By Robert Lalah
Call it the Great Jamaican Social Media Revolution of 2013. On Monday, when Jamaicans went home to watch The Voice, the hit NBC singing competition on which our own songbird, Tessanne Chin, is competing this year, they were met with some troubling news.
At 7 p.m., when the show should have started on NBC, a notice was broadcast on the channel that Television Jamaica (TVJ) had acquired exclusive rights to air The Voice in Jamaica, so NBC would have to be blocked.
Things like this have happened before, of course, so even those who didn't find this an ideal set-up might have been willing to go along with it without creating much of a fuss, if not for the most troubling bit of news at the end. The programme would begin at 9 p.m. on TVJ, two hours later than people were accustomed, and after the show had finished airing in the States.
It's the understatement of the year to say that viewers were not amused. Social media lit up like a Cuban cigar, with pronouncements of hatred for the hitherto beloved television station. Facebook and Twitter were ground zero for the attack - the virtual town square for the public lynching.
Much of what was expressed cannot be reproduced here. Suffice it to say, there are persons out there who evidently believe that suggesting abominable acts for TVJ to do with its mother is an effective way to make a point.
People started sharing links to sites reportedly showing live streams of the show. A Facebook page was created to petition TVJ to change its plans. There were calls for boycotts and demonstrations, and uncalled-for allusions to censorship laws in communist countries.
Others wondered what effect the delayed broadcast might have on Tessanne's chances of winning the contest. This is 2013 after all, and whether Jamaicans are able to vote or not, getting her name trending on social media is one way to help lift her profile and chances whenever she performs.
By Tuesday morning, TVJ announced a fix. It will broadcast the show live on RE-TV. Those who want to may still catch it delayed on TVJ. It was a lightning quick turnaround of what can fairly be described as a brilliant marketing scheme gone terribly wrong.
It was a smart move to snatch up the rights to air the show. Unfortunately, it seems the station didn't realise that this isn't 1985, and Jamaicans would not be satisfied with a delayed broadcast of something in which we collectively are so invested. Kudos to the station for responding to the people, instead of letting pride and other less sensible considerations prevail.
It's a bit like Coca-Cola's decision in the 1980s to change the taste of its beloved drink. The backlash was so strident from loyal consumers that the company had to scrap its plans and bring back the old Coke, relabelled Coke Classic, less than three months later. Imagine what would have happened if social media sites were around then.
What this should show Jamaican companies is that citizens know they have power and are prepared to use it. The miasma of unfiltered commentary on the Internet can often be unhelpful and unsettling. However, there are times when we need to pay attention. When consumers are unhappy, they won't hold back. This means that a poorly handled decision can have devastating effects, if not immediately rectified. It's a new age, and managers at all levels better beware.
I would like to go out on a limb and say that our leaders should be wary of the people's power, too. However, I'm not so certain that they need to be worried. Sure, social media sites have ignited long-overdue uprisings and forced rulers from power in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.
But here, we have our own priorities. Mismanage our affairs, turn a blind eye to corruption, institutionalise stupidity, and you'll get a free pass from us. Eh, who cares? Prevent us from watching a TV show, however, and you're seriously flirting with danger. That, apparently, is our red line.
Robert Lalah is features editor and author of 'Roving with Lalah'. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
What this should show Jamaican companies is that citizens know they have power and are prepared to use it ... . Prevent us from watching a TV show and you're seriously flirting with danger.