How to make the government TV network more relevant
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-01-13
Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma opened 2011 with positive news that the DoF (Department of Finance) under Secretary Cesar Purisima is spearheading the privatization of long sequestered television networks RPN-9 and IBC-13 and that the funding requirements of the government television network, NBN-4, is already being addressed.

The President Cory C. Aquino administration had wanted to privatize both RPN-9 and IBC-13 but legal impediments prevented that from happening. Eventually, many of the legal impediments were hurdled after winning several important court decisions. However, succeeding administrations still failed to privatize the two networks.

In the case of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) regime, it was understandable for them to hold on to RPN-9 and IBC-13. A besieged administration will desperately utilize any facility, including two TV networks that are lagging way behind in ratings, which can prop up its dismal public image. That, of course, is sheer illusion and an expensive one to sustain.

Sonny Coloma’s announcement also mentioned a target date for the privatization of RPN-9 and IBC-13 — by end of year 2013. Unless, there are still legal impediments — my advice to both Secretaries Purisima and Coloma is to fast track the privatization and aim for a consummated sale of both TV networks by no later than March of 2012.

There are two reasons for that fast track recommendation, as follows:

1. Between 2011 and 2013, there is no way that those two sequestered TV networks will appreciate in value. On the contrary, based on their track records, their sale prospects are diminished with every passing year. Trying to window dress these two networks will be a case of spending good money after bad. Other than these reasons, Free TV networks all over the world have been encountering consistently diminishing audiences and returns.

2. In early 2010, there were only two FREE TV Titans — ABS-CBN and GMA-7 — that can smother an aspiring rival network. Now, there is the fast rising ABC-5 of Manny Pangilinan. You have here a case of stiffer competition in a market that is not able to sustain more than three national free TV networks.

Sec. Sonny Coloma is on the right track to want to transform NBN-4 into something like the UK’s BBC Network. With over two decades of experience in the television game, your Chair Wrecker would like to offer these suggestions to Sec. Coloma:

Seek private partnerships

The government cannot possibly fund what it will cost to transform NBN-4 into a BBC-type operation. The government cannot even fund NBN-4’s present hand-to-mouth operation. Private partnerships can be attracted if the programming is seen to be relevant to the real big needs of the people. Sec. Coloma will also have to convince potential private partners that NBN-4 will improve its programming and production standards.

Address the real big needs of the people
People have not developed an NBN-4 viewing habit because there is very little in NBN-4 programming that most Filipinos find useful.

Even if Filipinos are biased towards entertainment programs, NBN-4 will still manage to attract a respectable viewer base if the programming really serves the big needs of the people.

Among these big needs that NBN-4 can address are the following:

1. Teach the people livelihood skills or where they can go to learn these skills. Information where people with these skills can find employment will also be appreciated.

2. Instructions on important government programs and services and how people can avail of these. Much of people’s disappointment with the government emanates from their lack of knowledge of what services are available to them, where to apply for these services and how to apply for these.

3. Historical dramas that teach Filipinos their real history. The KBS World Network of South Korea does this to perfection. Their historical dramas are well written and provide nuggets of wisdom.

Develop an NBN-4 niche in the Public Affairs arena

It will take decades before NBN-4 will ever be perceived by the public as fair and unbiased in news reporting. The BBC enjoys this image because their society has long lived with a culture of editorial independence. No public official in the UK will ever dare to try to influence BBC news reporting.

However, being a part of the government, NBN-4 enjoys the unlimited access to information which the rest of private media do not publish or broadcast. Farmers (Department of Agriculture programs), mothers (nutrition and health tips), businessmen (trade incentives) and so forth could be attracted to watch NBN-4 if there are useful information to be had on a regular basis.

NBN-4 should look into the minds of the Filipino FREE TV viewers and find out what the government TV network can still offer them. Marketing begins and ends with the consumer. NBN-4 should develop a marketing mentality and not be prone to simply copying other networks like the BBC and PBS of the US. The British and American publics have different needs. NBN-4 should address Filipino needs.

Even after NBN-4 succeeds to determine the real big needs of Filipinos that it can service, their mission has only started. NBN-4 has to convince the showbiz oriented Filipino viewers that they need to watch and learn from these developmental TV programs.
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