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Stakeholders air their views on... The new TTT

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The announcement of the closure of the State-owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) and its channel CTV making way for the return of Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) has had T&T audiovisual creatives buzzing. The original TTT was established on the eve of T&T’s independence in August, 1962. It was closed in January, 2005, and replaced with CTV.

Government has said the new TTT would focus on local content. Stakeholders are reserved in their optimism but hopeful the State-owned TV station can fill a yawning gap in the audiovisual production ecosystem.

A report prepared by a committee chaired by former CNMG chairman Helen Drayton and submitted to Cabinet in March 2016 recommended the dissolution of the Government Information Services Ltd (GISL). The same report recommended CNMG’s name be changed to the Broadcasting Trust Corporation (BTC) T&T Ltd.

Last week, on August 24, Minister of Public Administration and Communication Maxie Cuffie announced that CNMG would resume its previous, iconic name, TTT. But the new TTT would not be the same as the old.

He was reported as saying on August 29, “Government will licence the production of content creators so they don’t have to pay us to broadcast, we would be paying them for the right to broadcast their products.”

Cuffie also was reported as saying in a media release on the topic, “As a public service broadcaster, TTT would be mandated to have universal appeal, portray the diversity of cultures that represent T&T, promote national identity, provide a platform for local content and provide studio and editing services. Unlike CNMG, the soon-to-be-created TTT will also be required to provide public and government information and news.”

In the new TTT, he said, “The proposal is that some of the content creators will bring their own advertisers because they get support from the private sector to create their content.”

It’s a financial model some have already rejected.

In a Facebook post, Gayelle TV station co-founder Errol Fabien said, “If the State is serious about local content then offer grant funding to TV stations and independent producers and have us apply for the grants under the categories, eg historic documentaries, dramas, the environment, sexual reproductive health, game shows, etc.

“What this does is generate local content that can appear on any or all stations, or social media.”

In response to questions on the new TTT, producer/filmmaker Sonja Dumas told the Sunday Arts Section that producers should be focusing on creating compelling content rather than worrying about how they will finance their projects.

“The new TTT should therefore train an expanded sales staff to seek more lucrative advertising deals which bring in significant revenue to the organisation,” Dumas said.

Fabien also broached the topic of political interference and cronyism in the selection of previous and current boards and hiring of workers at CNMG.

Similar sentiments were echoed by the Filmmakers Collaborative (Filmco), who recommended there be a “substantive change in the existing management team to one that has a clearer understanding of the local and international production milieu and a progressive view of public broadcasting”.

Cuffie said in the press release on the new TTT that the CNMG board would be dismantled and a new board appointed.

Filmmaker Sean Hodgkinson told the Sunday Arts Section marketing needs to be a huge factor in the success of the TTT brand.

“Any avenue for local content producers to be able to monetise their content is welcome with open arms, and if TTT is pledging that, then we wait and see.

“We know we can create quality content, we just need the audience to know where they can find it,” Hodgkinson said.

Similarly, Filmco believes TTT’s “success will depend on the creation of a dynamic and creative sales and distribution team”.

Filmco, in its August 25 press release, said the new entity must be mandated to reflect the spirit and sense of multicultural richness and history of T&T. “Investment in public television is an investment in the national economy: the expenditure will filter through all sectors, providing employment, building infrastructure and creating downstream industries.”

The filmmakers’ interest group also called for the combined audiovisual archives of TTT, GISL and CNMG to be seen as financial and historical assets-and treated accordingly, with dedicated librarians to catalogue, digitise and license the material.

Theatre practitioners in the National Drama Association (NDATT) said they are cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of the new TTT, as this would allow theatre and dramatic productions to be filmed and broadcast as part of the local content initiative.

The T&T Animation Network (TTAN) stated any investment by the State towards developing a new broadcast channel for local content must transcend the typical linear (cable) TV structure, and include “a strategy that encompasses significant investment in new animation and film production, equipment that can raise the current standards of local broadcast quality, digital infrastructure for the transfer of this content and legislation in order for the local film, animation and media industry to consistently provide content for a local platform in a sustainable way that allows the industry to grow”.

All stakeholders agreed that it is essential that they be part of the consultation process concerning the transition of CNMG to TTT, in order to provide feedback on the transition process and give recommendations on the proposed strategic focus, management and structure of the new station. Dumas said she hopes “the new TTT will reach out to film and television stakeholders for their advice on a regular basis to analyse market trends in the short, medium and long term”.

Filmco, in a private message sent via email to its membership on September 6, said it had had extensive meetings with CNMG last year on just these topics, but that the discussions had come to naught.

“Filmco met with Minister Cuffie on August 22,” said the group in the message that was leaked to the Sunday Arts Section. “In that meeting we shared with him the fact that we had done a substantial amount of work in a series of standing meetings with CNMG’s previous CEO Julian Rogers and other members of staff to create a schedule for CTV which had local and Caribbean content on television daily during prime time (day and night time), and that we had reached agreement on a series of proposed licensing fees and license periods.

“During that time (June-October 2016), over 80 independent producers from T&T, the Caribbean and diaspora were contacted with a view to licensing content for CTV—focusing, in the first instance, on scheduling the first three-month cycle of content after which CNMG would have a fulsome list of content creators with whom they would continue to communicate, build relationships, and continue to licence content. These negotiations reached an advanced stage with many filmmakers agreeing to licence their projects. In addition, an actual schedule was developed and a launch event planned for September 2016.” A change in CNMG board put the plan on ice, the message indicated.

Will the new TTT raise once again those scuttled plans?

-With reporting by Lisa Allen-Agostini


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