ABS-CBN Corp.’s shows such as New Beginnings and Asintado are being shown in 41 African countries, while La Vida Lena and Mirabilia are being aired in Myanmar. — COMPANY HANDOUT

By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter

LE MARIE GRACE BALDERAMA, 28, watched The Broken Marriage Vow, ABS-CBN Entertainment’s adaptation of the BBC original series Doctor Foster, on YouTube from her home in Canada.

“I was curious,” the Filipino interior design technician said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “I have watched the Korean version and I wanted to compare the plots.”

Ms. Balderama also watches with her parents Filipino talent shows The Voice Philippines and Tawag ng Tanghalan on iWantTFC and YouTube.

The rise of streaming platforms amid a coronavirus pandemic has given Filipino TV shows a chance to be seen by a worldwide audience.

Online market research firm Statista says 77% of Filipino internet users aged 16 to 64 used a video streaming subscription service in 2020. Netflix was the leading platform in the Philippines with a 35% market share.

Major entertainment companies in the Philippines have been exporting TV shows even before the pandemic.

ABS-CBN’s romance drama Bagong Umaga, known globally as New Beginnings, is aired in more than 41 African countries including Kenya, Ghana and Madagascar. Its action-drama series Asintado is aired with a French dub in Africa’s French-speaking region including the Ivory Coast, while La Vida Lena is airing in Myanmar under the Burmese title Maya Galeisar.

Four GMA Network dramas — Madrasta, Kambal, Karibal, Legally Blind and Onanay — were set to premiere in Africa and a deal with SynProNize, a Dubai-based content distribution and production company, the listed company said in September.

Last year, GMA’s Spanish-dubbed versions of Little Mommy (La Inocencia De Tania), For Love or Money (Por Amor o Por Dinero) and A Place in Your Heart (La Madrasta) also debuted in Ecuador.

ABS-CBN, which imported the hit Mexican drama series Rosalinda in the Philippines in the 1990s, formed its International Sales Team later, bringing Mula sa Puso to Malaysia in 2002 and Pangako Sa ‘Yo to Kenya in 2003.

“For the first five years, we concentrated on selling six of our top-rating titles,” ABS-CBN Sales Head Laarni Yu said in an e-mail. Rival GMA Network started its syndication business in 2007 through its Worldwide Division.

“We began with the export of a few of GMA’s top-rating dramas to an Indonesian broadcaster,” Roxanne J. Barcelona, vice-president and consultant of GMA Network’s Worldwide Division, said in an e-mail. The dramas were dubbed in Bahasa. After Indonesia Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore followed suit.

Acquiring foreign content for GMA allowed them to build a network of international clients and helped the company develop its syndication business, she said.

Early GMA dramas syndicated in Southeast Asia in the past 15 years included Marimar, Dyesebel, Encantadia and Mulawin.

“When we started off with Cignal Entertainment, international distribution had always been in the radar,” Cignal Entertainment Vice-President Isabel Aranez-Santillan said in a Zoom interview. “We knew that whatever we would produce for the TV or theaters had to travel outside the Philippines.”

Anyone who buys Filipino content always considers the story and production quality, Ms. Barcelona said. “Buyers also consider a program’s target audience and past ratings. These are indicators of a program’s potential to also rate well with a similar audience segment.”

Similarities in culture and experiences are also important factors that influence the salability of TV programs, she added.

“We take into consideration several cultural factors when choosing the titles we sell to each territory,” Ms. Yu said. “Understanding the audience is key — how they relate to the characters, actors’ appearances, language and the universal theme of family love are some of the bases for our decisions.”

ABS-CBN has sold more than 50,000 hours of TV content in more than 50 countries. 

The network’s shutdown after Congress rejected its franchise extension in 2020 quickened its digital transformation, forcing the company to migrate to the online world, where it has become the country’s leading local content producer for both news and entertainment.

The company posted a P3.8-billion net loss in the nine months to September 2021, lower than the P7.3-billion net loss a year earlier, according to a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange.

“ABS-CBN furthered its international reach by merging its proprietary digital application to iWantTFC and ungeoblocking of entertainment and news content in various regions across the world,” it said. It distributed more than 180 titles to various territories in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe as well as on various over-the-top platforms, generating more than P292 million.

In contrast, GMA Network’s net attributable income during the same period rose by 53% to P5.98 billion from a year earlier, boosted by ad revenue that rose by 35% to P15.5 billion, according to a stock exchange filing. Net income from international operations fell to P506.6 million from P649.1 million a year earlier.

“As long as the theme is universal, such as love and family values, and even the other networks have been producing content that are really marketable outside the country,” Cignal TV Vice-President Jeffrey Remigio said via Zoom.

For filmmaker, TV and music producer and writer Christopher Cahilig, a project should first and foremost be commercially viable.

“I know it’s not the most ideal for other people because they will always say, ‘I want a story that’s artsy,’” he said. “If you come in with a big premise that the material is commercially viable, it will make sound business.”

“We start pitching the story concept to the streaming platform,” Mr. Cahilig said in Filipino. “If they don’t like the material, we don’t produce it. We don’t bet on something that’s not going to be a hit.”

A TV series production costs P15 million to P25 million, which includes the cost of shooting and hiring known actors. A 30-50% mark-up is the usual expectation, he added.

A TV series is deemed a success if there’s wide viewership and good social media feedback and engagement.

“Ratings are still the main factor when determining a program’s success,” Ms. Barcelona said. “Unfortunately, not all clients subscribe to rating providers and not all territories have TV ratings readily available. This is why we regularly communicate and receive feedback from our clients.”

Social media feedback on the social media pages of GMA and its clients is also a good indicator of a show being considered a hit, she said. “The success of a drama also results in increased foreign social media followers for our artists.”

“The best indicator is a client’s decision to buy more dramas from GMA,” Ms. Barcelona said. “A program can be so successful that a client decides to also acquire its format rights to do a remake in their country,” she added, noting that they have sold a number of their drama formats in Vietnam, Cambodia and Latin America.

Another measure of success is ad revenue if the TV series is offered on an advertising-based video on demand service, which is free to consumers, said Pia Laurel, ABS-CBN head of international distribution. “If the platform is subscription video on demand-based, its benchmark is whether the title could drive new subscriptions or renewals.”

For “over-the-top” — where material is distributed directly to viewers on the internet — and other streaming platforms, the number of views and minutes spent on a show is a good measure of success, Mr. Remigio said.

“GMA has embraced a ‘glocal’ outlook in producing content, or content both for the local and global markets,” Ms. Barcelona said. This is aside from trying to keep up with the technical aspects of TV production and be at par with international standards, she added.

The network’s syndication business also paved the way for co-production and partnerships with major international players.

“As a content company, our dream and primary focus is to create and produce more original stories that will resonate and reach every audience worldwide,” Ms. Laurel said.

Cignal’s plan has always been to create a library of content not only for TV but also for over-the-top and theatrical release, Ms. Santillan said. “When we do that, we are cognizant of the other platforms where we can distribute them.”

Whatever the narrative is, the human experience should bridge cultural differences.

“We think about the human experience and how it’s told.” Mr. Cahilig said. “Because people have access to so much content now, I think being distinctly Filipino will really help you stand out.”

Ms. Balderama, the Filipino-Canadian, wants to see more morena actors, queer topics and stories of people like her who have succeeded elsewhere.

“I see stories about migrant Filipinos dealing with many realistic problems, but I also would like to see more stories of them flourishing in their chosen new lands.”