I have been in the entertainment business for nearly 60 years — almost my whole life. Come to think of it, providing entertainment is my life. It has been since I started Vicor Music with my cousin Orly Ilacad when I was only 20 years old. We were then just kids who liked making music. I say that was a daring move that became a success, and I enjoyed the work so much that I decided to stay.
Over the years that followed, I also ventured into motion pictures with Viva Films, television, live concerts, or whatever form of entertainment became available for me to explore. A lot has happened since then. Some bad. Truth to tell, there have been times when I literally almost lost everything. But happily, for me and for the people whose livelihoods now depend on Viva and Vicor, there has also been a lot of good.
Whatever business I was in seemed to always find a way to bounce back from failure, to right itself and become successful again. I like to think I have developed a kind of coping mechanism for these — I sometimes call them glitches in business. I say, meet them squarely with feet planted on the ground, but with your head open to as many solutions as possible.
The COVID-19 crisis was something else, though. That day in March 2020 when the country went into lockdown felt like the end of the world. More so for us in the entertainment business.
Our very existence is dependent on fans, on the people who spend time and money to see their idols, to hear their favorite music, to marvel at the immersive experience of great moviemaking. But during a pandemic when casual contact with another human being could mean the spread of the virus and death, there was no way you could get people into theaters or concert halls.
Add to this the fact that the COVID-19 crisis also affected the economy in the most massive way you could imagine. The virus brought business to its knees. I went into the worst-case scenario frame of mind and thought: this was the beginning of the end of the world.
It did seem so because there was no cure for the virus at that point. People were dying as medicine had been rendered helpless. People around you were unable to earn a living and depended only on government ayuda for their meals. In times like those, entertainment would be the last thing on anybody’s mind.
Music companies everywhere were already making the transition to digital technology before the pandemic happened. Viva Music was no different.
That was the logical thinking. But I had a little voice telling me that there was a place for entertainment during times of crisis. People needed something to take their minds away off the tragedy surrounding them, a respite of an hour or two, or even just a song.
I was right. As time passed, it became evident that people everywhere needed to be entertained. Artists, movie stars, singers, all sorts of celebrities took advantage of this demand. Most of the time they performed with no remuneration at all, with proceeds all going to charity.
How did they do this with everybody, including them, locked inside their homes? Through digital technology. This was what heaven sent to save the entertainment industry. I am happy to say that it also saved Viva.
Music companies everywhere were already making the transition to digital technology before the pandemic happened. The COVID-19 virus just hastened the change. The result was a boom in the music business. Entire albums were recorded and became available online. Concerts by big-name artists happened online. They were on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, Facebook, and all those other platforms. Millions went dancing on TikTok. The amount of content being unloaded all over the world was staggering, and it was all happening online.
Viva Music was no different. It was amazing to see our artists, content creators, engineers step up to the challenge. Arthur Nery, one of today’s most popular singer-composers, became a star online. Janine Tenoso recorded an entire album inside her bedroom. Rob Daniel recorded his songs on a mobile phone.
For the first time in years, producers are no longer dependent on theater chains. There are no more fights for the best playdates, no more scrounging around for funds to pay the constantly rising cost of theater rentals to keep movies showing and no more need for stars who are huge box-office draws.
Despite the pandemic, revenue and future prospects for music were very good. So good, in fact, that Viva attracted a partner in the French music distributor Believe, which bought shares of the Viva Music Group and Artist Agency worth €23 million. This was the first time that a foreign company had invested in an all-Filipino music company. Seeing how good the results are, I am sure there will be similar deals for other local labels soon.
As for motion pictures, we found a new outlet in Vivamax. With 67% of Filipinos already online 10 hours a day on average, it was no wonder that Vivamax would easily find a devoted audience.
Vivamax is a video-on-demand app that features Viva movies and other content. It was already in place when the pandemic hit. It took a massive push to get it into full operation, but it is now in place with over three million registered users in the Philippines, Asia-Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, USA and Canada, the Middle East, and Europe.
Let us not forget: there will still be risks and dangers, new and old, but as we saw with COVID-19, these also create opportunities for us to make a better world.
The prevalence of subscription streaming sites has permanently changed moviegoing habits. For the first time in years, producers are no longer dependent on theater chains. There are no more fights for the best playdates, no more scrounging around for funds to pay the constantly rising cost of theater rentals to keep movies showing and no more need for stars who are huge box-office draws.
Thus, because production and marketing costs are lower, there are fewer risks and more room for experimentation. I know this situation has affected the livelihood of some sectors, but it is turning out to be advantageous for the movie industry as a whole. Movies are made to be watched, and more people than before are now doing just that.
Of course, nothing compares to the thrill of watching movies in a darkened theater with a bucket of popcorn and being surrounded by people reacting to what is onscreen. We will always want that, and soon we will have that again. But there is now an alternative that has resulted in a wider and, I must say, global market. Keeping these choices in mind will put the Filipino producer on the right path toward an improved, bigger-earning industry we can all be proud of.
The pandemic is now hopefully coming to its end. Its effects, though, will still be felt for a long time. It has permanently changed business practices around the world and will continue to reshape the way we think, and our values. I hope that all these will be for the greater good. Let us not forget: there will still be risks and dangers, new and old, but as we saw with COVID-19, these also create opportunities for us to make a better world.