As a teen, Alex’s family had four channels on their TV, five on a good day. Residential landline phones were objects of wonder found in only a few homes, even in the 1990s. Computers and cellphones were like extraterrestrials—one heard about them but didn’t actually see them.
Then SKY Cable came to their sleepy Visayas city. With their TV viewing options ballooning— there were dedicated music, movie and news channels in addition to the general entertainment channels they grew up watching—the newcomer became the fount of information, the arbiter of cool, especially for Alex’s generation.
Today, Alex is in his 40s, and his tastes and interests have evolved, the gadgets and appliances available to him much more sophisticated and powerful. Now he doesn’t even have much use for the landline telephone, that most coveted device of his teenage years.
But his family remains subscribers of SKY. And SKY, too, over the past two decades, has constantly reinvented itself in order to be able to deliver content experiences that give “wow at saya” to subscribers.
‘Me and My SKY’
This June, SKY Cable Corporation celebrates 25 years of serving families like Alex’s, which the company is marking with a campaign called “Me and My SKY.” Complemented by a theme song written especially for SKY, the fresh campaign is inspired by “the realization that SKY has made a meaningful difference in people’s lives on a personal level”; that whoever and wherever they are, SKY made things better for them.
The activities lined up for the 25th anniversary include the launch of a station ID as well as a coffee table book outlining watershed events and profiling the personalities who shaped SKY, such as ABSCBN chairman Eugenio Lopez III and his father, ABS-CBN’s Kapitan, Eugenio Lopez Jr.
And, true to ever-evolving, pioneering form, the company is rolling out more first-in-the- Philippines products: A fastspeed mobile internet service that lets the subscriber enjoy their favorite SKYcable channels and shows anytime, anywhere; SKY On-Demand for catching up on one’s favorite local and foreign cable TV shows and watching movies anytime, anywhere; and a more affordable set of prepaid plans for SKYcable.
Carlo L. Katigbak stresses.“It’s really about providing you the content that matters to you, the channels, the programs you enjoy. We’ll give you the power to watch them wherever you are, whenever you want,” SKY president and CEO
Room in Benpres
Katigbak remembers a time when SKY was a much humbler operation with a bare room in Benpres Building as its headquarters and a manpower complement of two engineers. Then an analog operator, it had 20 channels which it offered as a single bundle.
Katigbak helped steer SKY through one of its most challenging periods a decade ago, setting in motion a five-point plan that included sitting down with suppliers to renegotiate program contracts, restructuring debt, cutting costs and bringing in a strategic partner that paved the way for the retirement of a major chunk of its debt.
Lastly, the pay TV operator invested in digital boxes for its customers. Of all the steps they had taken to get out of debt, Katigbak recalled, going digital was the gutsiest one because no one knew just what the outcome would be. Fortunately, the risk paid off.
“I would attribute all the growth we’re experiencing today to our digital platform. It allowed us to create different price points to meet different market needs, to expand the number of channels we offer, and it introduce our own high-definition (HD) service,” he said.
Added the SKY president: “The company is in a new place today. We’re less worried about financial issues and more concerned about making sure we can deliver SKY-quality experience anywhere in the country. We’re also focusing a lot on broadband because we feel that the market is starting to change.”
This means more avenues to explore, more directions for SKY to branch into. In fact, the company has assiduously funneled all profits back into the business, the better to be able to improve the quality of its network and the content it offers to customers.
“But over and above providing coverage and content, ultimately the heart of everything we do is really to be of service. We want to make sure that’s what our products are,” Katigbak said.
Jude Pambid was one of the two engineers who worked alongside Katigbak during SKY’s early years.
Currently the head of SKY’s Network Operations, Pambid has had several assignments under the engineering and business operations groups. He has turned start-ups around and been assigned to various parts of the country to expand SKY’s regional network, specifically in Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan.
Pambid, an electronics and communication engineer, is especially proud of SKY’s efforts in the Visayas post-Yolanda, an endeavor that won the team a trophy in the 2013 Lopez Achievement Awards’ Public Responsibility category.
“We were there four days after the storm hit and were the first to reach those areas,” Pambid recalled of the viewing and charging stations they set up in communities in Tacloban, Ormoc and Roxas. “More than providing them with information, we gave them hope when they saw on the news that the world wanted to help them.”
While Pambid’s team provides “wow at saya” to customers by ensuring the smooth operations of the SKY network 24/7, Lito Mapolon, head of Core Network and Engineering, molds his people to be “engineers in the digital age.”
According to Mapolon, SKY is a company in flux, transforming from pure analog with 70 channels to pure digital with more than 200 channels; introducing and upgrading 70% of its Metro Manila network to broadband; and now, switching over from cable TV company to telco. These, in turn, require not only adjustments in the equipment in the customers’ homes, but also in SKY’s processes and human resources.
“You have people trained in analog who will now offer digital and broadband. But in the Lopez Group, we don’t say ‘There’s new technology so we’ll need new people.’ As much as possible we use the same resources because they’re what brought us to where we are today; we just need to equip them to be able to meet the requirements,” Mapolon explained.
Even as it ensures the welfare its employees, customer service remains way up there among the company’s priorities.
“The products, the content, the speeds you offer and the facilities you install will change. But we want our relationship with the customer to be such that when he dies, he will remember that he got this level of service only from SKY. As to how to do it, it’s something we try to figure out every day,” Mapolon said.