BETING LAYGO DOLOR: Notes on a fading empire

The recent troubles of billionaire Manny Villar serve as a moral lesson for would-be entrepreneurs. Don’t enter a business that you know little or nothing about.

I knew from the start that his ALLTV station was headed for trouble nearly from the start. On its first day of broadcast, the station was hounded by technical troubles indicative of a lack of qualified personnel to handle a big business like a TV station.

While Villar managed to grab the frequency formerly granted to ABS-CBN – even cockily referring to itself as the new Channel 2 – he learned soon enough that a frequency does not guarantee an audience. Good shows are needed, and ALLTV had none.

I have been working with CNN Philippines as a consultant and senior editor since June of last year. The building where our head office is  located is owned by Villar, as is the Star Mall across the street.

That was where ALLTV would set up shop, and all of us knew about it. Surprisingly, no one from CNN even considered transferring to the new station owned by the former presidential candidate.

And here is where the Villar TV station faltered at the onset. It was unable to recruit a large enough stable of talent in front and behind the cameras.

Over the weekend, it was learned that the three supposed flagship shows of ALLTV would stop airing effective immediately.

This, after it was learned that none of the shows of the stars were generating enough advertising revenue to head towards black ink. It was understandable that they would be in the red at the start, but to stay in that sad state would eventually force them off the air.

It was also quite obvious that few A-list stars were willing to appear as guests in the shows of Toni Gonzaga, Willie Revillame, and three quasi-socialite-cum-showbiz celebs.

And since TV stations also need newscasts to draw an audience, it was also learned that ALLTV could not gather any top tier talents to handle news and public affairs.

Luckily for them, CNN Phils. agreed to share its top 6pm news show, News Night which – ehem – I edit portions of. ALLTV must be paying a pretty penny to air a show of what should be one of its competitors. I daresay, it may be their sole saving grace.

The only other shows that generate some kind of audience for ALLTV are the old Tagalog movies, with some so ancient as to be in black & white. How quaint, no?

As of this writing, it is not clear if the suspended shows of ALLTV will ever get back on the air. I seriously doubt it.

As for the building where CNN Phils has its HQ, other Villar businesses are also located there. Let’s see, there’s his real estate arm, which now also bears the name ALL. There’s also a huge home furnishing store, as well as a supermarket.

Villar’s publicly-listed property company is a rarity for the wrong reason. After its initial public offering, its value has dropped considerably, leading to speculation that the so-called Brown Taipan is losing his Midas touch.

As for the supermarket and home furnishing mega-store, I can see on a daily basis that neither is generating a sufficient income to justify their continued existence.

And by the way, the Villar group also has a wannabe competitor to Starbucks called The Coffee Project. While the US-based coffee place never runs out of customers, the pathetic competitor rarely has any paying customers.

To be honest, I don’t like most of the coffee concoctions at Starbucks, but I will never, ever bring my business to The Coffee Project. It’s subjective of me perhaps, but my palate cannot stand their horribly sweet coffee creations. Worst of all, they’re even more expensive than the already pricey coffees and teas of Starbucks.

So why is the Villar group of companies doing so badly nowadays?

At least for their ALLTV, it’s quite clear that their “talents” are all identified with the Marcos administration in one way or another. This has led netizens to fairly ask, where are the 31 million who supposedly voted for Bongbong Marcos?

In particular, why are they not supporting Toni Gonzaga? Her talk show has just been axed, her last movie was a flop, and her recent birthday concert did not draw a large paying crowd, as there is strong indication that a huge chunk of the crowd who attended were present because they received free tickets.

Politically, there are two Villars in the Senate, a mother and son team no less. They are both in the Marcos camp, as are the other relatives occupying lesser government posts.

So could there be a curse cast on Manny Villar and family? I doubt it, as I don’t believe in the efficacy of curses. But I do believe in the universal law of karma, of cause and effect.

There have been a lot of loose talk and loud whispers about some of the practices of the Villar group, especially the source of the family’s vast wealth. One of these days, I may do some research to verify the veracity of those talks.

One silly joke on why Manny Villar changed the name of his flagship companies to ALL is that it really means Akin Lahat Lupa.

Ok, ok. I never said anything about it being a funny joke. So give a guy a break, why don’tcha?

Incidentally, the other businesses in the building are a handful of call centers, which unsurprisingly have plenty of employees. They have little choice but to buy their needs at either the supermarket or the two convenience stores in the building, which is also part of the Villar group.

The name of the building is Worldwide Corporate Center and is found along Shaw Boulevard near the corner of EDSA in Mandaluyong City. As far as I can tell, only the small food court seems to be profitable among the consumer shops there.

Also, I believe my employer of sorts – consultants aren’t really considered employees – is generating sufficient income to last. It does not matter if ALLTV continues to buy one of our top news shows or not. We will survive.

But I honestly cannot say if the Villar group will still be around a decade from now. Not the way so many of their businesses are barely getting by or even floundering.

My unsolicited advice? They should stick to what they do best, which is to build houses, condos and malls.