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Television in the Philippines was introduced in 1953, making it the first Southeast Asian country and the 2nd in Asia to do so. But even before that, during the late 1940s, a number of academic experiments had been done and replicated by Filipino engineers and students. The network that introduced it, ABS-CBN, is currently the leading network in terms of ratings, reach, and revenue.
From 1975 to 1978, the Sinag Awards were given by the Philippine Academy for Television Arts and Sciences (PATAS). On the other hand, the Star Awards for Television is the oldest existing television awards in the country handed out annually by the Philippine Movie Press Club and are voted by the press.
James Lindenberg, an American engineer dubbed as the "father of Philippine television," began assembling transmitters and established the Bolinao Electronics Corporation (BEC) on June 13, 1946. It was named after his wife's hometown of Bolinao, Pangasinan. Three years later, he was the first to apply for a license in Philippine Congress to establish a television station. After a year, on June 14, 1950, his request was granted. Due to the scarcity of raw materials and strict import control since 1948, he was compelled to branch into radio broadcasting instead.
Lindenberg's attempt to put up a television station did not go to waste. Judge Antonio Quirino, the brother of then-Philippine President Elpidio Quirino, had been trying to get a license from Congress that would allow him to put up a television station. The Congress, however, denied him from getting such license for the fear that he might use it as vehicles for propaganda for his brother who was then running for a second term in the Presidential elections of 1953. Because of this, he bought 70-percent share of BEC stocks, which earned him to control the franchise indirectly. He then changed the name of BEC to Alto Broadcasting System (ABS), after the names of its new owners, Aleli and Judge Antonio Quirino. James Lindenberg, was still part-owner, and had served as the general manager of the station.
Before the TV station was formally launched, it faced several obstacles. The Central Bank, for instance, refused to grant Judge Quirino dollar credit from the bank, saying that the said venture was too risky. For this reason, Judge Quirino asked help from his friend Marvin Gray, whose family is a friend of David Sarnoff, who was then the President of Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Through the intervention of Gray, Judge Quirino was able to get assistance from RCA.
Prior to the first telecast, Judge Quirino initiated the importation of 120 television sets through the 60 thousand pesos loan that he received from the owner of Joe's Electric, who was, in turn, became the first to be bestowed with the right to sell television sets in the country.
Finally, on October 23, 1953, Judge Quirino marked the first official telecast in the Philippines through the launching of DZAQ-TV. With the help of RCA, four men underwent technical training in the United States. These were Arcadio Carandang, Romualdo Carballo, Harry Chaney, Jose Navarro.
The ABS studio was a makeshift barn along Florentino Torres Street in Manila. With the transmitter acquired from RCA, the telecasts were received clearly not only in Manila but also in the neighboring provinces. Except for the four engineers who was sent to the US for training, most of the personnel at ABS learned TV operations on the job. The first transmitter for the station was located in San Juan.
DZAQ-TV 3 started out on a four-hour-a-day schedule, from six to ten in the evening. Although ABS was able to round up fifty-two advertisers for the premier telecast, selling spots for regular programming had proven to be difficult since buying radio ad spots was more cost-effective for advertisers. During this time, TV sets costs less than an automobile, and TV reception depended on electrical power, which was not always available.
The programs being telecast at that time were usually borrowed films from the foreign embassies, imported old cowboy movies, and actual coverage of a variety of events. When the station ran out of presenting any new feature, stage plays were transported to television. In 1953, less than a month after the first telecast, Father James Reuter, a Jesuit with radio and television training in the United States, produced the first play on Philippine television entitled Cyrano de Bergerac. The said three-hour-long play was done live, and all the talents were students.
In the beginning, Philippine TV networks would buy the rights of airing mediocre American TV programs and serials since it was cheaper than producing local shows. In order to entice advertisers as well as to encourage increased viewership, simultaneous airing of programs on radio and television resorted to promotional gimmicks. Many popular radio shows, including, Tawag ng Tanghalan, Kuwentong Kutsero, and Student Canteen, started their life on TV this way.
In 1955, Radiowealth began manufacturing television sets. Other local outfits such as, Carlsound and Rehco, also started setting up assembly plants. In 1958, the high taxes previously imposed on canned television shows were removed, which made US shows less expensive than live shows. In April of the same year, another TV network opened, and this was the Chronicle Broadcasting Network (CBN), established as a radio medium in 1956 by businessmen Eugenio and Fernando Lopez. In the same year, CBN brought ABS from Judge Quirino, and merged the two companies under the name Bolinao Electronics Corporation, which was incidentally the former name of ABS.
With the establishment of DZXL-TV Channel 9 on April 19, 1958, the Lopez brothers controlled both television channels nationwide. On November 14, 1969, DZAQ-TV transferred to channel 2, while its sister station DZXL-TV transferred to channel 4.
In 1958 the combined ABS and CBN TV stations moved to their new studios in Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City as the ABS Radio facilities moved to the Chronicle Building in the Intramuros District of Manila, the home building of the CBS Radio studios.
At the turn of the next decade, TV sets became the most sellable appliance in the urban areas. Also within this period, other VHF TV stations opened. These include the DZBB-TV (established on October 29, 1961, by the Republic Broadcasting System (RBS), owned by Robert Stewart), DZFM-TV (established in 1961 by the Philippine government, now defunct),DZTM-TV (established in 1962 by the Associated Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), owned by the Roces family, the publisher of The Manila Times), DZKB-TV (established in 1969, run by Roberto Benedicto of Radio Philippines Network), DWGT-TV (established in 1974, run by the Government Television (GTV), state-owned), and DZTV-TV (established in 1960, run by Inter-Island Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), owned by Andres Soriano), DZRH-TV (established on April 11, 1962, by the Manila Broadcasting Company (MBC), owned by Manuel Elizalde).
Among the top rated programs in the 1960s were The Nida-Nestor Show, Buhay Artista, and Pancho Loves Tita. Another local show that has had a prevailing top rating is Tawag ng Tanghalan, the amateur singing contest hosted by Lopito and Patsy.
BEC's Channel 3 staged in 1963 the first ever test television broadcasts in color, and began broadcasting in color in 1966.
On February 1, 1967, the corporate name of BEC was changed to ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation. Also, during this year, Radiowealth pioneered in the production of 19-, 21- and 25-inch models of color TV sets. Moreover, it was favored by advertisers like Procter and Gamble, Philippine Refining Company, Colgate-Palmolive, Del Rosario Brothers, and Caltex.
In 1969, Filipinos witnessed the live television coverage of the Apollo 11 historic moon landing. It was the first live telecast via satellite in the country. Channels 5, 7 and 13 tied up for the said project, while Channel 2 produced its own color coverage. In the same year, KBS-9 introduced the longest running and consistently rating sitcom, John En Marsha. This sitcom was created by Ading Fernando, and it starred Dolphy and Nida Blanca.
By the late 1960s, news and public affairs programs were pioneered by Channels 2 and 5. The Big News on ABC Channel 5 and The World Tonight on ABS-CBN Channel 2 were the first news programs on Philippine television, followed in that same period by ABS-CBN Channel 9's Newswatch, which with the transfer of channel ownership to KBS-9 in 1969 would stay on for more years. Aside from these, ABS-CBN also pioneered Filipino-language news programming, with Channel 2 having Balita Ngayon and Channel 4 having Apat na Sulok ng Daigdig, with Orly Mercado as its first presenter.
By 1971, the Philippines, through Radiowealth, had become the third country in the world to manufacture color TV sets.
By January 1972, the growth of a national television industry was unstoppable. Aside from ABS-CBN's pioneer satellite broadcasts in the late 1960s, stations were opened up one after the other in many parts of the country beginning in 1961, when DYCB Channel 3, the pioneer provincial television channel, was opened in Cebu City, bringing four hours of locally produced programming with relays of Manila programs.
When the Philippines was placed under martial rule, Marcos ordered the take over of media firms. Government troops entered radio and television stations, and they were placed under military control. All media outlets that were critical of the Marcos administration were padlocked and sequestered.
DZXL-TV Channel 4 of ABS-CBN was seized by the Office of Press Secretary Francisco Tatad and the National Media Production Center of Gregorio Cendaña and was renamed DWGT-TV Channel 4, the government channel. DZKB-TV Channel 9 and DZTV-TV Channel 13 were eventually controlled by the then Ambassador Roberto Benedicto, and Bob Stewart's DZBB-TV Channel 7 was later allowed to operate with limited three-month permits. ABS-CBN was seized from the Lopez family, and Eugenio Lopez Jr., then president of ABS-CBN, was imprisoned. By the latter part of 1973, GMA Network, which was then under blocktimer Philippine Productions, was sold to Felipe Gozon the family lawyer of Stewart because foreigners are not allowed to own businesses in the Philippines, who later changed the name from RBS, to GMA Radio-Television Arts, to Global Media Arts, or simply GMA Network, popularly known as GMA-7.
After ABS-CBN's DZXL-TV Channel 9 moved to Channel 4 in 1969, the Channel 9 frequency was used by the Roberto Benedicto-owned Kanlaon Broadcasting System (KBS), becoming the first to start broadcasts in full color. However, when a fire destroyed the KBS television studios in Pasay City, Benedicto's people took control of the ABS-CBN studios in Bohol Avenue, Quezon City. ABS-CBN, as a network, ceased operations for 14 years, and its studios became the broadcasting venues of new channel GTV-4 and KBS 9. A year later, Salvador "Buddy" Tan, general manager of KBS, reopened Channel 2 as the Banahaw Broadcasting Corporation.
The two Benedicto stations namely KBS Channel 9 and BBC Channel 2, served as vehicles of propaganda for the government. In 1980, Channels 2, 9 and 13 moved to the newly built Broadcast City in Diliman, Quezon City. In the same year, Gregorio Cendaña was named Minister of Information. DWGT-TV Channel 4 became known as the Maharlika Broadcasting System and converted to color.
Initially, the Department of Public Information, reviewed everything that was to be aired on radio and TV set up the rules and regulations. Through other government agencies, policies on ownership, allocation of frequencies, station distribution, and program standards were promulgated. In 1973, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas was created, and this agency allowed for self-regulation. A year later, a presidential decree created the Broadcast Media Council.
The 1974 Miss Universe Pageant, the 1975 Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight fight, the 1981 visit of Pope John Paul II was shown worldwide. When Benigno Aquino was assassinated in 1983, it was a small item on television news. During his historic funeral procession, GMA-7 was allowed by only ten seconds of airtime coverage.
In 1984, Imee Marcos, daughter of Ferdinand Marcos, tried to take over GMA-7 but she was successfully prevented by GMA executives, Menardo Jimenez and Felipe Gozon. Disappointed with the Marcos dictatorship, Stewart left the Philippines.
The Martial Law era also jump-started the beginnings of Philippine cable television. In 1969 Baguio City witnessed the beginning of the first ever cable company in the country. In the late 1970s, the MPI formed the country's first major cable firm, Sining Makulay, which at first served parts of Quezon City, Makati, San Juan and Paranaque in Metro Manila, and included the country's 1st ever local cable stations, SMI Channels 5 and 10 - the latter showing Chinese programs. It later expanded to other major cities in the country. Satellite broadcasts linking the entire country, began early in the 70s by ABS-CBN thru trial runs, also began at that time, with RPN, IBC, BBC and later on GMA and MBS starting simulcasts of programs from Manila to the provinces across the country's 3 major island groups.
For most of the period, RPN and IBC were the most-watched channels in the ratings. However, before the EDSA Revolution, GMA managed to beat the two channels and stayed at the position for the next two years.
In 1986, in the aftermath of the historic People Power Revolution which ended the 20-long year dictatorship of Marcos that forever altered television history, ABS-CBN was returned after BBC, RPN, and IBC were sequestered by the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG), in turn awarded BBC the returning network through an executive order while RPN and IBC were in turn handed over to the Government Communications Group. ABS-CBN would begin both satellite and international broadcasts (the latter a first for a Philippine TV station) in 1989.
During the latter part of the decade, the once-struggling ABS-CBN became the ratings champion from 1988 onward, as RPN and IBC declined. GMA, which retained its owners, faced an uphill battle for ratings supremacy as it ended the 80s as the No. 2 network after a brief stint in the lead.
MBS Channel 4 later became PTV 4 (People's Television) on Feb. 24, 1986, during the 3rd day of the EDSA Revolution, given the fact that soldiers loyal to President Corazon Aquino and civilian supporters took over the channel's broadcast facilities, and in 2001, it was relaunched as the National Broadcasting Network (NBN), before renaming back to the People's Television Network in 2011, albeit in its current Visayas Avenue studios (which was opened in 1992).
ABC returned to broadcast in 1992. In 2008, ABC became TV5.
IBC later became a 100% government owned station in the 1990s by virtue of a compromise agreement between PCGG and Roberto Benedicto, management and marketing were returned to the IBC Board of Directors.
In 1998, ZOE TV was finally launched on channel 11. The channel was blocktimed by GMA Network in 2005, and was relaunched as QTV in November. The channel was again relaunched in February 2011, this time as GMA News TV.
Philippine shows began to be exported to other Asian and non-Asian countries. After the international success of Philippine television (with many TV dramas being broadcast to many countries), Eat Bulaga! was the first Philippine variety show to be franchised in another country. Its first franchise is Eat Bulaga! Indonesia.
Cable television was, in keeping with the 1987 Constitution and the Aquino government policies, removed as a state responsibility in 1988. In this new atmosphere of privatized cable came what is today the cable firm Sky Cable, created in 1990. 11 years later, Dream Satellite TV began operations as the country's first Direct-broadcast satellite television service, lasting up until 2017.
In 2007, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation applied a license to the National Telecommunications Commission to operate a digital terrestrial television service in the country.
In 2008, Sky Cable became the first cable network to adopt digital television and Cignal, the country's first digital direct-broadcast satellite television service, made its debut in February 2009.
In 2009, ABS-CBN started to test digital transmission using the European DVB-T standard. On July 11, 2009, ABS-CBN launched Balls HD in Sky Cable, the first ever high-definition television channel in the country. On the same day, Balls also showed the live broadcast of the first ever locally produced coverage of an event in high-definition.
In 2010, Government-controlled television stations in Manila started to test digital transmission using the Japanese ISDB-T standard. In June 2010, NTC announced that the country will formally adapt the ISDB-T standard for digital terrestrial television. In 2011, ABS-CBN started to test ISDB-T transmission and released a trial version of its own set-top boxes manufactured by American communications equipment supplier Atlanta DTH, Inc. GMA Network, TV5, and other commercial television networks also started their own test during this time. However, GMA Network opposed the decision made by NTC and asked NTC to reconsider the European DVB-T for its superior quality.
On February 11, 2015, ABS-CBN Corporation formally launched its ABS-CBN TV Plus service to the public in a ceremony in Quezon City. On October 3, 2015, ABS-CBN became the first national Philippine television network to broadcast in high-definition on cable. In 2018, GMA Network also launched its own digital set-top box service under the generic name "digibox".