It was only a couple of decades ago, but the 2000s already seem like another era altogether. This is especially true when you look back at what the Philippine Basketball Association was like back then. In this series, we harken back to the time of two-network broadcasts, a two-conference format, Fil-Shams, and other events that defined the PBA in the first decade of the new millennium.
Entering the new millennium, the PBA broadcast rights transitioned from long time partner Vintage Enterprises, Inc. (VEI) to a merger costing over PhP700M with Viva Television as VEI could no longer maintain the costs of the coverage it had done splendidly since acquiring the rights in 1982.
VEI, under the watchful eye of its President and CEO Carlos "Bobong" Velez, had transformed the image of the league into a vibrant, bustling entertainment, and tweaks in the coverage introduced vernacular broadcast and state-of-the-art graphics in 1993 which piqued the interest of a new breed of PBA followers. It kept up with the times and set the standard for sports coverage in the country. Towards the final years of VEI's hold on the coverage, the telecast aired over the Intercontinental Broadcasting Network (IBC) channel 13.
However, the international financial crisis towards the end of the 1990s affected VEI and when its partnership with Viva fizzled out at the end of 2002, it forced the PBA to search for a new broadcasting arm and an unlikely consortium came to the rescue.
IBC and the National Broadcasting Network (NBN), two government-owned TV stations, stepped up and made a joint bid to gain the rights. The agreement called for the two networks to simultaneously show the games to hit a wider audience and also pay the league PhP670M.
It wasn't the first time the PBA was aired over two separate networks. NBN also helped broadcast the PBA in the latter portion of the Viva-Vintage merger and in 1997-1998, cable network ESPN Asia aired selected games in a straight English format-often anchored by the late Ronnie Nathanielsz.
The idea of having two separate coverage teams do the telecast was first broached by former PBA TV commentator Raymond Liboro and TV director Jeff Manibay as their fledgling media company I-Sports volunteered to handle the all English side that would air on IBC and NBN would handle the traditional mixed language telecast.
It was later called the "Parallel Broadcast".
Even the production concept differed under the two branches. The NBN broadcast would still echo the VEI formats to appeal to the long-time PBA viewers while the IBC side would come closer to the MTV look with more unorthodox angles and hipper means of communication to basically cater to the younger crowd.
This opened up opportunities for a multitude of broadcasters to try and service one of the teams.
For the first time in recent memory, everyone had to audition - regardless of veteran status. Metropolitan Basketball Association stalwarts Sev Sarmenta, Mico Halili and Danny Francisco along with Cebu's iconic voice of basketball Sandy Geronimo, Philippine Basketball League (PBL) veteran anchors Vitto Lazatin, Boom Gonzalez, and this writer along with youngsters T.J. Manotoc, Mark Zambrano, Carlo del Carmen and Paolo Trillo all underwent the same process with analysts Quinito Henson, Norman Black, Yeng Guiao, Leo Isaac and newcomers Vic Ycasiano, Jayvee Gayoso, Andrew Cruz and four-time PBA MVP Ramon Fernandez to determine the new broadcast panel groupings.
The courtside reporters also had to have two separate identities with former PBA sideliners Patricia Bermudez, Chiqui Roa-Puno and Jannelle So eventually tasked to handle the traditional broadcast while I-Sports brought in relative unknowns Havi Bagatsing, Anne Yosuico and the late Maj Guanzon.
Even the production teams were separate with I-Sports working out of their Makati office while the NBN in-house team worked from the network's headquarters in Quezon City. That meant that there were almost double the number of personnel on ground and also more cameras as the IBC team had to have those with their own shots.
Lazatin, Gonzalez and del Carmen (more known in the radio circles as "King DJ Logan") were the anchors while Cruz (a former Ateneo standout), coach Bien del Mundo and former MBA player Dominic Uy were the analysts who bannered the English broadcast. Sarmenta and Halili were the mainstays of the NBN effort, with Henson, Black, Guiao and Isaac getting a lion's share of the analyst duties.
Lazatin looks back fondly at the experience. "Simulated interviews, stand-uppers, the works," he recalled. "Regardless of whether you had broadcast experience or not. And everyone put in the work. For us, if you weren't at your day job, you were there: putting in the work. Trying to be better than the day before."
It started out quite well with the tone of the telecast dictating which audience it caters to. NBN talents were donning professional garb while IBC's look was more informal. Even post-game interviews were done with a completely different tone and it appeared that the novel idea could be sustainable.
Eventually, audiences started comparing the pros and cons of each side and the traditional method of bringing the games to television started getting better reviews.
"The parallel broadcast was a new and wild idea and despite all the craziness, I think we all really wanted it to succeed" said Lazatin, who is now a vice president at Cignal TV. "That's probably why we worked so hard and cared so much about it. For some, it was a one-time thing. But for others, it opened the doors to so much more."
Towards the middle of the 2003 season, the all-English broadcast was eventually scrapped and the talents were either absorbed in the new merger or released. Both networks started airing the same broadcast teams and that's how it would continue until the end of the season.
In the end, the NBN-IBC partnership fell apart, supposedly due money issues. By October, IBC refused to air the games and while NBN did complete the season on its own, the deal was terminated heading into the 2004 season.
The Associated Broadcasting Company (today known as TV5), stepped in to acquire the rights in 2004 and has been rights holder of the PBA broadcast ever since.
The attempted "Parallel Broadcast" was ahead of its time and although ESPN Asia did something similar, it was never on a simulcast. Today, TV5 (now known as ESPN5 or OneSports) airs a live simulcast over sister cable network Cignal TV on its channel PBA Rush.
While it is now the norm to have three broadcast teams working the actual coverage (the third team being the radio group), the 2000s effort by the NBN-IBC consortium was just not the time for it to happen.