By Chit Estella
March 30, 2006
IF MEDIA is running after advertisers, and advertisers are running after the market, what is the market running after?
The answer must have been disquieting for in the third meeting of news media representatives, or Media Nation 3, in February, journalists found themselves seeking the help of advertisers in putting out quality shows and news programs in prime time slots.
Prime time in television, once allotted to news and public affairs, has become the domain of soap operas and game shows. Late news is shown at midnight when most people have gone to bed. “Whenever we are able to present the late news at 11:30 p.m., that is already cause for celebration for us,” said a TV executive.
And even beyond prime time, 80 to 85 percent of TV shows have been devoted to entertainment.
Entertainment shows are magnets to advertisements. In its presentation to Media Nation 3, Nielsen Media Research revealed that news and public affairs programs get only about one-fourth of the ads that entertainment gets. In 2004, for example, more than P30 billion in advertising went to GMA-7’s entertainment shows in contrast to just about P6 billion to its news programs. The pattern is shared by ABS-CBN whose entertainment programs got P24.2 billion in advertising revenues that same year while news received only about P4.5 billion.
If the advertising income seems huge, the cost of TV production would boggle the mind. According to Luchi Cruz Valdez of ABS-CBN, it would cost about P250,000 to put out 30 seconds of TV production. It is a steep price to pay even for the most powerful television stations in the country, enough reason to chase after as many ads as one can.
But what do advertisers, in turn, go after? The findings of Nielsen Media Research are unequivocal: almost 80 percent of the targeted consumers belong to the D and E classes, the poorest sectors of Philippine society. Proving that there is much wealth to be gained by catering to the poor, the research showed that these sectors are the targets of the top five advertising categories: telecommunications, hair shampoos, government agencies, detergents and proprietary drugs.
Small wonder then that Jessica Soho of GMA-7 had to reassure her audience of fellow-journalists that, “It is not true that shampoos have taken over our air time.”
Broadcast journalists told the conference that they have tried to put news and public affairs programs on prime time but these have failed to attract the needed advertising support. Representatives of advertising placement agencies have replied that in choosing the programs, they go into “Rolex time,” meaning “I go into a program and know I’m buying premium.” Ratings have become the gold standard.
In such a situation, how can media ever hope to put news or current affairs back to prime time?
Media practitioners recalled that there was a time when news programs were not subjected to ratings. This means that whether they enjoyed a large viewership or not, news were shown during prime time. That time, however, is long gone.
One group of journalists suggested that the different networks jointly finance a one-hour, commercial-free program in prime time. This, of course, means that networks would have to do with less profit.
A mix of private foundations can be tapped to support non-commercial media, another group suggested.
Still another said that advertisers themselves, specifically the Philippine Association of National Advertisers, should allocate a percentage of their earnings, say 10 percent, to finance quality programs. The suggestion had yet to reach advertising companies, many of whom failed to send representatives to this year’s Media Nation summit.
Had there been more advertisers in the conference, they would have heard more observations—and criticisms—from the journalists. For despite the symbiotic ties between media and advertisers, friction continues to characterize the relationship.
Isagani Yambot, publisher of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, said some ad agencies try to blur the line between editorial matter and advertising matter. “I always note two or three ad items which are not differentiated from the news,” he said, adding he was told that the advertiser did not want the item to be boxed and differentiated from the news.
“Is this ethical?” Yambot rhetorically asked.
He admitted that a similar conflict exists between the newspaper’s editorial group and its business group, each wanting as much space as possible. With enough stories to fill up one more newspaper, the Inquirer’s editorial department could do with more than the 40 percent space allotted to its news, he said.
The business department, on the other hand, “wants as much ads as possible to bring in revenues to pay for print, ink and other expenses,” Yambot said.
One broadcast journalist said it is up to the newspapers to resist encroachment by advertisements into editorial space. Likewise, it is the responsibility of broadcast media owners to put quality programs on prime time even without much advertising support.
Journalists pointed out the irony that martial law was able to force viewers to watch current affairs programs because television stations were required to show these during prime time.
Advertising representatives in the conference then tossed the challenge back to media: “You set the policy and we will follow!”
Privately, executives in the broadcasting industry said this is easier said than done. For as long as advertisers follow the market, media will be compelled to do the same.