In 2004, The Filipino Channel was finally available in Europe, ten years after it had launched in the United States. I was one of the first to subscribe (the fourth in the UK, I believe) even though it was expensive and it meant having a satellite dish installed for only four TV channels and two radio stations. I was just glad to be able to watch Filipino TV at long last. TFC is still available today, but it has switched technology: now broadcasting via IPTV instead of satellite. The addition of more channels, video-on-demand and more affordable subscription has ensured its success. The following is my review of TFC when it launched in the UK.
Filipinos living in the UK rejoice! You can now watch your favourite TV shows from the Philippines, thanks to The Filipino Channel (TFC) Direct!. This is a direct-to-home satellite package from ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ largest and most popular broadcasting company. And, if you subscribe quickly enough, you will be able to catch the special coverage of the presidential election later in May.
Be warned though: subscribing to TFC Direct! requires a hefty initial investment. The annual subscription is £217 and in addition you will have to pay for installation and satellite equipment which cost another £280. So altogether you can expect to pay £501 in the first year. You can pay semi-annually or quarterly but prices rise accordingly.
For your money, you get four TV channels and two radio stations:
- The Filipino Channel (TFC): a general entertainment channel offering primetime news, variety shows, sitcoms, talk shows, and drama series.
- Pinoy Central TV (PCTV): a second general entertainment channel featuring regional news and soap-operas, travel and cultural shows, major sporting events, and much more.
- ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC): news and current affairs 24 hours a day with business reports and insightful discussions on burning national issues.
- Cinema One: the token movie channel showcasing a large library of recent and classic Filipino movies as well as exclusive shows featuring movie reviews and celebrity interviews.
- DZMM-AM Radio: Commentaries on news and current events by some of the Philippines’ most credible broadcast journalists.
- DWRR-FM Radio: The Philippines’ own Capital Radio with its healthy mixture of Western and Filipino pop music, hourly bulletins, traffic news, phone-ins and showbiz gossip.
The two general entertainment channels should go a long way in helping ex-pat Filipinos cope with homesickness. For the first time, they can watch same-day feeds of home-made shows. This means that UK-based Filipinos can watch an episode of Marina, currently the country’s No. 1 soap-opera, on the same day as their relatives back home. TV Patrol, ABS-CBN’s long-running current affairs programme, is even shown live.
Filipinos hungry for news about their homeland will have more than their fill with generous helpings of round-the-clock coverage from ANC and DZMM. As to be expected, the hottest issues at the moment are those surrounding the presidential candidates and no doubt the election coverage will reach fever pitch by 15 May when Filipinos go to the ballots to decide who their next leader should be.
Fans of Philippine movies will adore Cinema One. I’m not one of them, however. Filipino movies tend to fall under four broad categories (mushy love stories, tragic melodramas, violent action films and comedies that are so predictable they are no longer funny). You’ve seen one and you’ve seen them all but my mum keeps coming back for more so who am I to argue?
TFC Direct! provides more than entertainment and information. Aired in North America, South-east Asia, Australia, Middles East and now Europe, it is to be applauded for attempting to link Filipinos abroad by fostering a “global Filipino community”. It does this with specially commissioned shows about Filipinos working in different parts of the world, dedicating airtime to promote Filipino organisations abroad and featuring “filler” programmes in which jetsetting Filipinos can show off their travel photos proving that they can play just as hard as they work.
So what’s the downside? I’ve experienced several signal losses during the four months that I’ve had the service. However, this could be because TFC Direct! is newly launched in Europe and customers should expect teething problems. Also, many Filipinos will be discouraged by the high subscription fees. But, as the subscriber base grows, I would expect that the service will become more affordable. There is also every possibility that additional channels will be introduced, making TFC Direct! better value than it is currently.