Lockdowns lead to focus on change, more difficult shoots, and scripts that avoid mentioning the pandemic

VIVA Entertainment was set to produce about 40 films in 2020 when the pandemic hit and the lockdowns started. So, the entertainment company decided to put its P1-billion investment earmarked for films into content for streaming services.

“The pandemic caused the shift to digital to accelerate across all industries,” Vivamax Chief Operating Officer Ronan de Guzman told BusinessWorld in an e-mail. “For us, the service of entertainment had to continue amidst the pandemic and in spite of the challenges faced by our world.”

In Jan. 2021, Vivamax was launched after seven months of planning. It launched with 500 titles from its library and added then Tagalized Hollywood and Asian films.

Mr. De Guzman said that the P1-billion investment is allocated for exclusive content and that “the level of production spending will only increase every year as Vivamax grows.”

From the 40 titles intended for theatrical release, Vivamax has increased its target to 60 titles for online streaming over the next 12 months.

In an online interview with BusinessWorld, Viva Entertainment executive Vincent del Rosario stressed that original content is important for growth.

“Another thing that we learned is dapat meron kang ino-offer na hindi available sa ibang platform. Through the originals, nakita namin na attraction siya sa mga subscribers (Another thing that we learned is you have to offer original content which is not available in other platforms. Through the originals, we found that it is an attraction to subscribers),” Mr. Del Rosario said. He added that new titles — whether a film, a series, a documentary, or a concert — are released weekly.

Mr. Del Rosario also noted that Vivamax recently saw an increase to 800,000 subscribers from 600,000 in its first six months. That made the platform the No.1 app on Google Play. “We were surprised, because obviously our targets weren’t high when we started.”

With the focus on creating content that would appeal to the masses, Mr. De Guzman noted that majority of their subscribers are between the ages of 18 to 35 with “a 50-50 male-female profile.”

“Our data estimates show 56% are watching local movies while 14% watch Hollywood and Korean movies,” he said. “Comedy, romance, and concerts are appreciated by our audience.”

When it comes to shooting and producing new films, Mr. Del Rosario admitted that filmmaking during a pandemic while observing health protocols is more difficult and expensive. The actors and crew observe a quarantine period prior to the lock-in shoot and must accomplish their shots prior to curfew.

Currently, Vivamax has 15 titles in production.

“We avoid time stamping our movies with the mention of the pandemic because we think that it needs a long shelf life,” Mr. Del Rosario said. “When we hear pitches from writers and directors, many are pandemic-related. So, we give it back to them. We ask them to avoid… putting a time reference on the film.”

Upcoming titles on the platform include Yam Laranas’ romantic film Paraluman, starring Rhen Escaño and Jao Mapa; Darryl Yap’s romcom Ang Manananggal na Nahahati ang Puso, starring Aubrey Caraan and Marco Gallo; and Mes De Guzman’s drama Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha, starring Sharon Cuneta.

Vivamax also plans to extend its presence in Visayas and Mindanao and work with regional artists and professionals.

“We have big plans to grow the content that emanates from Visayas and Mindanao,” Mr. Del Rosario said, adding that two projects were already greenlit and are pending for production.

“This opportunity makes us happy because we get to work with other producers,” he said.

“The streaming business will continue to grow exponentially in the next years. Entertainment viewing will be decided upon by the audience based on occasion not just location,” Mr. De Guzman said on the outlook for entertainment consumption.

“Free to air will continue to be relevant as an occasion in the home. Cinema will continue as part of a social occasion. Video streaming will be consumed on a more personal ‘alone time’ basis,” he added.

A Vivamax subscription is available on a variety of plans ranging from one week to six months long, with prices ranging from P49 to P3,699 The app is available on the Apple App Store, Google Play, and AppGallery. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman