In a digital world content is king! – Jamaica Observer

In a digital world content is king! – Jamaica Observer

Lisa Hanna

During the nineteenth century, Kodak was the leader in the photography industry throughout the world. At one point, Kodak had 85 per cent market share in cameras and 90 per cent market share in film. For some people, owning a camera was essential to memorialise a special occasion with a “Kodak moment”. The company was doing well up until the early 21st century when digital cameras began gaining popularity.
Of note, however, is the fact that even though Kodak’s electrical engineer Steven Sasson invented and patented the digital camera circa 1975, Kodak underestimated just how big digital would become. This flawed foresight and over-reliance on existing products prevented the company from capitalising on the digital revolution in photography. Subsequently, the iconic Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

Within the last two decades, we’ve watched digital innovations radically change our physical world. Record stores have disappeared with the advent of music streaming — which now accounts for 56 per cent of total global recorded revenue — encyclopaedias have been replaced by Google, newspapers have repositioned online within social media spaces, and streaming services have made the constant access to an unlimited supply of video content a possibility.

Today, users of YouTube — the world’s largest online video platform — total one-third of the world’s population, viewing one billion hours of content every day and uploading 500 hours of material every minute. That’s a lot of content consumption. Furthermore, with the popularity of sites such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, the global streaming market size, valued at US$342 billion, is projected to grow to US$843 billion by 2027.

We’ve been living in a digital world for some time, but COVID-19 has intensely accelerated our inescapable immersion into it amidst lockdowns and curfews. One year ago, no one could’ve predicted habitual online work meetings, or Zoom‘s market capitalisation exceeding that of the world’s seven largest airlines combined (Iman Gosh, 2020).

There are two convenient truths in a digital world; international trade is uncomplicated and content proliferation is constant. What content will Jamaica develop to sell to our digital world?

In 2007, the total value-added by copyright-based industries (literature, music, theatre, film, the media, photography, software, visual arts, advertising services) accounted for US$192 billion in exports from the United States of America. By 2017, copyright exports had exceeded US$2.2 trillion (Siwek, 2018).

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Last year the United Nations recognised the potential of creative industries “to support countries with economies in transition in diversifying production and exports…” (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development [UNCTAD]). The contribution of arts and culture to the US’s gross domestic product (GDP) is valued at US$804 billion, exceeding construction, transportation, warehousing, travel and tourism, mining and extraction, agriculture, forestry and fishing (US Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2016). This represents a per capita revenue of US$2,436 per person, which based on Jamaica’s population would be US$ 7.3 billion.

Let us, for the moment, set our target on one-tenth of the US’s per capita revenue. In other words, our culture as an industry could have a potential value of US$731 million. At the very minimum, the Ministry of Culture should be allocated two per cent of this value per annum; that is US$14.6 million for the development of the creative industries. A review of the 2021-2022 Jamaican budget reveals $178.4 million, or US$1.23 million, for the development and promotion of this area — one-tenth of the allocation it needs to be effective.

Over the years successive governments have viewed our culture as a mere season of ad hoc activities intended to make our people feel nice, but not as a serious industry requiring stimuli that could grow our economy significantly. This lack of vision to undervalue the potential of our rich culture is preventing our economic viability in a digital world addicted to content for leisure and learning. Our raw talent alone is simply not enough to monetise our cultural impact to the world. We need a structured plan to take us there.

Jamaica’s enviable record of gold medals in track and field is a direct outcome of the infrastructure implemented for our athletes’ training and development. Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), Boys’ and Girls’ Champs, G C Foster College for Physical Education and Sport, and CARIFTA Games are some of the important platforms we’ve used to identify, train, and develop the talents of our athletes for the world’s stage. We have no such infrastructure in place for music, theatre, visual arts, and the other creative industries. Our last major investments for cultural performance spaces were in 1912 and 1958 with The Ward and Little Theatre in the Corporate Area alone. Yet we continue to boast about being a ‘cultural super-state’.

Blind optimism not good model for economic success

The rhythm to how we do things as Jamaicans makes our culture highly sought after. Our objective over the next five years should be to convert our island into a mega ‘performance stage’ for professionally produced Jamaican talent and lifestyle content with the goal of creating a Jamaican channel via satellite for the world to access. The rental cost for time on the satellite is the easy part, the challenge will be developing the constant source of quality content to remain viable, as viewers currently have hundreds of channels to choose from.

Established in Jamaica, The Ashe Company is one of the world’s leading performing art ensembles specialising in edutainment, entertainment, Jamaican/Caribbean traditional dances, songs, drumming, film production, artist management, and culture. The Ministry of Culture should be tasked to replicate that model in every parish with qualified instructors and state-of-the-art-equipped buildings for daily training, rehearsals and recordings.

Let us begin in our tourism capital by converting and expanding the Montego Bay Convention Centre into a modern casino and music hall with the necessary digital inputs to broadcast quality Jamaican entertainment.

Simultaneously, the Ministry of Finance should remove all barriers to entry for the entertainment industry and restructure the waiver system for incentives as it is currently onerous, bureaucratic and does not seek to grow the market. It’s an unnecessary imposition to ask young musicians for audited accounts (as one of several requirements) before they can receive tax waivers and benefits to buy instruments or studio equipment for their craft. By giving musicians the opportunity to earn a living and improve their output we will make more money from the General Consumption Tax on their expenditure, rather than on the Customs duty levied on their sound equipment.

We have been operating with our eyes wide shut for too long, relying on the residual spin-offs of ‘Brand Jamaica’ without stimulating its sustainability with realistic resources and enterprising Government policy. The unique, value-added cultural products and entertainment services from our people’s talent can grow our economy and improve the socio-economic fabric within communities. Kodak missed their moment of digital opportunity. Let us act fast so we don’t miss ours.

Lisa Hanna is a Member of Parliament and People’s National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade.

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