At the House hearing on ABS-CBN’s franchise on Monday, June 29, ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak appealed to Congress for due process as the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) stated it will issue a cease-and-desist order (CDO) on the broadcast of ABS-CBN programs on the channel 43 frequency.
Explaining the continued broadcast on ABS-CBN TV Plus, Katigbak said the company entered into a blocktime agreement with Amcara Broadcasting Network, maintaining that such practice is “a standard commercial agreement” and that other broadcasters have gone into similar arrangements.
He also pointed out that the CDO issued by the NTC to ABS-CBN did not indicate channel 43. When asked if the network would comply should the NTC issue a CDO, he appealed that due process be accorded to it the same way that Congress gave to other companies with expired franchise and pending renewal in Congress.
“’Yung hinihingi po lang namin is to make sure that we are given due process, so we have the right venue to express our position on this matter. And then whatever decision the NTC comes up with, we will respect the regulatory agency,” Katigbak said.
According to Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas president Jun Nicdao, blocktime has been an industry practice for a long time and there is an organization called Independent Block Timers Association of the Philippines.
Nicdao said blocktime involves only the sale of airtime, but the control of the station still rests with the owner or the franchise of the station. “Blocktimers do not need a franchise to buy airtime from a broadcasting station,” he said.
Responding to lawmakers who questioned the broadcast of ABS-CBN programs on Sky that has a lapsed franchise, Katigbak pointed out that the NTC also allowed other companies whose franchises had expired to continue to operate while Congress deliberated on their franchise, saying it will affect a massive number of viewers.
“Between TV Plus and Sky, there are about 11 million homes that have access to our service. ‘Pag pinutulan po natin ‘yan that’s almost 55 million people that will lose access to their entertainment, their news and information. So sana po, ang appeal po namin sa Kongreso is in the spirit of fairness please consider that you have allowed other companies to operate before even after their franchises have expired for so long as Congress continues to hear their application for a renewal,” Katigbak said.
Meanwhile, ABS-CBN legal counsel Caesar Poblador said that there is no rule of law prohibiting the multi-channel format and that Republic Act 7966, which contains ABS-CBN’s franchise terms, does not state that the franchise is only good for one channel.
“On the contrary, multiple channels simply follow the migration plan of the NTC. Among the requirements of the migration plan is that there should be already digital technology that has to be put in place on January 1, 2015,” Poblador said, adding that a pay-per-view offering does not violate any law or rules.
He also cited Republic Act 7966 saying the words “commercial purposes” indicated in the franchise are “broad enough to cover pay-per-view.” In an opinion addressed to the NTC in 2018, the Department of Justice confirmed that pay-per-view is for commercial purpose.
Poblador debunked claims that ABS-CBN is not allowed to sell digital TV set-up boxes, saying the NTC allowed it as it is part of its digital migration plan. He stressed that the digiboxes allowed the public to enjoy clear picture and sound, a multiple channel set up, and free-to-air programs of ABS-CBN and other broadcasters at no additional cost.
Camarines Sur representative Gabriel Bordado said that “the sale of ABS-CBN to its subscribers is a valid commercial activity that falls within the language of its franchise.”
Philippine Cable Television Association (PCTA) director Ralph Casino stressed that digital broadcast empowers viewers with more choices. “In the old technology, each frequency could only deliver a single channel. With digital compression, broadcasters are able to provide four or more channels. This empowers televiewers and consumers to have more options and program choices,” he said.
ABS-CBN TV Plus was launched in 2015 as a response to the government’s mandate for networks to shift from analog to digital broadcast. As of end 2019, ABS-CBN TV Plus has sold over 9 million boxes across the country.