It was an announcement that took the country by surprise: Last Thursday, ABS-CBN Corporation unveiled its newest terrestrial TV channel dedicated to sports programming, ABS-CBN Sports+Action.
The news came as bittersweet, however, as the new channel replaced Studio 23 starting January 18. It marks an end of a 17-year era for ABS-CBN‘s secondary channel that brought a wide variety of foreign programs, including anime, to Philippine audiences.
Today, we revisit the highlights and legacy of Studio 23‘s broadcast history from the perspective of Filipino anime fans, as well as a look into what the future might bring for the frequency it used to occupy.
The Premium Network
Studio 23 was conceived by ABS-CBN in the early 90’s as a more “upscale” alternative to the masa-oriented ABS-CBN Channel 2. However, local regulations forbid TV networks from operating more than one TV channel. As a workaround, ABS-CBN formed the subsidiary AMCARA Broadcasting Network as the owner and operator of Studio 23.
The channel’s transmitters went online on October 12, 1996 with an offering of popular American TV shows such as Wheel of Fortune and The Oprah Winfrey Show. It was also once the Philippine home of MTV until the year 2000 when the latter moved to its own terrestrial channel.
Studio 23 was not constrained from just airing Stateside shows, however, as it premiered the English-dubbed version of the anime Rurouni Kenshin (promoted as Samurai X) just after the channel’s launch. ABS-CBN acquired the series from its then-US licensor Sony Pictures Entertainment. The series became even more popular when it was shown on Channel 2 a few years later, this time in Filipino dub.
As it became increasingly difficult to market an upscale channel to a mass audience, Studio 23 began to shift its focus to the youth market in the mid-2000’s. This was made evident by its term of endearment to its loyal viewers: Kabarkada. The channel’s programming was still dominated by US shows, and in fact became known for bringing the latest seasons of the reality shows Survivor and The Amazing Race to local audiences.
But Studio 23 also started airing original programs, ranging from news (News Central and Breakfast) to comedy (Wazzup! Wazzup! and Gag U!) and music (programs from ABS-CBN‘s cable music channel Myx). Sporting events also came into the fray with its live coverage of the UAAP and NCAA collegiate games, among others, somehow foreshadowing the channel’s present fate.
For Filipino anime fans, Studio 23 became widely known for its reruns of anime series that previously aired on Channel 2 such as Naruto, Princess Sarah, Get Backers, and the Beyblade and Digimon franchises. Anime series from ABS-CBN‘s anime channel HEROtv also got their airtime on Studio 23, with titles such as Negima!, School Rumble, and Princess Resurrection having their Philippine free TV premieres on the channel.
Studio 23 likewise saw its share of anime premieres with Gunparade March, Gun x Sword, Blood+, and Gallery Fake. (Interestingly, these titles were never aired on either Channel 2 or HEROtv after they premiered on the channel.)
True to its name, ABS-CBN Sports+Action‘s program lineup will mostly consist of sports-oriented programming, although a small number of news and entertainment shows will still be present.
Considering that ABS-CBN has a good lineup of sports-oriented anime titles which includes Eyeshield 21, Kuroko no Basket, Major, and Inazuma Eleven, and with many more sports anime yet to be aired in the country, it is still possible that the new channel will air anime shows without straying from its main programming focus.
As Channel 23 shifts its focus from entertainment to sports, the Philippine anime community shall see whether the channel will still have a place in their hearts and viewing schedules.