Terrestrial spat rolls onto cable

GMA sues ABS-CBN, hopes to stop merger

MANILA — The battle between the Philippine’s top two terrestrial networks ABS-CBN and GMA-7 has exploded into the cable TV industry.

GMA is suing Lopez-family controlled ABS-CBN and its affiliated cablers for 12 million Philippine pesos ($226,000) for allegedly engaging in “unfair competition, corporate combinations and manipulations as well as unjust, oppressive, high-handed and unlawful business practices.”

It has also asked the National Telecommunications Commission, the government agency regulating the cable industry, to nullify the merger of Lopez-owned Sky Cable, PLDT-controlled Home Cable, and Pilipino Cable Corp.’s Sun Cable under Lopez holding company Beyond Cable because it amounts to a monopoly.

Beyond Cable reaches 71% of the cable TV market in a country with just 10% cable penetration. Its biggest market is Metro Manila, which Sky, Home and Sun service.

The provinces are covered by smaller cable companies that are no match for the giants in Manila.

GMA also complained that the consolidation caused distortion in its terrestrial TV signal.

Sky Cable’s attempt to change GMA’s channel position from 12 to 14 in March without prior notice distorted the signal even further, GMA complained to the NTC.

The No. 2 network — which continues to narrow the gap between itself and market leader ABS-CBN — received 4,106 complaints in April from viewers about its poor signal.

GMA said it is “common knowledge that the quality of signal and audio transmission and established channel position in cable TV of a noncable TV network are crucial factors in arriving at the ratings of the network and its programs.”

The NTC ruled that the channel position could not be changed without first informing the broadcaster and getting NTC approval.

Beyond Cable reps deny charges of a monopoly. “Beyond Cable’s systems only account for 10% of TV homes in Metro Manila and an even smaller percentage nationwide,” says spokesperson Gerardo H. Ramiro.