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Advanced Media Broadcasting Systems—controlled by billionaire Manuel Villar—is taking over the television broadcast frequencies previously used by ABS-CBN, which was once the Philippines’ top media company until the government forced it off the air two years ago.
Villar—a former lawmaker, who once ran for President—is adding the media business to his sprawling real estate and retail business empire. He is an ally of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who vowed to force ABS-CBN off the air after the network failed to broadcast one of his ads during the 2016 presidential campaign. His wife Cynthia Villar is currently a senator, and their son, Mark, is also running for Senate after quitting his job as head of the Department of Public Works and Highways.
Shares of ABS-CBN dropped 10% to close at 12.76 pesos in Philippine trading on Wednesday. Representatives of ABS-CBN and Villar did not reply to Forbes Asia’s requests for comments for this story.
Congress started reviewing the company’s application to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise for another 25 years in December 2019, but had not reached a decision by the time the license expired in May the following year.
Controlled by tycoon Oscar Lopez, ABS-CBN stopped broadcasting its free-to-air channels on May 5, 2020. The media company has effectively been forced to broadcast its shows through internet channels, build its digital presence and syndicate some its content with rival network Channel 5, which is owned by businessman Manuel Pangilinan. Since then, the company has been sinking deeper into the red, posting the worst performance in its history in 2020 with an annual net loss 13.4 billion pesos ($261.5 million).
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Following the expiration of ABS-CBN’s franchise, the National Telecommunications Commission recalled the broadcast frequencies previously assigned to the media company. Those frequencies were re-assigned earlier this month to Villar’s Advanced Media, whose broadcast license was approved by Congress in September, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported on Tuesday evening, citing documents from the regulator.
With a net worth of $7.2 billion, Villar, 72, was ranked the Philippines’ richest man when the World’s Billionaires List was published in April. He chairs property developer Vista Land & Lifescapes. In the past three years, Villar listed his home improvement chain AllHome and convenience store chain AllDay Marts. He also plans to inject some of Vista Land’s commercial buildings into a real estate investment trust that could be listed on the Philippine bourse this year.