SkyCable has a virtual monopoly of the cable television business in Metropolitan Manila and its suburbs. As in all monopolies, the best interests of the subscribers of SkyCable have taken second priority to the vested commercial interests of SkyCable’s owners.
That is, however, getting ahead of the story.
Community antenna television is the technical name of cable television. The first commercially viable cable television service in the Philippines was Sining Makulay, Inc. It was launched in 1978 by Roberto S. Benedicto, a close political ally of then President Ferdinand Marcos. Presidential Decree No. 1512 served as Sining Makulay’s franchise.
Under the decree, Sining Makulay, Inc. was authorized to provide cable television service to households that were willing to subscribe to its two channels. Its programs consisted mainly of past and current Hollywood motion pictures, foreign news, and popular American TV programs. Being a pioneer industry, subscribers of Sining Makulay, Inc. were limited to selected villages in the metropolis.
The 1986 Edsa Revolution spelled the end for Sining Makulay, Inc. Because Benedicto was seen as an enemy of the administration of the new president, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, Sining Makulay Inc. eventually closed its operations by the end of 1986.
Seeing a commercial opportunity in the closure of Sining Makulay, Inc., the Lopez family-owned ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation entered the cable television business through its sister company, Central CATV Corporation, which later changed its name to SkyCable Corporation.
Soon thereafter, other cable television service providers entered the scene, two of which became tough competitors of SkyCable. One competitor of SkyCable even offered subscribers a free television set if they availed of its cable TV service.
During this period of intense competition, SkyCable subscription rates were affordable —a little more than one thousand pesos for every quarter provided a household with numerous cable TV channels. The low rates were possible because SkyCable did not have a monopoly in the cable TV business back then.
SkyCable, however, had a built-in advantage over its competitors. Its sister company, Meralco, had electric light posts all over the metropolis and in the suburbs. SkyCable conveniently used those electric posts for its cables either for free or for a small sum. That wasn’t much of a problem because of the common business interests SkyCable and Meralco shared.
As for the competition, Meralco charged them virtually prohibitive rates because in just a few years, SkyCable’s competitors gave up and sold their businesses to SkyCable.
By the 1990s, SkyCable enjoyed a monopoly in the cable TV business in the national capital region and its adjacent areas.
At first, the effects of the monopoly were not well-felt by SkyCable subscribers. In time, however, the baneful consequences of a monopolized business on the consumers became pronounced.
First, SkyCable increased its subscription fees. Today, it costs more than a thousand pesos each month for an ordinary subscription service from SkyCable.
Second, SkyCable’s highly touted service began deteriorating. Many of its service personnel became rude and incompetent. Complaints were referred to a telephone call center, the lines of which are almost always busy. If one is fortunate enough to be attended to by an operator, one gets the run around by someone who obviously does not know anything.
Third, SkyCable started inserting its company’s commercials in what should be the commercial segment of its foreign cable television channels. The actual commercials on Travel Channel, for instance, are often replaced by SkyCable’s own commercials.
More often than not, the SkyCable commercial eats into the time alloted for the Travel Channel commercial, so when the subsriber is returned to Travel Channel, the subscriber misses out on several seconds of the actual program. That’s a rude disservice by any standard.
The commercial insertions done by SkyCable also prejudice the sponsors of the foreign cable channel concerned. For instance, a foreign company that places a commercial on say, an animated cable TV channel, expecting that its commercial will be seen by everyone watching that particular cable TV channel, does not realize that its commercial will not be seen by Philippine audiences who subscribe to SkyCable because its commercial will probably be replaced by a SkyCable commercial. Where is the fairness in that?
Fourth, SkyCable changes cable TV channels indiscriminately. Star Movies used to be available, until it was replaced with Fox Movies.
Fifth, the broadcasts of competitor conventional TV networks like ABC TV 5 and GMA TV 7 (and their affiliate channels) suffer from frequent technical interference. In contrast, broadcasts of the ABS-CBN channels are clear and crisp.
Sixth, many international programs on SkyCable have a synchronization problem – the audio often does not match with the video. Many programs on the National Geographic Channel and the History Channel suffer from this problem.
Seventh, many cable programs do not have a synopsis, despite the touted service.
Eighth, SkyCable saturates its cable service with repeated materials promoting the motion pictures of another sister company, Star Cinema. Tax lawyers are asking – are those promotional materials aired for free, or are they paid for? If they are aired for free, isn’t that unfair competition prohibited under the new Competition Act? If they are paid for, are taxes on those advertisments paid as well?
Ninth, many subscribers to SkyCable are complaining that since June 2017, the get choppy transmissions. SkyCable personnel tell them that the service will improve if they get the company’s black box, and if they pay an additional sum of about P200 a month over and above the existing bill.
Cable television service providers are subject to regulation by the National Telecommunications Commission. Some subcribers of SkyCable should start complaining there about this abusive monopoly.
Under the Constitution, Congress has the power to regulate or prohihit monopolies in commercial mass media when the public interest so requires. Its time Congress exercised that power.