Viva Entertainment details ‘survival mode’ in time of crisis

Vincent del Rosario, Viva communications president and COO

In January 2020, Viva Entertainment announced that it was marking its 39th anniversary in the industry by investing P1 billion into producing 34 movies.

But then, an unexpected roadblock. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting closure of cinemas have pushed the local movie industry into “survival mode,” Viva Entertainment executive Vincent del Rosario said.

As the saying goes, in every crisis lies an opportunity. And in the company’s case, it fast-tracked its plan of joining the online streaming game. Last January, Viva launched its subscription-based digital content platform, Vivamax, which—at least for the time being—“filled the vacuum” left by theatrical releases.

“We promised 34 to 40 films. But how do we deliver that with all the protocols? There was also fear among actors and directors to return to shooting and production work. We were handicapped by those things,” said Del Rosario, Viva Communications president and chief operating officer, at a virtual conference.

When the restrictions began to ease up, the company’s resources and business units—television production, live event division, artist agency—shifted its focus on Vivamax. “It was slow-paced at the beginning … But we eventually hit our stride. And in the past 12 months, we were able to do 50 movies, which is more than what we initially promised,” he said.

Growing catalog

Vivamax’s launch catalog was composed of 500 titles, including local films, Tagalized Hollywood and South Korean hits and other Asian movies. Original and exclusive content—like Sarah Geronimo’s “Tala” concert documentary and Sharon Cuneta’s comedy “Revirginized”—were then released over the succeeding months.

Since its launch, the platform has amassed more than 600,000 subscribers. And in order to maintain or grow that number, Del Rosario said they need to continue adding new content; 15 titles a week is the current target.

“We have to fulfill that promise; we can’t disappoint the subscribers. It’s an expensive exercise, but we’re here for the long haul. And we believe that the payback—not only in terms of revenue, but also in reaching Filipinos everywhere—will be worth it,” he said.

As early as now, contents for the next year are already being conceptualized: Pitches for Sarah Geronimo are being consolidated; Bela Padilla is working on three movies, one of which she will direct; and Anne Curtis will start in a horror series to be directed by Erik Matti and line produced by Dondon Monteverde.

Open to partnerships

The acquisition team has been coordinating and seeking partnerships with different companies and talent agencies, such as Star Cinema, Regal Entertainment, IdeaFirst, Reality Entertainment, TBA and Cignal Entertainment.

“We’re seeking artists from other managements because we don’t feel the platform will be complete if all the viewers see are our talents,” Del Rosario pointed out. “The likes of Carlo Aquino and Barbie Imperial have agreed to do projects with us. We’re all open to partnerships.”

While the focus at the moment is on streaming, Del Rosario assured that theatrical releases will remain a crucial component of the business model. In fact, there are movies in the vault waiting to be shown in cinemas.

“We have dozens of titles, including a Dingdong Dantes film and a Toni and Alex Gonzaga project, that we can’t release just yet, because their budget necessitates theatrical releases. They also have production partners that expect theatrical releases,” he told the Inquirer. “It’s still an important part of the production ecosystem. We just have to wait.”

Should the pandemic relent and cinemas start opening in the future, the goal is to synergize Vivamax and theatrical release.

“Hopefully, things can go back to how they were, with movies running in cinemas and then going to the streaming platform,” Del Rosario said. “But we can’t say that yet. For now, streaming is the norm. Cinema has been the lifeblood of Viva for the past 40 years, so we’re still getting used to it. But we welcome new opportunities to reach our viewers.” INQ

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