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There’s no business like show business

Posted on October 12, 2015

Wilson Tieng
President and Chief Executive Officer
Solar Entertainment Corp.

A KEY PLAYER in the Philippine entertainment industry, Wilson Tieng, 61, traces his success to a couple of significant aspects of his youth that shaped his destiny.

First, his near obsession with cinema fueled his passion for entertainment.

And second, losing his father at a very tender age spurred his involvement in the family’s business. That his business empire would focus on entertainment is no coincidence; it was but a natural fusion.

Mr. Tieng is on top of Solar Entertainment Corp., which claims to be the largest content provider and channel operator in Southeast Asia.

The company operates nine channels which include both free-to-air TV and cable, with a range of local and international shows that span genres, including comedy, drama, action, reality shows, sports, and celebrity and entertainment news.

When his father died, Mr. Tieng was unceremoniously exposed to the complexities of business. He recalls, “I was only 12 years old. My brother and I had to stop going to school for a year to help out in our family business.” He would later resume his schooling and go on to take night classes at the Mapua Institute of Science and Technology, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering in 1975.

Although their father’s demise changed their lives abruptly, the Tieng brothers share happy memories of going to the movie theater with their father who would take them to watch double features every weekend. They became film buffs and when the opportunity arose to buy the rights to a film, titled The Harlem Globe Trotters, they grabbed the chance.

Mr. Tieng muses, “It was a black-and-white vintage 1951 movie and people didn’t want to watch it because it was an old film. So my brother and I thought of this gimmick that allowed ticket holders to shoot basketballs backwards for a chance to win prizes.” The promotional activity was a success and after this first foray into the entertainment industry, they were encouraged to shop around for other opportunities.

They were eventually led to Hong Kong, center for martial arts movies. Mr. Tieng saw potential in a comedic film starring then a little-known actor named Jackie Chan. The move was a huge hit and as a result, the Tiengs bought the rights to Jackie Chan’s earlier films. This foresight allowed them to corner the market before other countries took an interest in Jackie Chan’s movies. They also managed to secure rights to popular films such as Rambo, Terminator, Die Hard and the original Japanese version of The Ring.

Having proven his ability to spot successful action films, Mr. Tieng also began looking into art films. He was confident that the Filipino moviegoer would also appreciate them. Mr. Tieng introduced independent films like Amelie and Soong Sisters, which became mainstream successes.

With the business expanding quickly, Mr. Tieng and his brothers established Solar Entertainment Corp. in 1976. Solar Films was formed in 1988 to bring in more international movies and it started producing movies for the local market. Continually focused on growing its share of the entertainment industry, Solar entered the cable TV industry and eventually into full broadcast operations.

Mr. Tieng’s says that his business strategy is one of creative niche programming and distribution. Rather than compete directly with primary networks in the country, he chose to air international shows and sporting events for Filipino audiences. Mr. Tieng concentrated on securing exclusive broadcast rights for several foreign shows and building up a deep program inventory to cater to all markets. Solar is also into local content production.

Mr. Tieng had to deal with many challenges, the biggest of which was a very serious illness in 1988 that eventually required a kidney transplant in 2002. He is quick to admit that he became depressed because the business suffered. Moreover, he owed money to some people and there were bank loans he could not pay. In due time, he overcame his depression and bounced back with a renewed energy and a more optimistic attitude.

Besides being positive in general, Mr. Tieng says that foresight is critical in the entertainment industry. It was this ability that guided them to secure the rights to several blockbuster series. His “gut feel” directed him to go into broadcast rights such as the fights of Sarangani Rep. Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao under Solar Sports as well as the rights to National Basketball Association (NBA) games under NBA Premium TV. Through his program inventory of popular shows and events, he was able to build up the advertising revenue for his channels.

Having been involved in the industry for decades, Mr. Tieng is keenly aware of its weaknesses. Part of his mission is to help protect and strengthen the broadcast and entertainment industries. To this end, he has been active in lobbying for relevant legislation like the Anti-Piracy Law and reduction in amusement taxes. He is involved in industry associations, such as the Movie Products and Distributors Association of the Philippines, the Metro Manila Film Festival, the Anti-Film Piracy Council, and the Film Academy of the Philippines.

In addition to being the president and CEO of Solar Entertainment Corp., he is also president and CEO of Solar Pictures, president of KLG International, and president of the Manila Gold Coast Development Corp. He is also a director of real estate developer Solar Resources and security sourcing company Solar Securities.

Looking ahead, Mr. Tieng’s plans include delivering premium content via Blink, a company offering live TV streaming service to consumers through their tablets and cellphones. He will continue to support quality Filipino independent films through Sinag Maynila, an independent film festival spearheaded by Solar Entertainment together with local film director Brillante Mendoza. The company has also sponsored film appreciation classes and screening award-winning films for students at SM malls during pre-mall hours.

Given the ups and downs in his career, Mr. Tieng advises aspiring entrepreneurs not to be afraid of committing mistakes, saying: “Failure is the best teacher. It’s a cliché but also true. Learn from your mistakes, pick up the pieces and move on.”

The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2015 has concluded its search for the country’s most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines is a program of the SGV Foundation, Inc. with the participation of co-presenters Department of Trade and Industry, the Philippine Business for Social Progress, and the Philippine Stock Exchange. In the next few weeks, BusinessWorld will feature each of the finalists for the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2015.