MANILA, Philippines - Diversifying conglomerate San Miguel Corp. (SMC), which is currently beefing up its presence in the highly competitive telecommunications arena, now wants to own a television network.
SMC president Ramon Ang said they will join the bidding for government’s stake in television stations RPN 9 and IBC 13.
Earlier, Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO) said the government is determined to privatize the two TV stations, two-and-a-half decades since they were sequestered in 1986.
Ang told The STAR that it is not only RPN 9 and IBC 13 that they are interested in. “SMC will join all government bidding to help,” he said.
IBC 13’s physical assets and franchise were earlier valued at P1.2 billion, while RPN 9’s franchise was estimated at P800 million.
RPN 9 and IBC 13 will produce the content required by SMC for its growing telecommunications business. Through wholly-owned subsidiary Vega Telecom, SMC now owns Liberty Telecom, Eastern Telecom, Bell Telecommunications, and is in talks to acquire Extelcom which has a cellular license.
Officials and employees of RPN 9 called on government to immediately proceed with the privatization of what used to be the country’s leading network to stop it from further bleeding.
The Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) group, which now owns TV5 and was in failed talks to acquire controlling shares in GMA Network, is no longer warm to the idea of acquiring another network.
PLDT’s media arm Mediaquest is currently engaged in an “internal debate” on whether or not it should consider acquiring RPN 9 or IBC 13 or both.
PLDT chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan said the debate centers mainly on whether or not the group still needs another free-to-air channel.
Mediaquest, wholly-owned by the PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund (BTF), owns TV5, a free-to-air channel in addition to Channel 41, now TV5’s news channel.
Pangilinan, who is also chairman of TV5, explained that with the impending shift from analog to digital television transmission beginning 2015, frequencies can be split to accommodate more channels. “The question is, do we still need that kind of bandwidth from the government channel?” he said.
Pangilinan added that the decision to acquire will also depend on how much government will sell its stake.
The PLDT group earlier expressed interest in RPN 9/IBC13, but that was before it acquired TV5 from businessman Antonio ‘Tonyboy’ Cojuangco.
As this developed, Pangilinan revealed that TV5 is spending about P8 billion this year for capital expenditure, mainly for the construction of the new studio complex in Mandaluyong as well as the equipment that will be used for news and entertainment.
He said TV5’s loss this year will be bigger than last year, even as he added that this is expected considering that the network is on investment mode. “The losses are tolerable. It will be a bloody year though for TV5,” he added.
Government has announced that it is seriously considering the sale of state-run television stations RPN9 and IBC13 within the next two years.
Coloma said there is interest to purchase the two stations, adding a joint venture agreement for IBC13 was entered into as early as 2009.
The two channels were among the private companies of former President Marcos and his cronies, which were sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) when former President Corazon Aquino came to power in 1986.
PCGG commissioner Ricardo Abcede, who represented the anti-graft body in the Privatization Council under the Department of Finance (DOF), said the sale has been long in coming.
Abcede said at present, there is interest in the planned sale of the TV stations, which government can offer to private companies, like SMC, which are diversifying their operations.
He said government’s efforts to put the two stations up for sale should be simpler with the help of an earlier government-initiated CLSA [Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia] study that appraised the value of the station’s assets and obligations to employees and suppliers.
Earlier reports quoted Coloma as saying the two networks must first be overhauled to ensure they would be in the best condition for privatization. The overhaul is seen to involve changes in the leadership of the two TV stations’ boards of directors.
Coloma assured the Aquino administration will not leave employees of the government-owned TV stations to fend for themselves.