Press gas on the entertainment industry!

Press gas on the entertainment industry!

Howard McIntosh

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

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Let's get straight to the point, we need to restart the legitimate and formalised entertainment industry. This includes sports. We need to press gas.

While the Government has tried to maintain a steady response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, we have to come to the realisation of the above declaration. Technocrats and industry members should be doing all to find the mechanisms to kick-start the Jamaican entertainment economies.

As always, I rely on the data. And, what it clearly shows is that we need to restart segments of the entertainment, cultural, and creative industries (ECCI), like sports, night-life, and events, just to name a few. In June last year, that data was provided through the COVID-19 Relief Task Force.

There have already been declarations of $26-billion losses in revenue from March to July 2020. Now, however, we are looking at over $100-billion loss in the sector. The data concludes that $195-billion annual economic loss due to closure of arts and entertainment entities, events and activities, with over 76,000 direct and indirect jobs affected in the entertainment sector.

As I discussed on the show Real Business with Ralston Hyman and Althea McKenzie recently, the reason for the study was to break down the component parts of the ECCI. It highlighted that the three sectors severely impacted are tourism, sports and entertainment.

Within entertainment, there are the substrates of the sports economy (spectator events such as Boys' and Girls' Championships, netball series, football leagues); festival economy (Sumfest, SunSplash Unruly Fest, Xaymaca, and Bacchanal) and, the most misunderstood, night-time economy.

What lurks in the night?

The entertainment and creative industry study contends that 10,000 community bars, 500 sports bars, 50 small lounges, 26 nightclubs employ 28,649 people generating $28 billion annually for the night-time economy. Twelve thousand round-robins per annum average revenues of $100,000 per event employ 400,000 part- to full-time workers to an annual revenue of $1.2 billion.

Since March, however, bars, round-robins and the people who feed that ecosystem — vendors, gatemen, parking attendants, and transportation people — have been sidelined.

It is easy to see it as just the “lack of vibes” with no games or events. What should be considered are those derivatives in the shadows. Give the members of the night-time economy the opportunity to earn an income. The timing of the curfews needs to be reconsidered. For what lurks in the shadows of the night is money.

The choir grows

Scott Dunn, Carlette DeLeon, Andrew Bellamy, Ricky Trooper, Kamal Bankay, Ewan Simpson, Joe Bogdanovich, sporting organisations such as the Professional Football Jamaica Limited, and many others have raised their voices, proffering views and recommendations to restarting the sports and entertainment sectors.

Truth be told, we have been discussing these possibilities and options since last summer in meetings with all the government agencies led by ministers Olivia “Babsy” Grange and Desmond McKenzie.

Pre-COVID-19 Jamaica was looking at an approximately $200-billion economy from the ECCI or about 9.3 per cent of the country's gross domestic product. The data that came out from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) last week, from its October 2020 survey, helped to confirm the ECCI's impact on Jamaica.

The loss in the arts and entertainment sector — the greatest fall of any sector — showed nearly 37,000 individuals were out of work. That speaks to the tremendous impact of COVID-19 on arts and entertainment and its reverberations.

You see, most people still do not truly understand, or appreciate, the contribution of the ECCI to the national economy. And, that was part of the reason the study was undertaken in the first place.

With the ECCIs down significantly, most of the people involved in the night-time economy are either unemployed and turning to 'other' sources of income.

We have to do this differently if we are serious. With the significant fall off in the tourism economy, we are recognising our true earner — Jamaicans' love to “touch di road”.

Night-time stewardship

In the 2020 Reggae Month observation, the committee made the decision to invite the Night Mayor of Amsterdam Ramon de Lima to give a different perspective. In Amsterdam, according to Stichting Nacthburgemeester Amsterdam's website, the “night mayor is an important sounding board and active partner in discussion for all participants in the night; this includes the city council, entrepreneurs and local residents”. Should Jamaica get one of those? It is something to consider strongly.

It is very important to understand how the different segments of the economy operate. Without doing that, decisions will be made that do not truly impact the people involved.

Balancing lives and livelihoods

COVID-19 has shown us, more than ever, that we need to balance lives and livelihoods. It revealed how the economy correlates to crime. Unfortunately, the sports economy is also showing the effect, as there are instances of players being victims or perpetrators of crime. With football as the only professional sporting league in the country, it is very apparent that the sports economy and all its derivatives need to be revived.

There is a mechanism through the Ministry of Gender, Entertainment, Culture and Sport e-Registry or the different databases for industry players to access packages. We, however, need a targeted stimulus to the ECCI, sizeable enough to help people to live.

Here are some things to consider as we continue to find ways to make the Government more efficient while at the same time, finding a sustainable way to support the ECCIs:

1) Merge the Sports Development Foundation and the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund to create an ECCI Fund to deal with issues in the immediate and medium term.

2) Allow participants to earn in the night-time economy by lifting the curfew hours to 12.

3) Develop incentives for the sector, provide corporate Jamaica the opportunity to invest in the ECCI — investment tax credits, grants, set-up facilities through Ex-Im Bank.

This is exactly what took place 40 years ago to create our present tourism industry. Since the development of the Sports Development Foundation, 25 years ago, nothing significant has been done by successive governments to develop the ECCI. This despite having two of the most popular and hard-working politicians of my lifetime — Portia Simpson Miller and Olivia Grange in charge of the portfolio. Were they given a “basket to carry water”, based on the lack of focus and resources provided? Maybe, if we consolidated the management of the ECCI under one ministry we might get a better response from the Government apparatus. Currently, the ECCI is administered over nine ministries.

We cannot continue to do things the way we used to. We cannot take away resources from other sectors. It is about recognising the ECCI and its players for the role they play in our daily lives, the society-at-large, the development of our youngsters, and the contribution to our economy.

What would Jamaica be without our ECCI — the cornerstone of Brand Jamaica. It is time proper consideration be given to the ECCI — the real heartbeat of Jamaica.

Time to press gas!

Howard McIntosh is chairman of the Entertainment Advisory Board. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or biowizard101@gmail.com.


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