Alarmed by the "ratings manipulation" accusation, GMA Network recently called for a meeting with the top representatives of various advertising firms and agencies to discuss the sensitive issue first raised by its rival network, ABS-CBN. The Kapuso network also took the opportunity to explain the controversial promotions activities being implemented by the company to bolster its presence in the rural areas.
GENESIS. It was on December 14, 2007 when ABS-CBN filed a P63-million civil lawsuit against AGB Nielsen Media Research Philippines before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court for allegedly failing to conduct an investigation on the reports of cheating in the province of Bacolod.
According to ABS-CBN, a certain "Gary" appeared in their Bacolod office and divulged that he, along with others, were recruited by an outside party to scout and eventually bribe the panel homes tapped by AGB Nielsen for its ratings survey around the area.
In a statement prepared by Gary, he said that they offer the households P500 and grocery items in exchange for a simple demand: switch the TV dial in favor of a particular "network."
The informant added that most of the households easily comply because of poverty. In a statement handed down to the media last December 14 during an emergency press conference, the Lopez-owned network said that upon learning of the information, they quickly called the attention of AGB Nielsen. However, the media research firm allegedly failed to conduct a probe, hence triggering ABS-CBN to bring the matter to the court.
Initially, the dispute only involved ABS-CBN and AGB Nielsen. However, as both camps traded statements and allegations, the name of GMA-7 cropped up—with ABS-CBN allegedly identifying GMA Network as the group behind the anomaly as a result of their "promotional activities." Aggravating the issue was AGB Nielsen's supposed acknowledgment of the "promo activities" and its eventual reflection in the ratings data generated by the media research firm on a daily basis.
To defend its turf and protect their credibility in the eyes of the public and the advertisers, GMA slapped a P15-million lawsuit against ABS-CBN while issuing a stern warning against AGB Nielsen and its officials to be careful in dropping the network's name sans any solid proof and evidence. Such irresponsibility in giving out remarks, argued GMA, are enough to tarnish the network's name and relationship with their business partners.
Last Monday, January 7, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, through the orders of Presiding Judge Samuel Gaerlan, junked the case filed by ABS-CBN against AGB Nielsen Media Research Philippines, citing that the lawsuit was "prematurely filed."
DAMAGE CONTROL. In the wake of the court's verdict, GMA-7 gathered more than a hundred advertising reps in a meeting held yesterday, January 8, at the Shangri-la Hotel in Makati City.
In the said assembly, GMA-7, aided by a point-by-point visual presentation, thoroughly explained the various promo activities conducted in the provinces like spending millions to strengthen the network's signal, house-to-house viewing promo sweetened with small prizes to some lucky households, and disseminating Kapuso Komiks to keep the viewers updated and entertained at the same time. There is also the provincial motorcade participated by the network's biggest stars and other talents.
GMA-7, however, made it clear that all of its promo undertakings are legal and done openly—something, GMA-7 executives argued, that ABS-CBN also does as part of its marketing strategy to entice the viewers. In a previous statement, GMA-7 mentioned that all promo activities are being implemented in broad fashion and not on selected homes—particularly the panel households—because they don't have any information as to the exact whereabouts of the metered homes.
The network also clarified that they never conducted any promo activities in Bacolod City—the place where the supposed "bribery" and "cheating" took place.
"We are now taking this opportunity to discuss with you these issues and to give the report on what we've done in the provincial areas. From this, you will see that this malicious charges being hurled of us are baseless and unfounded," said GMA to the advertisers who filled up the entire function room.
The advertisers welcomed the forum to cast off some of the confusion and doubts generated by the issue.
"Ang gusto lang namin, because this has already been filed in court, let the arguments be presented in court," Starcom Mediaquest Group Philippines Managing Director Lizelle Maralag told GMA-7 News.
For outgoing Philippine Association of National Advertisers President, Raul Alvarez, the ball is back to the one who instigated the entire uproar.
"The burden of proof really is on somebody who's making the allegation," he said, "and I understand AGB [Nielsen Media Research Philippines] has already come back to the investigation. Pero kami, we're now a silent observer."