 2022

  • The regulator National Telecommunications Commission or NTC approved these in favor of now Villar-owned Advance Media:
  1. Award of the provisional license to use and operate the digital Channel 16 frequency in Metro Manila and Mega Manila.
  • Channel 16 was previously assigned to ABS-CBN.
  • Remember? Then Vera-owned radio broadcast firm has been in line for a digital media frequency since 2006.

Context on digital frequencies:

  • The NTC has been pushing for the adoption of digital TV and has even set 2023 as deadline (originally 2015) for the shut off of analog TV to force the switch.
  • The switch requires existing owners of analog or older TVs to purchase new digital TVs or digital converter boxes. Best practice during the transition includes broadcasting to viewers in both analogue and digital at the same time. As digital becomes more popular, existing analogue services will be removed.
  • Even GMA Network chair Felipe Gozon was reported to have shared in December 2021 that he thought the deadline will be extended anew because adoption of digital TV in the Philippines remains low.

2. A “temporary permit” to test broadcast for 18 months on the analog Channel 2 frequency.

  • The right to use Channel 2 for free-to-air TV was among those ABS-CBN lost in 2020.
  • This second award allows the now Villar-owned Advance Media to simultaneously broadcast on both channels. Why for 18 months only? Likely because analog channels are supposed to be shut off in 2023.
  • As reported, the NTC said the Department of Justice and Office of the Executive Secretary reviewed and issued a “no objection” on the 18-month provisional authority to Advanced Media.

After all, the frequencies are legally and technically vacated and available.

Media coverage:

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