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Wanted to Watch Saint Lucia's Carnival on TV This Year? You Were Out of Luck

The King and Queen of the Bands competition at St. Lucia's 2013 Carnival; photo by flickr user Addy Cameron-Huff, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

The King and Queen of the Bands competition at St. Lucia's 2013 Carnival; photo by flickr user Addy Cameron-Huff, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Saint Lucians at home and abroad who couldn't attend the Caribbean island's Carnival, which came to a close on Tuesday, had a harder time tuning in this year thanks to a decision not to have live television broadcasts of many of the festival's events, including the main calypso competition finals.

The Carnival Planning and Management Agency's official statement cited loss of revenue as the reason behind the move:

This move serves to bolster the gate receipts of Lucian Carnival’s signature events, which have traditionally aired live on television, and in some instances via web streaming platforms. All shows will, however, continue to be broadcasted live via the festival’s various radio partners.

Carnivals throughout the region are a cultural tradition that harkens back to a pagan festival, initially observed by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans and subsequently adopted by the Catholic Church as the festival of Carne Vale — farewell to the flesh — that was introduced to the Caribbean with the arrival of European plantation owners. Slaves would watch their masters celebrate with extravagant masquerade balls, from which they were excluded, and mockingly imitate their behaviour.

When emancipation came, the former slaves turned the traditional carnival on its head by Africanising it with drums and movement and transforming it into a street festival that has evolved and endured to this day as a unique mix of music and masquerade. Part art, part theatre, carnival is a complex beast that melds fantasy and folklore, pan music with political satire.

In keeping with the Roman Catholic calendar, Carnival Monday and Tuesday are usually celebrated on the days preceding Ash Wednesday, after which all pleasurable indulgences are meant to be forfeited during the 40 days of Lent that follow. Fifteen years ago however, because of the stiff competition from other bigger and more popular events, such as Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, the Saint Lucian government moved the country's carnival celebrations to mid-July in the hope of attracting more tourists.

As this year's Saint Lucian Carnival approached its climax, spectators and media personnel alike took to social media to voice their displeasure about the decision to ban any live coverage of events. Writing on the Facebook group “St. Lucians Aiming for Progress,” Clinton Reynolds was upset and felt that the rationale given for the decision was misguided:

How regressive! Did the organisers consider Saint Lucians in the diaspora, those in other countries and foreigners who might be interested in being part of Saint Lucia Carnival by viewing the competitions as they happen? And what about local fans who are physically UNABLE to attend? I hope that decision shot your gate receipts through the roof!

Caron Tobierre believed that the organizers could actually make money from the live broadcasts:

If the care was about the pocket, believe me they would have considered the live broadcast more seriously because the opportunity for revenue making is huge if done properly. Over the last 3 years the revenue received from this was probably more than $50,000 and from discussions that began last year, the opportunities for increasing were very present.

Shayne Cherry also maintained that the decision was regressive, especially for the country's artists, who could otherwise be gaining needed exposure:

Looks like we're going in reverse…Somebody is fooling these poor artistes, and making them walk backward instead of moving forward. Right now, nobody from caribana [a huge West Indian Carnival in Toronto], labour day [the big Caribbean parade in New York] or notting hill [an annual Carnival event in London] organising committees seeing you. But you hoping to get a call for gig later. You think machel [Montano, the region's biggest soca star, whose music has become synonymous with Carnival] doesn't understand the importance of a camera and making sure people see him…How you gonna make your name if you don't [get] your image out there.

Nadia Cauzabon made the point that broadcasting the Carnival shows made them more accessible to Saint Lucians, even those on the island:

I've been saying this since last week and I'm not even going to talk about the diaspora. All those ‘national’ events are in the north (Castries/Gros Islet). What about those of us who live in the rest of the island? How many can afford to commute to those shows?

Chad Alexander echoed this point, saying that the idea of events being broadcast could actually make them seem bigger and more attractive. He was also surprised at the weak marketing efforts for the festival, which, to his mind, should have been amped up considering that broadcasting was no longer an avenue with which to promote the carnival calendar:

I don't pretend to know anything about marketing, sales and events but from the point of view of Joe Public, the staging of quality productions accompanied by live broadcast can serve to create that ‘promotional vibe’ that makes people want to be a part of this festival…[the] ‘bandwagonist’ effect. And whether we realise it or not, it actually serves the dual role of marketing for next year's events. With live broadcasting, some st. lucian somewhere will make plans to make next year's carnival…and encourage their non st. lucian friends to come along. 

With all the technological options available these days, though, could there be another option? One Facebook user from the diaspora, Kermz Francis, suggested that Saint Lucia's Carnival could have had its cake and eaten it too, had the festivities been pay-per-view: “There is merit in both sides of the argument but I see no harm in just charging a fee for people who want to view the shows live.” 

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