The audio-visual culture and industry have always been ingrained in the Filipino experience, whether through the consumption of film or witnessing live events and performances.
From the movies we watch, the episodes of teleseryes, the upcoming hot series on Netflix, or the next Jollibee viral story – these are things that we look forward to. A lot of us swoon and fall in love when we watch live concerts of our favorite artists; it’s more special when we eat dinner with the family while being serenaded by a quartet, and it’s memorable when we catch a late-night comedy show, or when we have nights out with friends at a dance club or at our favorite resto-bar and hotel lounges.
These all seem like a distant memory since the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) hit the world. And not only are audiences affected but more so, the workers in the industry.
While the social distancing protocol that the government put in place was the right call to protect us from the virus, it inevitably exposed thousands of our workers who are part of these social scenes to unemployment. This industry, while considered now as non-essential, has been integral in our lives.
Films, shows, and entertainment have kept us feeling alive and entertained especially during challenging times. But the Covid-19 pandemic singlehandedly put the entire film and audio-visual industry in crisis mode.
Globally, the AV industry is a multi-billion dollar business with a vast coverage of professionals and workers: from suppliers, manufacturers, producers, content creators, marketers, exhibitors, and distributors to production staff, technical crew, contractors, artists, performers, editors, programmers and end-users such as viewers and audiences.
The Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association (AXIVA) reported that the global AV industry is expected to grow from $231 billion in 2018 to $325 billion in the next five years. This projection was shattered instantaneously by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the country, Philippine Creative Industries, where film and the audio-visual industry is part of, is a high-value contributor to the Philippine economy. The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) estimated Total Creative Industries (Core & Non-Core Copyright Based Industries) to be worth P689 billion, accounting for 6.52 percent of the 2012 GDP. While there is no recent data available, it is projected that by now, the creative industries is estimated to be worth P1.27 trillion.
This includes the film and audio-visual content industry, which comprises about 11,000 micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSME), and eight major companies that provide employment to over 460,000 workers. The cinema sector alone generated approximately P11.5 billion in gross box office revenues, while P3.65 billion was generated in audio-visual and related services in 2018.
On the other hand, the audio-visual live events industry is composed of about 27,000 MSMEs as of the latest nationwide count, providing employment for over 300,000 employees and workers; and was poised to contribute over P200 billion in Gross Revenues to the National Economy in 2020.
Creative industry as the hardest-hit business sector
According to the Creative Economy of the Philippines, a non-stock, non-profit creative industries advocacy and business acceleration group, there are at least 2.8 million creative workers who are mostly freelancers in the country. In total, for both content and live audio-visual sectors of the industry, more than 760,000 workers have been displaced because of the pandemic, most of which do not have a financial recourse.
A recent survey of the Department of Finance (DOF) through the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) even placed arts, entertainment, and recreation at No. 1 in the Top 10 hardest-hit business sectors caused by the pandemic. The tourism sector came in second.
With the current situation, I firmly believe that there must be a package specifically created for the film and audio-visual industry that gives grants and immediate lifelines to the most vulnerable workers and companies. With no assurance or any estimate that things could go back to normal, the film and audio-visual industry is now in a critical situation; worse, it could collapse if it does not receive additional support from the government.
For the past three years, the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) has been aggressively enjoining other government agencies to recognize the film and audio-visual industry as a valuable contributor to the economy and purveyor of culture and the arts. Since 2018, the FDCP and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) have been working together on initiatives to globalize the film and audio-visual sector by partnering in international trade missions to champion our local content and talents in global platforms.
Last year, the DTI officially identified the creative industry, which includes the film and audio-visual sector, as a key driver for exports. During the National Export Congress, DTI Secretary Mon Lopez said, “We need to look at creative industries that can bring in economic growth. Apart from making our creative talent pool more competitive and attractive in international markets, we are also pushing for more trade and intellectual property rights activities.”
In this light, the FDCP prays that film and audio-visual companies will be included in DTI’s various economic stimulus programs, especially the ones that provide guaranteed loans and training programs for upskilling and retooling to MSMEs.
With FDCP’s continued collaboration with the DTI-Export Marketing Bureau, we see a lot of potential in aligning our initiatives this year to transition together towards this new normal and meet the demands of the shifting needs and platforms for consumers.
Possible government convergences to assist audio-visual workers and companies
The FDCP hopes for the government’s allocation of P130 billion worth of wage subsidies to reach film and audio-visual workers who, unfortunately, fall into the cracks because of the nature of their employment. The “no work, no pay” status with no direct employers put 70 percent of the film and audio-visual workforce in a very peculiar and critical situation as they cannot qualify for the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) programs.
Hence, FDCP’s Disaster/Emergency Assistance and Relief (DEAR) Program, which complements DoLE’s Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) and Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD), could be one of the transitional measures programs in the National Stimulus Strategy. Another recommendation is for film and AV workers to receive 100 percent of the minimum wage for three to four months because it is unlikely for work to resume in full blast this year.
The FDCP welcomes the provision of loans for affected sectors and businesses. There is indeed a need for the industry to be covered by guaranteed loans because our companies need cash flow to bankroll their projects. Without capital and advance funding to produce content or mount events, they cannot pursue their businesses. We hope that we can tap the DOF, DTI, and Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) for such financial concerns.
Meanwhile, the live events sector could be considered as one of the meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) stakeholders. If this pushes through, then it should be included in the MSME Safeguard Facility as well as in sectoral assistance packages of the Department of Tourism, which have zero-interest loans payable in five years.
With regards to health safety and security, the FDCP is now in coordination with the Department of Health in the drafting of the final safety protocols for the sector. FDCP also sought assistance in securing disinfecting packages and holding mass testing following the government’s allocation of P20 billion to procure test kits.
A “disinfection and sanitation package” is one of the planned refocused programs by the FDCP to help companies in augmenting the ballooning expenses of productions and projects because of the stringent social distancing measures that have to be observed. It comprises financial support in costs related to Covid-19 mitigation like securing PPE, sanitary tools, and materials as well as rapid test kits for workers.
Finally, as shifting to online platforms is the way to go in this extraordinary situation, stable information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure is much needed. Thus, the FDCP thinks that the film and audio-visual industry should be given support and access to facilities through subsidy or loans for ICT equipment and software investments. We also plan to seek assistance from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
Film and audio-visual stakeholders voice out their concerns
In a recent consultation meeting that the agency had with our stakeholders, film producers presented what they also hoped could be the support that the government can provide to the sector.
Since amusement tax to local government units is primarily collected from the film and audio-visual sector, an exemption from paying these amusement taxes will significantly help to defray the anticipated increase in production costs as well as the loss of income because of the new safety measures instituted by the government.
With all these, we respectfully pray for the following for our immense industry:
1. Be included in the Most Vulnerable ECQ Non-essential Businesses Sector, just like the Tourism Industry.
2. Be afforded amusement tax exemptions.
3. Be given all the necessary government assistance that would allow this sector to recover from the blow of this pandemic.
All these concerns must be raised immediately; that is why the FDCP is actively calling for the film and audio-visual industry to band together so we can collectively have a representation in the Economic Stimulus Coordinating Board (ESCB). They are currently deciding on the recovery plan of the country and the shift to new normal.
By having a distinct voice that our lawmakers and decision-makers can listen to as they draft policies for the entire country, we can make sure that our industry is not left behind.
Once these proposals are dealt with, another aspect of combatting the Covid-19 crisis is preparing for the industry’s comeback. Aside from updating and accepting new applicants to the FDCP National Registry, other things to look forward to are the training programs, digital platforms, hybrid events, and technological innovations.
The road to recovery may be tough and painstaking, but with the cooperation of all stakeholders plus the all-out support, especially of the government, I am confident that the film and audio-visual industry can and will bounce back with much gusto and enthusiasm in the soonest possible time.