Monitoring the mas

Anywhere in the world, you can now watch T&T Carnival online. Desiree Seebaran on a pioneering project

3Canal’s performance is streamed live on Carnival TV. Photograph courtesy Carnival TVCarnival TV host Hans Des Vignes, left, with his co-host, jazz trumpeter Etienne Charles, broadcasts live from the 2011 National. Photograph courtesy Carnival TV

Peering at grainy images of Trinidad & Tobago mas bands on your computer is one way to ignore the fact that you’re shivering through another New York winter. No “wine on a town ting” for you, so a bad live stream from one stationary camera is better than nothing. Or you could wait until afterward to get the DVD experience. By then, your Carnival fever may have burnt out.

Up until last year, Carnival lovers in the Diaspora who couldn’t come home had only those two choices to get their annual fete fix.

Now two video production companies, Advanced Dynamics Ltd (AD) and Beach House Media, are giving viewers a third choice. CarnivalTV.net streams entertainment events over the Internet live in HD, with professional video packaging, complete with presenters, seven cameras at a time and a crew of over 20.

Sounds like a lot? This elaborate production is what makes the concept of Carnival TV different. It combines the immediacy of streaming with the professionalism of packaged video.

The idea started when Camille Parsons from AD sat down with Walt Lovelace from Beach House to talk about revamping the Carnival DVD that AD has produced since 2003. “Nobody wants to wait until Ash Wednesday to get that DVD to see what happens. They want it now, because this is a ‘now’ medium,” Parsons said.

The project has evolved into a pioneering labour of love for both companies. They were eager to see if this experiment could work and if there was a market for it.

Making sense of the Carnival experience for someone sitting in another country takes a lot of planning and exacting execution, especially if you want to include relevant background information and multi-camera angles and distribute it over a live Internet feed. But the team proved last year that it can be done. At the peak of the 2011 T&T Carnival build-up, Carnival TV made its debut with crisp video of rapso band 3Canal’s Re Evolution show. Although the stream wasn’t advertised, about 3,000 people viewed the show online.

After putting things in place so that it could stream the season’s major events live, the Carnival TV team got the word out via e-mail and social media marketing, and got results. For the national Panorama finals, 69,000 computers logged on, and another 153,000 for Dimanche Gras on Carnival Sunday. Carnival Tuesday is the apex of the entire season, and Carnival TV was there to relay the glittering costumes, frenetic dancing – all the drama and glory of T&T Carnival – to mas-hungry audiences.

“On Carnival Tuesday, 253,000 viewers watched Carnival TV, for an average of four hours and 13 minutes,” said Beach House’s Paul Charles. The site received 700,000 hits that day from 135 countries, including the US and Canada, Europe, Jamaica, Barbados and T&T itself. Computers were even logged on from Antarctica and Afghanistan.

“What’s frightening about that is that most people would have been at work,” Charles joked.

Since this clear success, regional and international entertainment organisers have taken notice of the project. Carnival TV is in discussions with Antigua’s carnival interest groups and with the governments of Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines about doing the same for their carnivals. What Charles describes as a “flirting relationship” has also begun with the organisers of New York’s Labor Day celebrations and Boston Carnival.

Of course, many requests have come in from their home country too. The conglomerate would ideally love to cover anything in entertainment in T&T that people would be interested in looking at, either right at home or in the Diaspora, Charles said. They proved that by streaming the ten-day 2011 Tobago Jazz.

But one of the biggest challenges to expanding is the cost. Carnival TV’s owners have been spending TT$50,000 – $75,000, mostly their own money, for every 24 hours of production (that includes set-up 24 hours in advance, equipment, crew, transport and buying bandwidth for streaming). Carnival TV has been free to viewers so far. But the team has plans to monetise it for the coming Carnival season.

Barry McComie of AD said, “We’re looking to keep the cost very low, kind of like how iTunes works: US$1.99, 99 cents.”

For those who miss the live streams, recorded versions will soon be available on the site for the same cost. The team is also looking at getting support from advertisers. The market is there: through their social media connection, they can prove it. During the Carnival Tuesday stream last year, comments flooded in from all over the world, via Facebook and Twitter, raving about the quality of Carnival coverage viewers were seeing.

“We are getting direct feedback by the second on what we’re doing,” McComie said excitedly. But since the viewership is largely outside the Caribbean, pinning down advertisers has not been easy. Carnival TV is ahead of its time, Parsons said. Charles agreed.

“We’ve defined the market. But the market isn’t ready to put money into it quite yet.”

In the meantime, local organisations like Pan Trinbago are “one million per cent on board”, Charles added, and they are working to find ways to subsidise the costs. The team isn’t compromising on quality, though, especially not for their sophisticated viewers.

Despite the challenges, Carnival TV is gearing up to cover the 2012 Carnival season in Trinidad, and will kick off by streaming a special event – which is being kept under wraps, Charles said.

Last year they filmed the launches of this year’s major bands, including Tribe, Spice, Yuma, Fantasy, and Island People. They’ll be there at all the traditional events – for example, Power and Groovy Soca Monarch, Panorama, Carnival Monday and Tuesday – as well as producing short Carnival-related features.

“I know the next step is going to be all things Caribbean, all things entertainment,” Parsons said. “It’s more than Carnival. And that’s where CarnivalTV.net will be.”

For more information: http://carnivaltv.net