WITH a new board at State-owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG), sources within the organisation hope that certain practices which are costing the company, with no returns, will end.
The new board led by Lisa Agard includes Karen Lynch, Dr Rita Pemberton, Anthony Bullock, Nadira Lyder and Dr Jameel Sulimani, was announced last week, taking over from the Timothy Affonso-led board, whose term ended on May 31. The board will oversee the rebranding of CTV – a subsidiary of CNMG which is also the parent company to three radio stations: Sweet 100.1 FM, Next 99.1FM and Talk City 91.1 FM.
CNMG has been haemorrhaging cash for years leading to the announcement, last year, that the company was to be wound up and a new-and-improved Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) was to rise from its ashes. That was the plan of the then minister of communications Maxie Cuffie, leaving staff in limbo as to when they would be told they no longer had a job. Last week, during the post Cabinet media briefing, Communications Minister Stuart Young announced that CNMG would remain and that CTV would be rebranded TTT.
Based on a media survey conducted in 2014, CTV had five to six per cent market shares and radio stations 91.1 Talk City and 99.1 Next FM both had less than one per cent audience. Cuffie said last August that commercial revenue had fluctuated between $30 million to $33 million between 2011 to 2015. Operational costs had steadily increased with a major element being starting costs that ranged from $18.1 million in 2011 to $26.3 million in 2015. The media house’s expenses have increased every year from $44 million in 2011 to $56 million in 2015 and, as a result, subventions increased from $10 million to $23 million in two years from 2012 to 2015. Cuffie lamented then that CNMG never achieved commercial success neither success in growing its market share.
While the state-run media house is being held up by state funds, CNMG sources are questioning why hundreds of thousands of dollars is being spent to generate local content with no financial returns. Sources said, for the year, the company would have spent over $100,000 to record, produce and air a free concert put on by MovieTowne at its Fiesta Plaza.
While staff are confident that part of the mandate of CNMG is being fulfilled as it pertains to securing local content, they are worried about the other side of the coin, that is earning revenue. The Fiesta Plaza shows are given prime-time slots but there are no billings for ads either. Movie Towne staff confirmed they are not billed for the broadcasts adding that CNMG approached them to record it for content, which they obliged.
Additionally at the end of the broadcasts, sources said MovieTowne is given an additional plug for free. When this was brought to the attention of executive management, staff were advised to take it up with the sales manager, who referred them back to executive management. Sources said apart from not billing anyone for ads during the hour-long shows which is aired twice weekly, the one-hour slot is not being purchased. Ad revenue for the hour slot can be between $15,000 to $24,000 and purchasing the time slot can cost someone as little as $1,500.
“We don’t mind they spending money to get local content you know but after you spend money to send people to record this at MovieTowne, that is overtime in some cases, and pay people to edit it, it is being shown for free. The plug at the end is an ad and we are not getting any money for that. Another thing is Mastana Bahar, that is being shown but every time the person said thanks to this person or that person, that is an ad but we not seeing anything from that,” one source told Sunday Newsday.
Sources said the Fiesta Plaza shows were first recorded using the outside broadcast unit (OB) at a cost of at least $40,000 per recording. The OB would be equipped with at least three cameramen, a director and an editor, which staffers said was a full production outside of the office and usually done for live coverage and other assigned recordings for later broadcasting. That was done until staff raised an issue with the cost of producing the free concert. After management was made aware of the costs, the crew attending the event was reduced to one cameraman or two and production done internally for broadcasting. This new approach was costing at least $7,000 per recording. Additionally, hiring at CNMG has been scrutinised with sources claiming people were hired without board knowledge or approval and without going through the necessary human resource channels. CNMG staff said they were introduced to new staff who were hired as consultants.
Young was asked six questions by Sunday Newsday regarding these issues and, up to last night, had not responded. He said he was awaiting answers on the questions. Young is expected to meet with the new board tomorrow and with staff on Tuesday.