Is there a media discontent virus around?

Clare Forrester

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

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I am led to ask what is happening these days at CVM Television in recent months, judging from the number and content of calls and messages I have been getting in my mailbox. It was not so long ago that the station was bubbling, and with good reason. Having secured exclusive rights to broadcast television coverage in Jamaica of the 2012 Olympics and the possibility of acquiring more events rights, the future did look bright.

On the Olympics score, things seemed to have fallen apart when the station allegedly failed to deliver on its promise to provide continuous Olympic coverage for the benefit of all Jamaicans, leading to some ominous sounds from the Broadcasting Commission. There has been no follow-up report from the commission to date of which I am aware. Also, beyond an initial statement from CVM's short-term CEO Al Edwards that the staff were "tirelessly working to ensure that we bring the very best of the Olympics to the maximum number of Jamaicans possible", there was little else from the station that served to reassure the public. The complaints, however, were many, and loud enough to warrant some probing and response.

The major problem centred on the inability of significant numbers of regular CVM viewers, including some in the Corporate Area, to pick up a transmission signal during the Olympics. Reports indicated that this resulted from the repositioning of the main transmitter from Coopers Hill to a new location at Peter's Rock. It ought to be noted that for several reasons Coopers Hill had always been a primary location for a television transmitter in Jamaica, and it seemed ludicrous to commit to the new location mere weeks before beginning exclusive free-to-air broadcast coverage of "the greatest show on earth".

To compound matters, CVM had earlier sent its very seasoned chief engineer Leslie "Mr Fix-it" Campbell, who, I am reliably informed, has one of the best performance records in the field for problem-solving, on early retirement in 2011, presumably clearing the way for "younger blood".

Given that the company was set to take up new engineering challenges, one would have thought that Campbell's services would have been indispensable at the time. Perhaps of some significance also was the decision to declare the post of the long-serving production manager redundant. It was in this scenario that the decision was taken to relocate the transmitter.

There are other concerns about the new Peter's Rock location. I am advised that if and when it rains heavily the place becomes inaccessible; access to the transmitter, therefore, would require the services of a helicopter!

Even if there was merit to relocating the transmitter to Peter's Rock, and I would like to hear it, the number one question remains, why on the eve of the Games? The move meant that many people who had been watching CVM virtually from the inception of the station were suddenly left in the dark. This undoubtedly would have and did lead to severe criticisms and anger from many previously loyal viewers, not to mention a host of casual viewers who had planned to tune in to the coverage of the Olympics.

The debacle led to the resignation of the general manager and to much malcontent in the CVM family. To compound matters, the latest all-media survey has indicated that CVM's viewership has declined to 30.7 per cent, a 20 per cent fall from its previous position. This is said to be the station's worst recorded audience share in all its 20 years.

CVM's popularity was expected to leap after its acquisition several years ago by the reportedly money-flush Michael Lee Chin enterprise. One anticipated that its coverage of the Olympics promised a change for the better, but data from the media study are cause for disquiet. In all of this, the station has been operating without a resident CEO most of the time since the departure of Dr David McBean in 2010 and then latterly Al Edwards.

In the interim, I am advised that about eight staff members have left the station, seven of whom have joined the ranks of TVJ, while there has not been any movement in the opposite direction. This cannot be an encouraging sign. Certainly, no well-thinking Jamaican wants to see CVM fail, since its demise would result in a regression to a single broadcast television station. This would be a tragedy.

Lyndhurst Road

Ironically, all this is happening while at the Lyndhurst Road complex, there are also rumblings that all is not as well as it should be. While the audience data for television appear encouraging to this Group, those for radio are much less so. In the case of TVJ, the viewing public had barely digested the news about the departure of its general manager Kay Osborne and subsequently that of the very popular morning show co-host Simon Crosskill, only to learn that another of its enterprising senior managers has exited and that there might still be others contemplating leaving the group. Is there a media discontent virus afflicting our broadcast entities? We hope not.




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