Is there hope for Philippine TV after Covid?

Robert Labayen

Posted at Jul 14 2020 12:30 AM

(Talk given during the 4As general membership meeting on June 25, 2020)

After the lockdown, there is a future for Philippine TV.

I hope there’s one for ABS-CBN, too.

During ABS-CBN’s 65th anniversary, we asked people why they watch TV. Teresita, a woman we interviewed, had stage 3B cancer of the breast. She dreaded chemotherapy. Then one day she discovered she could go through the treatment while laughing at Vice Ganda on It’s Showtime. Teresita watched ABS-CBN shows up to her full recovery. I am not claiming that ABS-CBN cured her cancer, but it surely accompanied her on the otherwise depressing journey.

Another woman we met was Lola Nena, 102 years old at that time. Her husband has died and some children have married. So, she was mostly alone at home. How did she endure the loneliness? Watching ABS-CBN all hours of the day. A few days ago, we got a message from a supposed-to-be-grandson saying that Lola Nena has passed on. I asked my staff to call Lola Nena to offer our sympathy. It was fake news. Lola Nena, 104, was still strong and was still watching ABS-CBN.

I do not claim that TV made Lola Nena live that long but for sure, TV made her life more enjoyable. This is true: an old woman in my family was upset every time she woke up alive. I couldn’t understand her then. Now I know that if you’re past 90, believed in heaven and didn’t watch TV, you might really be in a hurry to depart.

In our regular interviews with viewers, many people would say “Ito ang kaligayahan namin sa araw-araw” (this is our daily source of joy.) Many readers may not be able to relate because the middle and upper classes have lots of options for recreation. But for simple folk, TV is all they have. It’s a relief and a reward after working all day in the field, in the sea, in the factory or around the house.

When ABS-CBN was shut down, a lot of funny user-made videos came up. It showed people smashing their TV set with a hammer. Some of them threw the TV into the fire or into the river. They said things like “what’s the use of this thing when there’s no more ABS-CBN?!” Surely, they were exaggerating. But they were making a statement. They were really saying “why do you deprive us of our joy?!”

Because of the lockdown, local tv networks were unable to shoot new episodes of their shows. But people still watched the replays. Television is not exactly like the air that they breathe but it’s a kind of craving that cannot be easily be suppressed. I believe that when we are able to shoot new episodes and launch new dramas, the demand for TV will be even greater than before the lockdown began.

(But they have to put ABS-CBN back on air first.)

Psychologist Edward Titchener said humans like TV because we have the capacity for empathy. Our mirror neurons make us feel what others feel.

So, it’s true that we, the viewers, identify with the soap characters and we join them in their journey. We feel their pain, we fight with them, we celebrate their triumph. It is for this reason that our viewers say that TV shows give them hope, inspiration, and courage. Stories, the soul of a people and the mirror of our lives, are also the theater of our values.

News is another important service people need from TV. With our genetic negativity bias, humans are hardwired to survey the environment to ensure safety. During a typhoon right after we were shut down, residents of some towns lamented there was not enough information that warned them about the coming storm.

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors had the habit of gathering around the bonfire. The village’s storytellers will delight everyone. This must have been the beginning of our natural love for stories.

According to evolutionary anthropologists, villagers didn’t just listen to stories. They also listened to gossip. They talked about neighbors who refused to join the hunt or cheated in the division of the meat, among other violations of the unwritten tribal laws. Anthropologists believe this was the beginning of morality, conscience which are the foundations of civilization.

Television is the new bonfire. People gather around it to participate in the continuous evolution of humankind in the global village. That's why TV is not just an escape, it is an essential.

Thank you for supporting ABS-CBN.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.