Sat | Mar 24, 2018

Recognising the economics of entertainment

Published:Thursday | October 6, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
VH1 ‘Love & Hip-Hop’ cast member Cardi B was in Jamaica for Appleton Special Dream Weekend 2016. Hanging with her before his performance at Appleton Special Dream J’Ouvert was KES lead singer Kees Dieffenthaller (left) and Appleton Special Dream Weekend Director Ron Burke.
Babsy Grange

Speaking at the launch of the first One World Ska and Rocksteady Festival, which takes place at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre next month, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, mentioned the recognition of entertainment events' economic value. The Minister of Culture, Entertainment, Gender and Sport, spoke about the Planning Institute of Jamaica's (PIOJ) continued classification of entertainment events as recreation, hoping for the day when they will be given their due as economic activity.

A cursory glance at the billboards and posters which are liberally placed all over the country, but more heavily concentrated in the urban areas, will show that it takes cash to party. Even the events for which there is no admission, require that those who attend, 'Buy Out The Bar'. (I once saw an advertisement for a party on Upper Waterloo Road in St Andrew, where the admission for male patrons was 'two gal'. That is a serious variation on the advisory to 'bring yu Queen an leave Yu machine'.)

On the other end of the pay scale from the free events, are the all-inclusive party series' in Negril, the type that loans are offered for persons who need it to be able to attend. Somewhere in the middle are the festivals such as Reggae Sumfest and Rebel Salute, where a season pass affords the purchaser access to multiple nights.

There are various all-inclusive and VIP packages in the possible purchase permutations for partying, but a particular model stands out - Call it the 'all-inclusive meets all inclusive', if you will. This is when an all-inclusive party package is combined with an all-inclusive property stay, so the lodging, food, drinks and music are fused into one at a single, defined property. Upcoming ones are the Merritone Family Reunion on the Labour Day weekend later this month, with Fab Five among the performers, and the FAME property party which features Assassin and Freddie McGregor.

With the licensing requirements, it is not hard to identify how many events are held annually (each end of year we are regularly informed of the average number of parties each day, with the expected reactions about partying instead of production). Added to these are the numerous events which are held without permits - they could be as simple as a gathering outside a bar with a 'tin pan' sound system blaring out the tunes.

In either case what we do not have is a figure for the economic impact and it is going to be very difficult for anyone, much less an institution like the PIOJ which deals in hard figures and not speculation and approximation, to make the leap between recreation and economic activity or entrepreneurship without that data. We can say dancehall events feed the vendors and their families, but how much food is that? Is it a couple plastic bottles of soda or is it whiskey?

With entertainment events there is always the dodging game with the tax man and there is the time honoured washing of money acquired through other (illegal) means. However, the enterprise of people who do this for a living is not to be denied. From setting up the venue to marketing the reality films which are made of the event, keeping the books, securing sponsorship and actually entertaining the people when they are at the event, an impressive skill set is required to successfully execute an event.

While it is fun for those who attend, it is a very serious business for the promoters and those hired to entertain the people who attend. Should this be recognised at the stage level? Sure, but the figures have to come first.

That is one of the reasons why the all-inclusive model meets all-inclusive model gets its due. There is a set price for rooms and totals generated are easy to generate, no 'dicking' around how many cups of mannish water were actually sold.