Twelve months into one of the world’s longest lockdowns, Filipinos have carved out new virtual lives for themselves. The year 2020 forced people to finally do things online that would have been unthinkable for them pre-pandemic—order a new TV or fresh vegetables sight unseen, celebrate a birthday, attend a wedding, interview for a job, brainstorm with the team, roll out a project and watch a concert.
That’s why KTX (“Key to Experiences”) has become a go-to place, even a lifeline, for people looking for a couple of hours of entertainment and social interaction. The platform has hosted hundreds of virtual concerts, movie screenings, digital series, fan fests, film fests, album launches, corporate events, fundraisers and private celebrations over the past eight months.
Its most recent triumph was hosting Regine Velasquez’s “Freedom,” currently one of the platform’s top grossers alongside Daniel Padilla’s concert “Apollo,” Thai superstars Bright and Win’s fan conference “BrightWin Manila Live” and the “KathNiel” digital series “The House Arrest of Us.”
“It’s heartwarming. At a time when a lot of things are down, KTX has been a bright light,” says Gian Carlo Vizcarra, KTX head of operations and business development.
As of February, KTX has already sold some 300,000 tickets, double the figure of 150,000 in 2020, notes Vizcarra.
When the original KTX was launched by ABS-CBN’s customer relationship management (CRM) department in 2017, it was mainly an online ticketing platform where fans could get tickets to join ABS-CBN events or be part of the live audience of Kapamilya programs like “It’s Showtime” and “ASAP.” ABS-CBN was the first Philippine TV network to have such a service.
As KTX entered its third year, however, circumstances—the pandemic, particularly—called for a pivot from being an online ticketing platform for live events to an online events venue.
Vizcarra recalls: “During the start of the pandemic, artists were performing on Facebook for free to raise funds for those in need. No one was doing ticketed shows yet at the time. Regine Velasquez and Sharon Cuneta did big fundraisers for ABS-CBN Foundation Inc., Ryan Cayabyab’s ‘Bayanihan Musikahan’ was also streamed for free on Facebook, which encouraged people to donate. But as the lockdown went on, it became evident that doing online events for free was not sustainable, even for the artists.”
The “pandemic version” of KTX initially tested the waters with a Jed Madela digital concert in June, three months after the country went into lockdown. The turnout for the performer’s “New Normal” was highly encouraging.
Despite the ABS-CBN shutdown and with various other closures looming on the horizon, KTX quickly powered through with YouTube tandem JaMill’s “Tayo Hanggang Dulo” fan fest and K Brosas’ “20K20” in July; and the “Hello Stranger” fan conference in August, one of its last hurrahs as part of the CRM group.
Meanwhile, Daniel Padilla’s “Apollo” concert in September proved to be phenomenal in terms of ticket sales. By this time, ABS-CBN Films had taken KTX under its wing following the dissolution of CRM; this meant a two-person team composed of Vizcarra and Hedda Ocampo, who is KTX’s platform head.
KTX followed “Apollo” up with Padilla and Kathryn Bernardodo’s 13-episode “The House Arrest of Us” series which dropped its first installment in October.
“We make sure we try to give the fans something different, something special. For example, for ‘The House Arrest of Us’ we had fan conferences in between the episodes—bonus features. We always try have that extra KTX offer,” Vizcarra says.
League of its own
One could say KTX today is in a league of its own because it agilely pivoted to host concerts and live events. Its portfolio now includes Side A’s “Calesa,” “Nina Live,” The CompanY’s “Roadtrip,” the BGYO launch, 4th Impact’s “Dreams” and “Christmas” concerts; special events like Miss Universe Philippines 2020, Miss Earth 2020, Philippine Rap Olympics 2020 and The Fact Music Awards Korea; fan conferences of Thai superstars Bright and Win; theater productions with partnerships with PETA, Tanghalang Pilipino and Full House Entertainment; and the biggest movies from Star Cinema and other film outfits.
Pandemic or not, fans will always have that different drive, and the KTX story reinforces that.
"They don’t want to be left out, they want to watch first, as much as possible,” says Vizcarra of their audience.
KTX further caters to the fans’ need for community through a chat box on the site that allows them to interact with co-fans even as the concert or movie unfolds on-screen.
"It acknowledges the fact that people, Filipinos in particular, are very communal, we like to talk and discuss when watching a movie. KTX answers that.
We’re an events platform, so we treat every show as an event, whether it is a concert, movie or seminar, among others.”
Thus, expect the KTX treatment from upcoming shows such as the much-awaited concerts of Sarah Geronimo, Ogie Alcasid, rapper Ez Mil, Neocolours, Ryan Cayabyab and the RCS, and the 11th edition of “Himig” (see sidebar story).
Vizcarra acknowledges that KTX’s success is due in no small part to their collaborators—the producers and artists.
“KTX is a small platform with no marketing budget at all. But it has become successful because of their support and belief in us, especially the early and continued support we are getting from Star Music and Star Cinema. We’re very lucky also that other producers are partnering with us—Viva, TBA, Regal, PETA and all the others. KTX has also been blessed with a public that appreciates the genuine connection we want to establish with them,” he stresses.
Coming off what he calls their “breakout year,” the ABSCBN veteran who first joined the company as a teenager believes KTX will continue to thrive in the post-COVID-19 setting.
"We have become an ‘enabler’ to the ABS-CBN ecosystem because premiere nights, movies, concerts, launches and fan conferences can be done on KTX. We’re able to help both the artist and the producer.”
On the fans’ side, KTX has allowed them to watch shows at the same time wherever they are in the country or the world—a far cry from days past when only Manila-based fans would have access to the biggest concert venues.
"With KTX, we’re all watching at the same time regardless of location. If you’re in the province, you can watch at the same time as the fans in Manila. If you’re abroad, you can also watch even if it’s probably early in the morning where you are. If people become habituated to watching a show alongside everyone else, hopefully there could be a blended kind of enjoyment where fans could be at the venue while others are content with enjoying shows via livestream. What’s your choice? If you want to watch live, you can. If you want to watch at home, you can. Ultimately, ang panalo dito is the audience,” Vizcarra says.