Wed | Jul 8, 2020

Howard McIntosh | Data is king

Published:Sunday | May 17, 2020 | 12:18 AM

In an article based on a discussion with one of Jamaica’s most noted entertainment journalists, the question was asked about the extent of losses in entertainment over the last two months due to COVID-19.

I answered, “$2.5 billion”.

That figure encompasses local lost revenue in the organised entertainment and sporting industries (for which data is available) over the period of March and April. This data would be affected by the cancellation of events such as carnival, the Blue Mountain Coffee Festival, and numerous other music-centric events. Sporting events such as the ISSA Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships, road races, the Red Stripe Premier League, and dozens of entertainment and sporting events over the Easter weekend were affected.

The amount shocked many. I even received messages of condolences: “Sincere regret, my friend”, and “Oh noooo … so very sorry to read this. Praying for you, Big Mac”.

The messages may be tongue-in-cheek, but we should be in mourning.

In fact, what we should be doing is trying to quantify the extent of the loss to Jamaica’s economy – $2.5 billion is just the mouth of the cave.

Consider the losses through backward and forward linkages from the above events. Look, too, at the losses from the racing industry, closures from cinemas, and all the other cultural activities that are not taking place, including losses to the catering, fashion design, technical production, marketing and advertising, cosmetics and beauty, as well as transportation and farming sectors.

A number of questions are being raised about the entertainment industry. People are trying to develop a better understanding of it, to define it, to discover who is involved and how the industry generates revenue.

Are we only talking about events, or are we talking about companies that offer entertainment?

What really is entertainment? What is this entertainment ecosystem? Is it just music, movies, and the theatre? Could it include attractions, betting and gaming establishments, sports bars, and hotel performances?

But the most important question is, who really benefits from entertainment?

The short answer: all of us.

I’m taking this opportunity to put down a few points to help us recognise the entertainment industry’s contribution to national development, in particular our social and economic development.

TRICKLE-DOWN ECONOMICS

As well as the business operators, there are myriad linkages that generate income from entertainment.

In the dancehall, for example, as well as the promoters, the losses spread to the venue operators, the decorators, the liquor consignors, nail technicians, the hairstylists, sound technicians, sweetie vendors, soup sellers, jerk purveyors, bottle collectors, dancers, et cetera.

For the attractions, the bus drivers, the tour guides, the lunch and rest stops, the pudding man all feel the pinch.

For large stage shows and productions, the impact is even grander. The construction and carpentry sector, people setting up the booths, caterers, stage hands, lighting and audio technicians – all of the background people are affected. The artistes are shuttered, their entourages halted. Then there are fashion designers, the make-up artists, set designers, ticket people, gatemen and security providers, as well as maintenance and sanitation workers.

We cannot, of course, forget the itinerant vendors who are around the venues.

The plays, the cinemas, the dance recitals, cultural activities – all shuttered.

These are examples of the trickle-down economies that have been shuttered because everyone has been ordered to stay home.

ONE-EYED MAN IS KING

We have to look at entertainment broadly to truly understand its impact.

What we need to do is to look at data – data is king, data is gold.

And it is the critical substance that Jamaica lacks to truly grasp the make-up, contribution, and significance of entertainment

There is some reluctance, among practitioners in Jamaica, to share their real numbers. Many believe “Government just want tax wi”, “dem jus waah inna wi business”, “dem naah duh nuttn fi help wi”. But think about it, how can policy and regulations be made to protect the industries if there is no base information? That is, if we don’t know how many, how much, as well as the what’s, where’s, and whens of their economic activity, how can protections be crafted?

Critical is the need for the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, the Bank of Jamaica and central government to properly understand the value of entertainment in terms of direct contribution and indirect impact.

There are hard-working, credible associations that find it difficult to get support from the people they are organised to represent.

Many a time, artistes and musicians will avoid Jamaica Association of Composers Authors and Publishers (JACAP) representatives after stage shows and performances, even refusing to share their playlists. To what end? How can JACAP properly protect artistes’ copyright and royalty interests if they do not comply?

The JACAP website states that as of April 2013, there are 3,152 members. Sure, that number has grown in the past seven years, but does the current membership truly reflect the number of composers, authors, and publishers in Jamaica?

Last year, chief judge of the Actor Boy Awards Cecile Clayton implored for the revival of the Jamaica Association of the Dramatic Arts. She said the association was critical to the survival of live theatre in Jamaica.

That is true for many other art forms. The new order will insist upon registration, compliance, and certification.

NO RESPECT

The Inter-American Development Bank Integration and Trade Sector Technical Note entitled The Entertainment Sector in CARICOM Key Challenges and Proposals for Action (2013) proved that change is slow in Jamaica and the Caribbean.

Comparatively, according to Variety, the “Global entertainment industry surpasses $100 billion for the first time ever”. In this context, the “entertainment industry” covers the film, television, and streaming-content industry. The survey conducted for the Motion Picture Association analysed how the film, television, and streaming-content industry performed over the last 12 months, ending March 2020.

There were even breakdowns of 2018 versus 2019 mobile viewings and racial demographics.

While those specifics do not match Jamaica’s needs, what is clear is, the information is readily available.

This is the data that we would like to share about our industries, separately and collectively.

Is the value of the entertainment industry a mere three per cent of the gross national product, or should we recognise and admit that it is significantly more?

If we are to gather benefits, beyond an immediate circle, we must develop a data-centric discussion on entertainment (including hospitality and sport) to find its true value.

- Howard McIntosh is chairman of the Entertainment Advisory Board . Send feedback to hmcintosh@mselogic.com.