Still on Air
Producing Television in Small Markets
212 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: May 2018
Within small markets for television like Jamaica, where sustaining a show on air is affected by financial and other challenges, remaining on air for a long time becomes a key marker of a programme’s success. Still on Air documents the historical, production and broadcast experiences of some of Jamaica’s long-running television shows. Based on interviews with over one hundred television professionals as well as archival searches of content spanning over fifty years, the book provides details on over three hundred programmes produced and aired on free-to-air television stations in the island.
Yvette J. Rowe and Livingston A. White present a framework of seven factors for producing television for small markets and suggest ways in which local television producers can create successful television programmes in limited-resource environments. After exploring other shows with potential for being long-running productions, the authors discuss trends in television production as well as some possibilities and recommendations that have implications for how television shows are produced in the future.
Still on Air is an important work as it chronicles an aspect of the Jamaican television industry that has never before been given such detailed attention. The experiences are applicable to television producers working in small media markets and the authors offer insight on what is required to produce television programming that is culturally sensitive, affordable and responsive to television audiences.
Before We Begin: A History of Television Programming in Jamaica
And Now the Details: Understanding Television in Jamaica
Schools’ Challenge Quiz: Jamaica’s Long-Standing Quiz Show
Profile: Presenting Personalities Persistently
Hill an’ Gully Ride: Documenting Jamaican People and Places
Entertainment Report: Showcasing Jamaica’s Popular Culture
Stay Tuned: Why They Continue to Be on Air
Coming Up: Shows Watched and Ones to Watch
Sneak Preview: Future Trends in Jamaican Television
Still Ahead: Possibilities and Recommendations
Appendix 1. Definitions of Some Typical Genres for Free-to-Air Television
Appendix 2. Some of the Longest-Running Shows in Various Countries
Appendix 3. Market Research Figures for Four Jamaican Television Shows
Appendix 4. Television Programmes Produced and Aired in Jamaica
Still on Air: Producing Television in Small Markets offers a detailed analysis of four Jamaican television programmes (Schools’ Challenge Quiz, Profile, Hill an’ Gully Ride and Entertainment Report) by examining the various production elements that have contributed to their success. The book documents their historical, production and broadcast experiences and offers an analysis of the reasons for their longevity. The length of time on air can be an indicator of a show’s success in certain contexts such as small markets for television. In this circumstance, this book interrogates these programmes’ ability to sustain being on air in the evolving media landscape in Jamaica, and suggests ways in which local producers can create successful programming. The project represents an important work as it documents an aspect of the Jamaican television indus¬try that has never before been given detailed attention. The work provides readers with insights into what is required to produce television program¬ming that is culturally sensitive, affordable and responsive to audiences in small markets.
This book focuses on not only the history of television shows in Jamaica but also on the main issues affecting their production and presentation. The span encompasses the birth of local television in 1963, a year after independence, to 2015, over fifty years later. Gathering the information was a demanding task given the state of audio-visual archiving and documenta¬tion in the country. Therefore, the research methodology used relied heavily on oral histories, interviews with individuals associated with indigenous television production and programming who had personal knowledge of many of the programmes featured. One challenge presented by this method is the extent to which people are able to recall facts. While some inter¬viewees kept detailed records and diaries and could produce documents, others could not always remember exact details. To deal with this, there was ongoing cross-referencing with other sources to ascertain the validity of the information gathered. This approach has been used in similar efforts on this subject. For example, in studying British television shows for his 2015 book BBC and Television Genres in Jeopardy, author Jeremy Tunstall conducted over 150 interviews with executive producers and various other television professionals.
The work presented here makes a contribution to the literature on tele¬vision studies looking specifically at production in small media markets. Previous research on television in Jamaica has focused on issues relating to its development.1 These studies have explored issues such as the man¬agement of television entities, the public versus private sector model of television in Jamaica, the policy framework governing the sector and the ratio of foreign to local television content. Other Jamaican works that have helped to document the history of Jamaican television have been autobio¬graphical in nature. Former media manager and television producer Carey Robinson, wrote about his experiences in media in his 2012 book Memoirs of a Jamaican Media Man. Though not writing specifically about television, Alma Mock Yen’s 2002 autobiography Rewind: My Recollections of Radio Broadcasting in Jamaica is important because it documents information about the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) that provided not only radio but also television services to the island. What is missing from the literature is an in-depth focus on the production processes that have led to the creation of local television content relevant for Jamaicans, as a response to concerns over the level of foreign media content.
In addition to searches of the newspapers regarding general matters of Jamaican television, specific searches of the television programme guides published in Jamaican newspapers from 1963 to 2015 were reviewed to ascertain the existence of over three hundred local television programmes produced during that period. Archive searches of Jamaica’s daily newspa¬pers provided additional information to substantiate statements made by interviewees. The video archives of the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) and the Creative Production and Training Centre (CPTC) provided access to early versions of the shows examined in detail in this book. Television Jamaica (TVJ) also provided later editions of some of these programmes. Some of the earliest copies could not be found because they were not in the archives, the quality of the storage medium had deterio¬rated, or they had been destroyed or recycled. This work therefore makes an important contribution by documenting information about many Jamaican television programmes for which no video copy currently exists.
While our research focused mainly on four shows, we also captured any information that could be accessed on other local programmes. These have been briefly described in chapter 8 to give an idea of the range of local pro¬grammes. Information about them was found in printed documents such as newspapers, annual reports or minutes of meetings. Other evidence was discovered through online searches of social-media platforms or by mentions in conversations between the researchers and producers who recalled some of their favourite local programmes. While every attempt has been made to acknowledge all multi-episode programmes created in Jamaica, some would have been omitted if they had not been properly documented or if there was no accessible historical record of their existence. Appendix 4 includes a list of television shows created in Jamaica, along with a brief description of each and its status at the time of this publication.
To be considered as a Jamaican television programme for inclusion in this book, the show had to
• be created by a production team involving Jamaicans even if the format originated elsewhere; • include multiple episodes;
• address content that is markedly related to a Jamaican audience and a substantial amount of that content had to be recorded and produced in Jamaica; and
• be financed, at least in part, by a Jamaican source.
This book focuses specifically on programmes that have been shown on free-to-air television since its start in Jamaica in 1963. Based on Jamaica’s 2011 census, 96 per cent of households have a television set and can there¬fore access these. Free-to-air or broadcast television has remained the main distribution mechanism for locally produced content even with the intro¬duction of regulated subscription cable television services in the 1990s. In 2015, the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica estimated that only 17 per cent of households subscribed to cable services through one of their licensed cable operators. Local programmes which are only shown on subscription cable television were therefore not considered. To be reflected here, a show had to be airing on free-to-air television by the end of 2015, after enjoying a period of sustained broadcast.
Audience ratings, viewership figures, maintaining a loyal viewership, length of time on air and number of episodes produced are some aspects of a television show that can be used to evaluate its success. All these elements are not always relevant in various contexts and for different programmes.
Given the foregoing, the four longest-running local programmes that were still on air in 2015 are Schools’ Challenge Quiz, which first aired in 1970; followed by Profile, which began in 1987; then Hill an’ Gully Ride, which started airing in 1989; and finally Entertainment Report, which began in 1991. These shows originated during the JBC years and are now aired on TVJ. There have been other long-running shows and newer ones that have been on the air for over ten years that might in the future make the list. Those with potential for longevity and sustainability are also discussed in chapter 8 of this book.
The four shows in question represent different television genres. Schools’ Challenge Quiz is a quiz game show. Profile is a talk show. Hill an’ Gully Ride can be categorized as a factual programme while Entertainment Report exemplifies the current and public affairs genre. JBC, which was the first and the only television station in Jamaica for over thirty years, represents more than half of the history of the first fifty years of Jamaican television. It was a state-owned entity that received a subvention from the government but was also expected to earn money from advertising and sponsorship. Its aim was to educate, inform and entertain as a public broadcaster. In this book, we demonstrate that the four shows (table 1) began in an era when JBC attempted to fulfil this mandate, and how these shows managed the transition to private sector ownership after JBC was divested.
The book also presents a framework comprising seven factors which, if addressed, contribute to the successful production of television shows in small markets. It ends with a discussion of trends that have implications for the future.