Time for local TV
Jamaica loses 19 movie stations from cable come May 31. Owners of these stations (and 79 others) have complained that Jamaican cable operators have no licensing agreements with them to carry the programming. As a result, the Broadcasting Commission has issued official cease-and-desist notifications.
The change was coming. Local TV stations were previously ordered to stop showing programmes they didn't have licences to carry, and now the cable operators are the ones under scrutiny.
I don't know how the cable companies will regularise themselves, but the truth is not all will, or will be able to afford to. Most will just have to reduce their station offerings.
For sure, some viewers will return to the Jamaica of 1988 and invest in a satellite dish. However, the vast majority of us won't be able to afford that option. In any event, apparently, cable is one of the first casualties of a depressed economy. With households barely surviving on a barebones budget, cable is one of the first luxuries to get cut.
And so local free-to-air television stations may become the staple in most households once again.
Between 'Magnum Kings and Queens of Dancehall' and 'Keeping up with Kern' (or whatever they call it), Saturday night was kind of a win for local TV. My Facebook timeline was full of people commenting how local shows were annoying them ... but at least they were watching. Perhaps a preview of things to come?
In every crisis there is an opportunity, and the big one now is for production of local content. Quality local content. I LOVE Two Sisters and a Meal. It's the kind of TV that's so very us. Excellent production, natural, funny, relatable presenters, good food, and great stories along the way.
As CARIMAC students, my batchmates and I were all filled with hope and promise. We all felt compelled to leave university and tell people's stories, and make the kind of television that connected with people's emotions. We wanted Jamaica to turn on their televisions and see themselves.
But then we looked at the ratio of local to foreign programmes on national TV and knew we had a rough road ahead. And then we heard what salaries employees of the local television stations got paid and most of us abandoned ship. Who didn't migrate changed fields or became submerged in corporate clutter; and the dream of storytelling through a camera lens died with the Jamaican dollar.
Now is the perfect time for that dream to awaken.
Too often we compromise quality for cost. Making good TV is expensive, very expensive. But there are workarounds. Ring Di Alarm was one testimony to the power of will, teamwork, and a commitment to quality.
In August last year, a bunch of young, talented, ambitious, creative Jamaicans set out on an impossible mission. Unable to get the big film budgets they needed, the team huddled together to make seven short films. It was a true collaborative effort. They shared cameras, sound equipment, crews, knowledge, and the end result was First-World quality. And they did it with little and nothing.
I celebrate Joel Burke, Michael Ras Tingle Tingling, Kyle Chin, Nile and Storm Saulter, and Michelle Serieux, and encourage them to apply their craft and creative financing to local TV.
I see Dahlia Harris taking her play from stage to screen and getting excited.
Good TV is hard
Good TV is hard to do, but not impossible. Local TV must make a comeback. MUST. To be fair, there are some programmes still keeping the flag flying, but they need company.
The little island with the big personality is just too awesome not to be captured on film. And we can and should tell our own stories. I'm tired of seeing programming made by outsiders showing us as they see us. What about the way we see ourselves? What about the way we want others to see us?
Calling all producers, cameramen, writers, sound engineers, actors and actresses, directors: local TV stations are making a comeback, and they need quality local programming. It's time for more local lights. Camera. Action.