The company was formed in 1967 through a merger between two companies, Alto Broadcasting System (ABS) and Chronicle Broadcasting Network (CBN), though its origins can be traced as far back as on June 13, 1946, just after World War II and a month before the Philippines was granted independence, when an American radio engineer named James Lindenberg formed Bolinao Electronics Corporation (BEC). Lindenberg would later partner with Antonio Quirino, brother of then-Philippine President Elpidio Quirino to try their hand at television broadcasting, renaming BEC to Alto Broadcasting System and started airing test broadcasts on September 1953.
They were forced to cease operations in 1973 following the Marcos dictatorship—ABS' flagship station was seized from the Lopezes and became Banahaw Broadcasting Corporation (BBC-2, not to be confused with the other BBC in the UK), a state-run network bankrolled by oligarch and Macros crony Roberto Benedicto, who also owned RPN-9 and IBC-13. BBC-2 ran for thirteen years from 1973 up to the People Power Revolution in 1986, where reformist troops captured the station amidst the ensuing turmoil and sabotaged the transmitter which was supposed to be airing Marcos' inauguration from Malacañang Palace. ABS-CBN then resumed operations in September 1986.
On February 10, 2020, the solicitor general's office filed a petition at the Supreme Court to end ABS-CBN's franchise due to allegations of foreigners involved in the company's ownership, though several journalist organizations and groups contend that this is politically motivated by the Duterte administration.note On May 5, 2020, the National Telecommunication Commission ordered ABS-CBN to cease broadcast operations after Congress failed to renew its operational license. ABS-CBN had no choice but to comply the order with TV Patrol as the last show to sign off, making it the first time since 1973 for the station to shut down.
Needless to say, journalists, celebrities and even arch-rival GMA Network took great umbrage at what was seen as a draconian, inconsiderate and underhanded move by the government, contending that not only did it stifle freedom of journalism and expression, but it put the livelihoods of those affected by the shutdown in jeopardy especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as affecting coverage of Typhoon Vongfong, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Ambo, resulting in difficulties with which residents and authorities from remote provinces are unable to get updates on the typhoon's onslaught as ABS-CBN was the only station they had clear access to; internet access wasn't an option either due to intermittent signals in said regions. On July 10, 2020, the House committee formally rejected the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN with 70 members of the Congress voted for denial while 11 voted for renewal. The verdict unsurprisingly led to massive outcry both from the public (75 percent called for a franchise renewal in a survey), and from ABS-CBN staff and cast members—comedian Vice Ganda reportedly walked out of a web broadcast of It's Showtime out of grief and in protest of the decision, emotionally shaken and in tears. Whether this affected Vice's relations with Duterte, of whom he initially was a staunch supporter of, or not is anyone's guess. Other artists and even rival network GMA comiserated, knowing how the shutdown set a dangerous precedent over freedom of journalism and expression of dissent.
ABS-CBN is notable for producing a lot of TV dramas, but has also produced other kinds of shows, such as the variety show It's Showtime and the animated series The Nutshack, which aired on Myx TV (also owned by ABS-CBN).
Selected TV series produced, distributed, and aired by ABS-CBN:
- 100 Days to Heaven
- Almost Paradise (in collaboration with Electric Entertainment)
- Anghel Na Walang Langit
- Eat Bulaga! (aired on the network from 1989 to 1995 before Channel Hopping to GMA Network)
- Goin Bulilit
- Got to Believe
- Home Along Da Riles
- Ikaw Lamang
- It's Showtime
- Juan dela Cruz
- Kadenang Ginto
- Maalaala Mo Kaya (World's longest continuously running drama anthology as well as in Philippine television)
- Mara Clara
- May Bukas Pa
- The Nutshack (American-Filipino co-production)
- Oki Doki Doc
- Palibhasa Lalake
- Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf (aired in Filipino on their Yey! channel)
- Princess and I
- Ang Probinsyano (2015)
- Wildflower (2017)