Flow in talks with US networks

BY RICHARD BROWNE Business editor browner@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, November 12, 2015

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COMMUNICATIONS company Flow is now in discussions with various US networks to allow the company to enter licensing arrangements so that Caribbean consumers can once again get access to their preferred cable stations.

"The studios aren't giving the region the focus they should," said Phil Bentley, CEO of Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) which bought Flow earlier this year.

Before a directive from the Broadcasting Commission earlier this year, local cable providers such as Flow provided access to a number of US TV and cable channels. "Everyone carried them, but the studios didn't specifically license them for the Caribbean," explained Bentley in an interview with the Caribbean Business Report.

Jamaican cable TV consumers have seen the number of stations in their TV packages reduced, because the Broadcasting Commission directed cable providers to stop broadcasting certain stations which they were not licensed to carry. A total of 19 stations were restricted in May this year, with more following. The end result has been many unhappy Jamaican customers, who can no longer view their preferred stations -- exacerbated when their cable bill is not reduced, even though they are now receiving fewer stations in their package.

Bentley recognises the problem. He said that although some of the responsibility to fix the problem fell on the regional cable providers such as Flow, "the onus is also on the networks and studios."

"We are willing to pay," he said -- but it's just that the studios haven't offered the ability to license."

Part of the problem is the small size of the local market, Bentley said. The US stations didn't create licensing agreements for the Caribbean market "because they considered the market too small".

"Its just not right," Bentley said, "They provide content into the US Virgin Islands, but not next door to the British Virgin Islands," he said, the reason being that the US Virgin Islands are considered to be a part of the US market.

While the number of cable stations it broadcasts has reduced, Flow is also looking at expanding its own content offerings.

"We are keen to add more content," Bentley said, noting that the company had got exclusive rights to broadcast the Barclay's Premier League to the 32 countries in the Caribbean, as well as NFL American football games and Caribbean Top Model.

The move comes at a time when there has been some consolidation in the media landscape, with RJR, owner of television station TVJ, in the process of merging with the Gleaner newspaper.

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