Recently I was in Portmore, just channel surfing when I went to see what was showing, or rather, being offered on the on demand channel. The first offering I saw was a hit Jamaican comedy, starring Keith ‘Shebada’ Ramsey, Bashment Granny. Suddenly I realized something I had not taken a pointed notice to. Flow’s On Demand package is a very good model for local media content distribution and a great way to combat the wanton disregard for intellectual property right in Jamaica.
Now, its no secret that Jamaica is not a country that has the highest regard for intellectual property, nor are the laws enforced with much vigour. It must be understood however, that this is a cultural problem more than a legal one. A lot of Jamaicans still cannot fathom the value of that which is not tangible, therefore to pay JMD$25,000 or more for a single license install of Microsoft Windows 7 seems almost ludicrous to some, while others cannot see the difference between buying a $100 DVD versus paying $3000 for an original. Combating this problem requires a lot more than the irregular random police raids on DVD peddlers in major towns. Speaking toward the infringement of copyright material by Jamaicans, it was said that:
“IT is estimated that thousands of students engage in the activity, although many of them are not aware of the dangers involved and the possible consequences. But photocopying of copyrighted material has become commonplace in the Jamaican education sector, moreso at the tertiary level, leaving those who produce and distribute the material financially battered and defeated. “ – COPY CATS ROBBING BOOK INDUSTRY , Jamaica Observer, Sunday, January 31, 2010
There needs to be extensive public education programs, especially with the children, explaining why copyright infringement is wrong and what can and cannot be done, along with various other none policing methods to combat piracy. This however requires extensive capital, which, at the current moment, the government does not have at its disposal to undertake such a initiative, which, arguably, most will view as unnecessary in the current economic climate. But, I digress.
Now with Flow offering Jamaican plays and locally produced material for purchase on demand, along with streaming music channels and local radio stations, this is bringing content to customers conveniently and subtly weaning customers off the ‘bootleg culture’. This is now providing content creators the possibility of an additional delivery channel and additional revenue model for their productions. Most of these producers normally complain that the only revenue collected is usually from the theatrical run of the plays and for musicians, the stage shows, because, once the DVD or CD is released, the revenue stream from the Jamaican market is normally minuscule to non-existent due to piracy.
With development of Flow’s content distribution model, playwrights and producers who cannot get funding to stage major productions could now be able to make their art a straight to TV production. Stage productions could extend their revenue stream after their theatrical run by selling on demand viewings. The possibility of commercial free On Demand radio would manifest. Artist could now see an extension of their royalty stream, and if you can receive music as you please, then the need to buy a bootleg CD would be minimised. Tie in Flow’s cable system and their internet system, movies and music could also me purchased online, downloaded or delivered and the customer would be billed on their monthly billing cycle. This option also scales a second hurdle which causes Jamaica’s high piracy rate; the inconvenience (to some Jamaicans) of purchasing online with a credit card.
Jamaica has never been a credit centric society, most Jamaicans view ‘borrowing’ with a bit of disdain. Also, the possession of a credit card is normally viewed as a luxury for the more affluent. This is one of the reasons why, with the advent of online stores such as iTunes, Jamaicans who would be willing to buy music legally aren’t conveniently afforded the option to do so. I have always advocated that prepaid cell phone credit, as a payment method is one of the most viable ways in which e-commerce in Jamaica would have mass appeal and adoption rates. Now with Flow offering internet services, customers could be afforded the option of purchasing content online from a, lets say Flow branded iTunes-type store, and customers would be charged on their monthly bill. This would work for music CDs, software and also for customers who want a permanent copy of a movie, not just on demand viewing.
With all these benefits to the local media industry, the Flow model is not one that should be overlooked by the major players in the industry, nor by competitors – the last thing we would need with the advent of this paradigm shift, is a monopolist environment like we had back when Cable & Wireless was the only communications provider in town. Also, if this model is developed into a full fledged content distribution system, increased revenue streams could see the rejuvenation of the entertainment industry in Jamaica.