It’s the ‘screen of death’ that invokes feelings of frustration and horror. But this blackout screen is popping-up more and more on your favourite channels.

Television programmes generate advertising revenue for broadcasters such as TV6 and CNC3. While customers pay cable providers for premium channels, it should be noted that  the programmes which occupy the schedules on these channels are governed by separate contracts.

The Caribbean is one of the few markets in the world where mainstream US networks are offered to cable subscribers. Canadian cable providers also carry American networks on their lineups. But just because these channels are offered, it does not mean that their programming is part of the deal.

Local broadcasters are being offered exclusive contracts by content owners. For example, new episodes of the popular American sitcom ‘Modern Family‘ which airs on the ABC network in the United States, have been sold to CNC3 for exclusive broadcast in Trinidad & Tobago. The show has also been sold by its owners to CityTV, for exclusive broadcast in Canada. Both ABC and CityTV are offered on the channel lineups of local cable companies, but CNC3 owns the exclusive rights to broadcast the show in its primetime schedule. As a result, the cable operators must ‘block’ the show from ABC and CityTV.

Canada is the only market in which television networks generally air their programmes at the same time as their US counterparts. Everywhere else in the world, programming schedules are determined by local networks. Canadian cable providers are also obligated to block the American version  of the show. The theory behind this is that the Canadian stations who own exclusive rights to the show in Canada, would not be able to meet their contractual obligations to their advertisers if the American feed was allowed to be transmitted at the same time. But because the Canadian television networks air their programmes at the same time as the American networks, instead of a blank screen, the US feed is substituted for the Canadian version for the duration of the programme.

In the Caribbean however, local stations do not always air the programmes at the same time as the US networks. As a result, the US version of the  programme is blocked by the cable providers for the duration of the show.

In a statement to the Trinidad Guardian, Trinidad and Tobago cable provider Columbus Communications explained as follows:

“Local broadcasters in T&T are entitled to purchase shows directly from content providers (international or local). While more than 99 per cent of Flow’s content is available throughout the year, certain shows can be purchased directly. Once the rights are brought, it is the obligation of all local cable operators to block the show so it is only seen on the local station. The content is still available to viewers but at the date and time determined at the discretion of the local station.”

Irate customers often argue that cable companies should purchase the rights to such shows, to avoid this situation. Columbus addresses this issue by stating:

“We are unable to purchase the rights to any program because we are a channel provider not a broadcaster which rights are ONLY sold to.”

So if your favourite programme has been ‘blocked’ by your cable provider, note that this is to protect local stations, and to ensure that when you do in fact watch the show, that it is local advertisements that reach the consumer.

Perhaps this inconvenience and disruption is worthwhile, in order to preserve the local economy.



About The Author Jason Nathu

Jason Nathu is an attorney-at-law, admitted to practice in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. He is currently a full-time Tutor at the Hugh Wooding Law School.