08 February 2014

The Economics of the Teleserye

I have loved television since I was a toddler, when I would stay glued in front of the boob tube for hours on end watching my favourite animated shows. Growing up as a teenager, we were spoiled for riches in terms of programming diversity, particularly at prime time.

Prime time is television jargon for that block of scheduling or time slots when there is the most number of expected viewers. This block is also when television networks expect to make the most revenues from advertising because of the wider audience reach.

In the Philippines, prime time begins immediately after the evening news and is loosely pegged at 8:00 to 11:00. The first hour of prime time, in particular, is when members of the family will have concluded dinner and will be ready to laze in front of the television set before attending to some chores like homework and then get ready for bed.

I am a Kapamilya by force of circumstance rather than choice – my GMA reception is wobbly and so I have little chance of exploring the network’s programming. A quick look at ABS-CBN’s programming shows that primetime slots are dominated by soap operas or teleseryes.

There are some shows out there – Matang Lawin, Mag-TV Na, etc. – which would have made prime time in the old days but are these days hidden in some time slot when nobody has woken up. Personally, these are the types of shows that will prevent me from hopping onto the other cable channels.
TV Patrol is followed by Honesto; then Got to Believe; the Legal Wife; and finally the reality show The Biggest Loser 2. It goes without saying that the last is also a teleserye; albeit anchored on something real rather than fiction.

This was not the case in the old days when programming was marked by diversity. Most programs ran for an hour or thirty minutes once a week. Whether a program stayed on air long, of course, ultimately depended on ratings – as it still does today.

Because of the method of programming, it was important to keep track of the daily television schedule. In fact, there was even a magazine that made its living from this. The magazine was called TV Times.

If a family had only one television set – as we did – then the programming allowed for distribution of viewing time among members of the family depending on individual tastes.

In our case, it was always understood that my Dad and older brother had full rights when local basketball was on; but the boob tube was mine when the Six Million Dollar Man was showing.

Local situation comedies such as John En Marsha catered to the entire family and so we would all be gathered in front of the television set when it aired. Arguments could also break out as to who had viewing rights; but that was just the way things went.

Early afternoons were for the daily fare of those antiquated flickering black and white movies, when kids became acquainted with Carmen Rosales and Eddie Rodriguez or laughed at the antics of Pugô and Tugô or Dolphy and Panchitô.

Then came the teleseryes, which were dreadfully slow, poorly acted and cheaply produced shows that were nothing but formulaic iyakan and sampalan as was the preference of the expected audience for the mid- to late-afternoon time slots.

How times have changed! The teleseryes now dominate prime time!

Why this is so was explained in a delightful little documentary that was aired on ANC last year. Programming in the old days was a hit-or-miss affair; and the war for viewership against other networks was on a daily basis and on a per-time-slot basis.

This was because there was a different program every day on primetime in each time slot. That was why programs could run forever like John En Marsha because these raked in the audience; whilst others stayed for no more than a few episodes.

Putting the teleserye on prime time changed all that. A good teleserye guaranteed a captured audience each night; and spared the network the sort of programming headaches that used to be the case before.

Put another way, in the old days, 15 shows were needed for the 15 hours of prime time on weekdays alone. These days, or at least in the ABS-CBN model, just three ongoing shows are needed for the primetime block on weekdays.

Because each teleserye guarantees a captive audience, it again goes without saying that advertising income is also guaranteed. It is no surprise, therefore, that ABS-CBN pours so much of its resources into these shows – because the returns are also lucrative.

For instance, the successful Juan dela Cruz series averaged as high as 37.0% viewership during its first month and even peaked at a massive 42.6% audience share. More over, the show’s success spilled over onto other commercial ventures such as two musical album releases and countless types of merchandise.

Well and good for the network, then! In terms of income, that is! Personally, while I watch Honesto, I also stay away from the others because they are so not my type of fare. I also feel that ABS-CBN is also defaulting on its responsibility to educate its audience with its current type of programming.

There are some shows out there – Matang Lawin, Mag-TV Na, etc. – which would have made prime time in the old days but are these days hidden in some time slot when nobody has woken up. Personally, these are the types of shows that will prevent me from hopping onto the other cable channels.

These shows do not merely feed the emotions as teleseryes do but, more importantly, feed the intellect. There are, as a matter of fact, things more important than income. Not to the moguls, I guess.

Acknowledgment: Top photo from http://www.tfc.com.

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