Farewell to Studio 23

After more than 3 years of fearing the inevitable, it finally happened. After 17 years on the air, Studio 23 is finally folding up to give way for a new sport-oriented network to take its place.

Farewell, Studio 23.

Farewell, Studio 23.

If you guys have been a regular of my blog, you know that I have long been critical of the changes the post-Leo Katigbak management have put in place. This is with good reason, being one of the many viewers who grew up watching the likes of Charmed, Smallville and F! on this little channel in the UHF band.

However, I can’t say I’m sorry that what once a haven of good television is leaving the airwaves for they should have seen it coming from a mile away. Especially the one chief programmer who destroyed this once great netlet to the very core, starting off with phasing out all its English-language programming, including its flagship news program, News Central, and forcing the rest of its remaining in-house shows to switch gears from English to Filipino.

What happened?! Where did it all go wrong? I see three likely reasons as to what led 23 to be given the deathknell of TV martyrdom:

1. Undetermined Identity

Studio 23’s post-Katigbak era, led by March Ventosa, seemingly didn’t have a clear idea of what the network should be.

A conversation I had with one of the 23 execs at the time of 23’s relaunch in 2010 said the intention was to make it move towards a young demographic that are not traditionally upscale as the target market 23 once sought after for most of its years. Basically, they’re still going after younger viewers but whose tastes are similar to that of mothership ABS-CBN. Ratings were obviously down, brought upon by competition from cable as well as emerging players like ABC/TV5 and Solar.

23 have long been able to turn up a very balanced programming strategy during the Katigbak days, knowing where to place shows in the schedule that the audience will surely be able to thoroughly follow. Music programs in the morning, movies and sports in the afternoon, animated and foreign shows in the evening (Studio 23’s signature hours), local entertainment shows in between those shows and then specials and lifestyle shows occupying much of weekends. Audience know what, where, and when they want to watch and that’s how 23 came to be known.

When the changes in the network finaliy took effect in 2010, much of 23’s flagship shows were either canceled or have been pushed back. The latter were placed on late nights as lead-outs to movies, mostly old rusty Tagalog action and comedy movies taking their places on the net let’s primetime schedule. The intention was that, with the huge audience that 23’s movie blocks usually draws for both daytime and primetime, it could help boost the numbers of the pushed-back shows up as a lead-in.

As noble as those plans are, eventually 23 never hold it up and ended up having them all phased out and shuffling programs every now and then. Eventually sports have started to break more ground as regular coverages for soccer and basketball started to increase in addition to airing 2-3 hour blocks of wrestling. Combined, sports have pretty much taken over the entire schedule. Daytime music programming decreased to a 1 hour a day. Whatever remains are pockets of entertainment shows inserted during sports-offseason. Imagine women’s programming like UsGirls and Asia’s Next Top Model placed on a night fully dominated of mostly male-centric programming.

Such an increasingly odd-fit as the years raged on that it became hard to tell if the powers that be wanted 23 lean more on general entertainment or strictly to sports.

As a friend of mine said in an online forum, much of the schedule nowadays have become more or less a “hodgepodge” of several ABS-CBN cable channels (Balls, Myx, Jeepney) that it forever damaged the legacy of the 23 brand. Same can be said on the similarly ill-fated women’s TV network QTV which eventually became a hybrid news netlet that is News TV.

2. Tagalized ZOMG!

I always believe that TV is a medium of learning that is freely accessible to the general population. Thus it didn’t make sense to me as to why TPTB decided to have the remains of Studio 23’s English-language programming all be dubbed in the national language. As if we already have more than enough Filipino-language channels on terrestrial television, we get another one.

I’m all in supporting our national language, it’s important to remember that English has co-equal status with Filipino as an official language in the country. There needs to be accessible mediums that would allow Filipinos to learn the language alongside Filipino at an easier pace. Unfortunately, with proficiency in the language among the younger generation already falling, the last thing we need is one less English-language network on free TV.

And don’t get me started on Anthony Taberna’s IbaBalita.

Studio 23 is known for its signature English-language programming, mostly consisted of imported shows and movies from the US. Much of my strength in the language derived from watching for countless hours the likes of The Amazing Race, Survivor, Charmed, Smallville and Kyle XY. To lose all of that in a whim felt like a stabbing in my heart. My generation benefited with that kind of exposure so it is incredibly sad with how things began to turn out.

That leads me to no. 3.

3. Inability to Adapt in Time

When 23 was at its peak, cable television started to steal away much of its audience, not to mention piracy such as illegal downloading was at the time already making rounds as early as the onset of the new millennium. Meanwhile, Solar Entertainment became a household name in the local cable front with its roster of niche specialty channels catering to the same audience as that of 23’s.

There have been much wishful thinking online long ago that perhaps it might be best for S23 to possibly become a cable channel programming wise, with encores of its popular shows airing multiple times a week. However, the economics were never always in the network’s favor so they stayed to what was already working for them for much of its 17-year history on broadcast.

Back in 2007, as a way to combat the rise of piracy, 23 pioneered in the country the now-standard practice of fast-tracking programs from the US to well within 1-2 weeks after their broadcast stateside, not just The Amazing Race and Survivor. The network called this FUSE (Fresh from the US Episodes). Alongside it was the introduction of an online on-demand streaming service that carries basically every show of the network called “Catch-Up TV” (CTV), which was way ahead of its time before the mothership’s iWanTV came into form.

I thought 23 struck gold with what they have come up with, fast-tracking shows and putting them up online on-demand. Unfortunately, things did not go to where the network hope and they ended up discontinuing what they’ve started after only 2 TV seasons.

What makes it all tragic is that rival companies, Solar and Fox International Channels continued where 23 left off by also fast-tracking popular TV programs from abroad. Worse part is that Solar have made a success story out of its unique partnerships with several minor TV networks in carrying content from the company’s cable channels, essentially becoming free-to-air cable channels themselves.┬áSuch a business model would have worked for 23 had it acted fast in the event that its current set-up would no longer keep the network viable.

To be fair the intended relaunch of the station a few years ago was done in good faith, hoping to give 23 a new lease in life. Unfortunately, it was a little too late for them to do such a desperate move as it turns out, it didn’t do the netlet any good but rather made it a shell of what it once was.

The plan behind the complete rebrand of the frequency as a sport-oriented channel would partially explain the added emphasis of sports in the ailing 23’s schedule for the past year. I’m not particularly angry on what they’re going to do with 23 now because finally, DWAC-TV have chosen an identity that it could stick to for real.

By Saturday 18th January 2014, Studio 23 officially changes face as ABS-CBN Sports+Action (which I shall nickname as ASA, and still call it 23 by nature). I have my expectations of what I want to see in the new network thus I’m hoping ASA is flexible enough to air a little bit variety in its programming. Hopefully, something will be done about those outdated graphic packages post-Katigbak promo team have been turning out. It should have been just as qualitatively competitive as the other networks’.

While I’m sad to see it go, at least I can still hold on to memories of the one channel my generation have cherished and nurtured for the past 17 years.

Most of all, I want to say my heartfelt thanks to the man behind the brand. Mr. Leo Katigbak on all the Kabarkadas out there. S23 was never the same again when you left and it is but pure sadness of what all of us former/lapsed viewers had to witness of what was being done to a network you’ve worked hard to built to what it was before the new management took over.

We will never forget you, the VJ’s, the News Central and lifestyle hosts, and most of all, Studio 23.
P.S. SCREW YOU MARCH VENTOSA!