John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV. His last posts looked at the Caricom Summit held July 2-5 in Georgetown.
As one door closes in the media, another opens. The trick is to spot whether the train leaving the station will crash or make it to the new destination. British newspapers and others are standing watching the various emerging platforms wondering which ones to accept and which to reject.
Some are dithering and may die. Imagine you are the editor of the Coventry Evening Telegraph facing steadily declining sales. Do you boost them on a new web platform, do you throw your resources, mainly journalists, at that platform? Do you try to revive the traditional paper? Or do you give up the ghost?
For the last two and a half weeks, I have witnessed, here in Georgetown, the death of one platform and the rise of others. The Plaza Cinema in Camp Street is, or was, right opposite my hotel. It was a Georgetown institution when I was a boy. A huge art deco cinema which played the big films. I saw ‘Ben Hur’ there over 50 ago as a young boy.
There were five or six big cinemas in the town which provided entertainment for the masses especially at weekends. Films came from Britain or the USA a few weeks after their release there. Each town and village on the coastal plain had a small cinema too. The films they showed varied according to the ethnic group of the area.
Indo-Guyanese village cinemas showed Hindi films with English subtitles – early Bollywood; the African Caribbean diet was Hollywood. Cinema was part of the very fabric of life. The cinemas supported a daily full page advertisement in the local papers.
Then along came television. Most of it illegal – stealing from satellites and from video shops. Copyright was for the birds. They showed anything and everything. When I pointed out to one transgressor that the film he was showing on his TV station clearly said on screen ‘For Home use only’, his retort was instant: ‘I show it in my home, they watch it in theirs. What’s wrong with that?’ Iron logic. TV stole the cinema audience. People preferred the comfort and safety of their living rooms to the trip into town where cinemas were old and often smelt of bodily functions.
The illegal DVD trade took up any slack (last week within twelve hours of it happening live in LA, I could buy a DVD of the Michael Jackson Memorial Service in Georgetown market). The cinema platform firmly died first in the villages, then in the town. There were fewer and fewer ads in the paper.
Three weeks ago, part of the art deco facade of the Plaza fell down. It had been closed for two or three years now. That was followed by an army of scavengers who, day and night, over two weeks literally stripped the place of anything worthwhile.
Timber went first, taken away in scores ofdray carts (horse drawn carts) to pastures new to make new or improved houses in which to watch films on TV or DVD. It was like watching ants taking food from one place to another.
Now all that is left of the once great Plaza is a breeze block back wall and some steel pillars. The human scavengers have like locusts left just the shell. If ever I wanted a real-time demonstration of the death of one media platform and the rise of another, this was it.
In the not-so slow death of the Plaza Cinema in Georgetown lie big lessons for those trying to ride the tiger called the internet.
It’s no use having a platform if you have no customers. Full stop.