Can Philippine phenomenon AlDub live forever?
The names Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza may not be familiar to you if you're not a Filipino. But their meteoric rise in the Philippines on TV and social media is difficult to ignore.
Outside of the Philippines, they are probably best known for smashing global social media records, when the #AlDub hashtag generated more than 41 million tweets about them in just a few hours.
They have a skit on the popular afternoon variety show Eat Bulaga!, playing a pair of lovers who have never met in the flesh but whose romance is conducted via a split screen.
Obstacle after obstacle crops up to prevent these lovers from meeting.
The very name "AlDub" is a play on Richards' name and Mendoza's screen name, who plays the character Yaya Dub on the show.
They have dominated headlines and social media trends - certainly in the Philippines - but few have tried to evaluate this winning formula.
It is, of course, about great entertainment, but perhaps the magic is also in the marketing, a smart social media strategy, and good business sense.
I met the pair to find out what is behind their phenomenal success. Even walking onto the set, I could feel the crowd's energy and anticipation as they waited to see the couple they have come to love.
Since being featured in the show, the previously unknown couple have pulled in an average of 8.6 million viewers every day - a record rating for a Philippine lunchtime television show.
Audience research group Kantar Media says viewers have nearly doubled since Alden and Maine's first appearance on the show in July.
What is AlDub?
- It refers to the couple starring in a popular skit series Kalyeserye in the long-running variety show Eat Bulaga!
- Maine Mendoza and Alden Richards play lovers who act in separate segments, appearing simultaneously as a split screen
- They mostly communicate by lip-synching to excerpts from popular love songs and movies, or by flashing handwritten signs
- They have even spawned a signature move called the Pabebe Wave
The number of viewers now watching the 36-year-old television programme is at a record high, and its producers have been overwhelmed with interest from sponsors who want to buy advertising time.
Their success has not only been a money-spinner for the creators of the show, but also for Richards and Mendoza.
AlDub have starred in several commercials for big multinational and local brands, including McDonald's and Coca-Cola.
The list of sponsors doesn't end there. They have won lucrative deals with a major Philippine telecommunications company, as well as with manufacturers of consumer and household products like detergents, baby milk and clothing.
By international standards, the sum total of their endorsements is paltry. No one would confirm how much they're earning from these deals but it's estimated to be little more than $200,000 (£132,600).
But their rise has been meteoric and unexpected to industry watchers.
"AlDub became a hit because it has revolutionised TV programming," advertising expert Vincent Pozon says. He says the show's spontaneous style is the key to understanding that.
"Born and staged in the street, with two live audiences, street and studio, it's very loose and the storyline is led by unscripted events and no bad values," he said.
Part of the appeal for advertisers is that romance sells in the Philippines and viewers are attracted to their on-screen chemistry.
"It's like a re-telling of a classic fairy tale in a modern Filipino concept," said Jubert Alberto, from the research firm IDC.
"But what made them go viral is the use of new media and people can't stop talking about them on social media networks."
Analysts have said that the social and community-centric nature of the Philippines make this a particularly smart strategy.
Perhaps it is that in a less mature media landscape, there is a degree of social media credulousness. But for these actors, this could just be the start of something big.
"Everything that is happening now has not sunk in to me yet," Maine Mendoza told me.
"The mere fact that people are so engaged and drawn into the whole thing is unbelievable. The support and love of our fans is amazing, they're incredible," she said.
The most recent rumour to fuel the AlDub bandwagon of viewers caught up in their on-screen love affair is the tantalising possibility that they could be having a real-life relationship.
The couple themselves have remained coy and have allowed their actions to be re-interpreted endlessly. I asked them straight.
"We are not closing our doors on what's going to happen next between the two of us... We are both single anyways," said Mendoza.
"So that possibility is possible," added Richards.
But not all viewers are convinced, and out in Manila, canvassing street opinion, it became clear that some Filipinos at least have a fair dose of scepticism about the AlDub phenomenon.
One woman told me: "For me it's just a script, for them to become more popular."
'TV is like Dracula'
The creator of AlDub, Jenny Ferre, denies the suggestion that their potential off-air love affair has been made up to appeal to the show's fans.
However, she did admit the program had been facing problems attracting young viewers, and that her team had been trying to come up with a solution for five years.
"We were encountering a little problem... before it happened, like how to penetrate social media and how to go digital," Jenny Ferre said.
Their goal was to captivate viewers by using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and draw them back to television.
"TV is like Dracula, social media is the blood, you just have to suck it out and give TV that strength," she said.
Ms Ferre insists the AlDub phenomenon was a stroke of luck that she latched onto once it became clear the couple had the formula for success.
She cannot predict how long the show will continue to smash ratings, but you can be certain she and AlDub will be doing their best to make sure they remain in the spotlight.
"The show will last as long as AlDub can give me real emotions," she said.
But it is up to the viewers to decide whether those emotions are real or not.
One day they will work it out, and the show's continued success may just depend on that.
Additional reporting by Ashleigh Nghiem