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On TTT’s return

Published: 
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Victor Daniel filming Through The Eyes Of Tomorrow with an Auricon Sound on Film camera with 1200ft mag and 20-1 Angenieux lens in 1971. On location coverage by TTT in its early years took the form of an armed invasion. PHOTO VIA THE TTT FACEBOOK GROUP

For the second time in three weeks, I find myself deeply concerned with announcements made by Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie.

This comes when Watson Duke’s colourful staging of a swim from Tobago to Trinidad highlighted the gap between talk and action, the PSA president’s inability to actually deliver a 20-mile swim being handily superseded by a dramatic series of smartphone videos that probably made the point more pithily than the prolonged drama of an actual marathon session battling the waves might have.

The point emerging might be that announcing solutions, inclusive of a reliable sea bridge between our two islands, is much simpler than constructing and maintaining them.

So the Communications Minister’s earnest promise of a return to the TTT brand and a new emphasis on local programming played well from the podium, but like Duke’s flippers in the water, will probably prove impossible to deliver without significant support.

To achieve this new vision for state owned television, the Cabinet has agreed to end the operations of CNMG and—what’s the word for a rebrand in reverse, a debrand perhaps?—revert to the TTT name, reconstituting the organisation for its new/old mission.

These decisions are being made by people, like myself, who are old enough to have grown up watching Adam West play Batman in grayscale on a small tube television, to have been influenced by television programming so singular that it constituted an immersive propaganda for local talent.

We remember the comparative flood of local television because it was produced on much the same basis as today’s talk TV, on simple sets, using underpaid local talent, conforming to an adamantly middle-class and proper way of understanding the world.

That brilliance emerged from this hodge-podge of enthusiasm, energy, shimmering curtains and painted plywood is justifiable testimony to the raw talent that drove the early days of Trinidad and Tobago Television.

Those who were there, who created this material and who watched it first hand are right to feel a strong nostalgia for the sentiments and memories it created.

Nostalgia, unfortunately, rarely constitutes a robust business plan, even for a company already declared to be a nonprofit venture before a single person has been hired to work.

And it’s not as if we collectively don’t know what this will lead to if it isn’t challenged in its formative stages.

The GayelleTV project stands as adequate testimony to what is both possible and impossible today on-limited budgets, using local talent and modern technology.

Full disclosure. I donated a significant amount of work to GayelleTV in its early years, providing the team with professional photographs of its presenters (http://ow.ly/q4w830eJLl6) for promotional use, pro bono.

I did this because GayelleTV showed its budget, its struggle and its hopes with every minute it aired and I empathised with that Sisyphean task.

Nobody changes things by talking about them in T&T, change comes, no matter how incrementally, when people act, putting their shoulders behind their words and make things, no matter how flawed and problematic, happen in the real world.

The Prime Minister’s Cabinet has clearly agreed to return to the TTT brand to appeal to the people who remember those glory days of monopoly television with fondness.

The environment into which Minister Cuffie proposes to launch a new TTT with an emphasis on local productions is dramatically different from the one which spawned Rikki Tikki, 12 and Under and Play of the Month. Some questions arise.

Will the new TTT produce new local content? If so, it will become a state sponsored competitor to a groundswell of local creative talent keen to create work which can be marketed both locally and abroad.

That will position the government as a wholly unnecessary contributor to the process of creating local films, TV series and documentaries, which it will only be able to do by hiring some of that local talent and yoking them to its vaguely articulated vision for content creation.

Will it become a licensor or producer of local visual works?

That seems the best of all possible worlds, but what it would need to pay to encourage the level of production needed to fill the yawning abyss of each day’s programming would incur spending on creative works on a scale that’s never been seen on Maraval Road.

Having spent significant sums on commissioning these works, would it then seek to be a co-producer on the resulting creations?

These aren’t questions that would arise if the new TTT were a private business.

Recouping money spent is the backbone of any business proposition, but vaguely promising a slate of local programming has significant ramifications for both creators as well as the new TTT, and the terms involved in these arrangements should be fair to all parties involved.

Why couldn’t the existing business do this?

Deciding to replace foreign programming with local programming seems to be something that could be done over a year in an orderly, steadily-planned manner and the staffing changes demanded by the reorientation could then happen on a steady, sensible schedule.

Instead, the building will go dark, its innards presumably gutted and modernised and for the second time in this century, its staff traumatised by dismissal and an uncertain future.

Is the new business going to embrace the current realities of broadcast television?

Which is, unfortunately, that it is a dying business model with little chance of significant resurrection. Both TTT and CNMG drowned in a river of red ink.

Nobody is putting up an antenna to pick up an over-the-air signal anymore. People subscribe to cable TV only because their favourite cable programming isn’t available easily on Internet streams. Yet.

There is no magic moment to recapture here. Most of the viewers that the new organisation will need to reach won’t be viewing these offerings on a television and don’t know anything about a channel called TTT.

If a state agency called TTT was to resurrect itself from the ashes of two Government lit business bonfires at 11 Maraval Road, it would have to be a Phoenix of entirely different plumage.

It would need to be digitally nimble, focused on emerging distribution channels and technologies.

If it wished to help creators to flourish in a world flooded with visual entertainments, it would need to be built on foundations relevant to a digital future that enabled and supported the creation of indigenous visual works of lasting quality and general interest.

It would firmly suggest to the Government that a YouTube channel dedicated to its propaganda pitches, self-serving documentaries and chest thumping news bursts would actually be a better idea than shoe-horning those audience killers into media seeing to forge a national identity shaped by T&T creators.

This is, of course, a fantasy, but Mr Cuffie and his Cabinet cohorts are as entitled to their hopeful delusions as I am to my own.

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