Carnival TV - Meeting the Challenge of presenting Caribbean Entertainment and Events to the World - UpClose!

An interview with Paul Charles, Director of Carnival TV

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

When Steel Talks Exclusive icon

After years of unprofessionalism, bad products and lame excuses - Carnival TV stepped in and showed it could be done. In an exclusive interview the director of Carnival TV – Paul Charles – discusses some of the successes, failures, difficulties and challenges in capturing, producing and presenting a quality product to the world, that truly represents the excellence of Caribbean performance events in a professional manner - while operating in an atmosphere of competing interests and uncertainty.

WST -“Congrats and great work. Carnival TV came to the rescue for the Panorama Finals. Even though it’s none of our business - the Soca Monarch fans, however, want to know what happened to their broadcast this year?”

Carnival TV
Carnival TV presented three major programs for the 2013 season

Charles - “We’re still trying to understand the problem ourselves. Just one of those mysterious things with Internet broadcasting. While close to 50,000 Internet viewers were able to access the Soca Monarch show; a significant number of people were either unable to access the stream, or had difficulties with picture quality and/or with buffering. We are still trying to identify and understand the source of the problem, which was outside of our control... Even more curious is the fact that many viewers had no problems at all. We did everything on our end to facilitate improved access (reboot the system; re-stream; etc) but the challenge persisted. We are still trying to identify the source of the problem, and why access and quality were compromised. Twenty-four hours later and Panorama went off without a hitch... Just one of those things.”

WST -“Successfully pulling off a production like the internet broadcasting of “Panorama” presents many significant challenges on a multitude of levels. The economics, politics, technology and sociology of the event, and—by extension—that of Trinidad and Tobago, all have profound influences on your undertaking. Which aspect do you find most challenging? And can you now give us a breakdown of those specific challenges encountered, as it relates to technology, economics, politics and the sociology of the event?”

Charles - “Firstly, we must acknowledge Pan Trinbago’s efforts to help improve the Panorama product, at several levels. Pan Trinbago understands that its audience goes way beyond the 20,000 people sitting in the Savannah and that certainly helps us. The quality of Carnival TV’s Panorama stream was, in many respects, the result of months collaboration with Pan Trinbago. To answer the question directly; our most significant challenge is getting the principals to understand that significant resources (creative; intellectual; financial and time) are required to transform an event on a Carnival stage into a product for a global audience. To get bogged down by the political and sociological dimensions of the challenge would paralyze us... We prefer to focus on the delivering the best possible product with the limited resources available to us.”

WST - “How does the ongoing ‘rights’ debate in Trinidad and Tobago affect your organization?”

Charles - “One first has to have a quality product before there can be any meaningful discussion about marketing the rights for it. Carnival TV has been trying to get the relevant stakeholders to work with us to develop the product so, as a country, we will have something to take to the market. They seem to have different priorities.”

WST - “The “Panorama” audience is a very critical and discerning audience (everyone is a judge) - probably much more so than any of those of your other Carnival-related broadcasts; is there more concern because of this, and if so, how does it impact on your normal procedures and methodology?”

Charles - “We do everything possible to capture each performance fully. The short features we do on each of the bands are designed to give the respective bands an opportunity to provide viewers with a look behind their performance.”

WST - “One of Carnival TV’s main concerns is delivering a quality product that meets or surpasses international broadcast standards and expectations. Is your viewing audience, and in this case - specifically the “Panorama” audiences - “there” with you in terms of such technical expectations?”

Charles - “I think our viewers were pleasantly surprised by the quality of our efforts when we went live in 2011... Two years later; and Carnival TV’s pre-planned HD Carnival programming is the expected norm. Social media allow our critics to let us know in real time what’s good and what’s not. It keeps us on our toes... and sets us apart from the rest. I think our viewers are very much with us where technical expectations are concerned.”

WST - “Two years ago (three seasons ago - 2010 Panorama season) Advanced Dynamics broadcast the Panorama in collaboration with the Trinidad and Tobago government-controlled station CNMG (Caribbean New Media Group). The results were less than stellar. In fact When Steel Talks (WST) was one of your biggest detractors. Corrections were made and you delivered a very good product next time around. Can you share with us what some of those corrections/changes were?”

Charles - “Carnival TV is a joint venture of Advance Dynamics and Beach House Media. The Carnival TV initiative was designed to package and present aspects of Caribbean culture to the world... from the perspective of Caribbean people. All of our principals have lived and worked in different parts of the world, and bring unique perspectives to the table. Our focus is on quality and we continuously challenge ourselves to find ways to improve the product.”

WST - “This year When Steel Talks noticed that Carnival TV was not involved in the broadcasting of Carnival Monday and/or Carnival Tuesday activities. Why was that?”

Charles - “Quality television production does not appear to be a priority agenda item for the NCBA (National Carnival Bands Association).”

WST - “The broadcast of those events by the NCBA was not fit for an international audience. The production was quite poor and very unprofessional. Quite frankly it was disturbing - someone should be embarrassed. Was the NCBA oblivious to the standards set by Carnival TV’s broadcast? Can we expect Carnival TV to step in for the rescue in 2014?”

Charles - “NCBA president David Lopez was the first stakeholder Carnival TV approached when we started the venture in 2011. We proposed to work with the NCBA for three years to stream carnival live and to develop an acceptable package to take mas to the world via the Internet. Carnival TV would invest its technology and production capability and the NCBA would provide access and streaming rights. We had no signed contract but as gentlemen we proceeded. We would test the water in 2011. We were both pleasantly surprised by the fact that more than 250,000 viewers logged onto our first stream in March 2011. It was a success. We began making plans for 2012 only to discover that David Lopez and his NCBA had hired a “marketing team” to commercialize the mas product. We tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to the principals that mas, in its raw state was not a salable product. They held a different view. Carnival TV was advised that it would have to buy the rights to stream mas. The initial price was TT$4 million which subsequently moved to TT$2 million. Carnival TV was then advised to bid for the streaming rights, which we did with no positive response.

“After the encouraging start in 2011 the NCBA leadership has simply refused to have meaningful dialogue with Carnival TV; instead, the principals have decided to pursue other options, which have yielded the disastrous results that are there for all to see. Our door remains open.”

WST - “Is a broadcast of Panorama 2014 by Carnival TV in jeopardy”

Charles - “We have an excellent relationship with Pan Trinbago; and there is nothing to suggest that.”

WST - “Do you think that it is unreasonable of the Trinidad and Tobago steelpan music community (who, rightfully so, consider themselves the best in the world when it comes to “Panorama” performances) - to expect an equal-world standing from auxiliary businesses and other critical entities like Carnival TV - that is: related auxiliary businesses and entities to be on an equal standing (one of excellence) in their own respective auxiliary businesses?”

Charles - “To strive for anything less than excellence is unacceptable.”

WST - “It has been WST’s experience—particularly in this business—that people pay dearly for not knowing what they need to know. From your perspective, do the stakeholders know what they need to know from an entertainment, technological and production standpoint?”

Charles - “What we can say, at least as it relates to Pan Trinbago, is that the organisation has sought external expertise in areas where it does not have the relevant resources. The other stakeholders should follow their example.”

WST - “Will Carnival TV consider broadcasting the Small Conventional Orchestras and Single Band finals in the future? And if so what would be the deciding factor?”

Charles - “As with all of Carnival, the challenge is one of resources. High quality live audiovisual production is not an inexpensive undertaking; and when one adds the cost of streaming the event in HD, the cost becomes even more burdensome. So the answer would be yes, Carnival TV would consider broadcasting all aspects of Carnival, if we can get the costs covered.”

WST - “With the advent and proliferation of social media, can we look forward to maybe a more interactive broadcast with the audience in the future -- i.e. real-time voting and commenting by the audience and interaction with the hosts?”

Charles - “Again, this is a resource consideration. We would certainly encourage greater interaction with and among viewers...”

WST - “Which event presents more challenges to Carnival TV- Soca Monarch or Panorama?”

Charles - “AFrom a technical perspective Soca Monarch would probably have the edge. The show has more dimensions to it; on stage presentations; lighting; audience response; fireworks; etc. Panorama happens in a defined space and you have greater control of the elements.”

WST - “Is there any consideration to taking the show on the road and broadcasting Panoramas from other countries i.e. Antigua, Grenada, St. Lucia?”

Charles - “We are very interested in taking the show on the road, as you put it, but the organisers don’t seem to have the resources to cover the costs of production (and streaming). Carnival TV has initiated discussions with several organisers and we have been approached by several others, both in the Caribbean and in North America. The challenge is the cost. We have brought our costs to the lowest possible level (no profit, just covering expenses) and folks still can’t afford (or are unwilling) to pay; some want you to do it for free; while others want you to get it funded for them. We subsidized Carnival 2011 and 2012 (when pay-per-view failed to cover costs because of Internet pirates); going forward, we can’t afford to carry costs for others.”

WST - “Any chance of a “Pan Monday” featuring some of the iconic steel orchestras of Trinidad and Tobago - similar to Machel Monday and Mac Mas Monday?”

Charles - “That’s a question for Pan Trinbago.”

WST - “Carnival only comes around once a year. Is Carnival TV only a seasonal operation?”

Charles - “Again, it’s a function of funding. Once we flick the switch, we begin to rack up costs; camera men; bandwidth; presenters; etc. we’re willing and eager to be broadcasting 24/7 but who’s going to pay the bills? We have been doing the Tobago Jazz Experience in April, for the past two years. A very interesting and challenging project, because we record 10 days of performances and activity that take place all over Tobago and present edited video snippets to a global audience during three nights of live broadcasts from Pigeon Point in Tobago.”

WST - “Do you think it is the responsibility of Carnival TV to bring the viewers into tomorrow, through exposure to new developments in technology - or should you wait for the masses to figure it out or catch up?”

Charles - “If we were waiting for the masses, Carnival TV wouldn’t exist.”

WST - “If there was one aspect of this venture - Carnival TV’s broadcast of Panorama - that you could change what would that be?”

Charles - “We could probably try to capture and broadcast some of the activity that takes place on the track where the bands are preparing before getting on stage for the competition.”

WST - “What’s next for Carnival TV?”

Charles - “Carnival TV is open for business; we have a quality product for which few are willing to pay, but we are committed to maintaining the integrity of our product; it’s all that we can do and live with the hope that the stakeholders will come around and good sense will prevail.

“Carnival consists of a series of events; activities and rituals that take place across Trinidad and Tobago throughout a season that runs from Boxing Day to Ash Wednesday. The competitions: Soca; Pan; Calypso; Mas; Extempo; Stick-fighting; etc.; the fetes; everything. Ideally, all of this should be properly produced, packaged and presented... We can’t understand what’s getting in the way.”

Related article:  Carnival TV to the Rescue

Click for WST’s Trinidad and Tobago Panorama 2013 coverage

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