Johann Dawes: The story of Hype TV Image

by Tanaka Roberts

A very cordial Johann Dawes invited us into his office to reason about the dynamics of his line of business. Needless to say he had a lot to share with us concerning his company, building the entertainment industry and strengthening 'Brand Jamaica' by extension.

Considering the nature (and name) of a company such as Hype TV one would presume the founder to be particularly ubiquitous in his demeanor. The very opposite is actually the case. Although a pioneer within the sphere of local music television, Dawes retains a rather low profile. He conveyed that, "From a marketing perspective you're supposed to be pushing your brand but sometimes that takes away from the company." His principal focus, he maintains, is the integrity of his company and as such pays more attention to internal affairs as opposed to being in the public eye. In fact he is extremely involved in the ground operations of the company, assuming the roles of camera man to sound engineer at some point or the other. "I just think that sometimes as the captain you have to lead from the front. It is micro-managing in a way but it keeps you in touch with what's happening and what people are saying about what you are doing." he added.

Despite graduating as a History major from the University of the West Indies, Dawes always knew he would be in television production. His first real experience came with being employed by Phase Three where he worked as a sound engineer at New Horizon Studio mixing jingles and commercials. There after he started to do location sound for the company which allowed him to segue into video production. The practical experience gained from working at Phase Three along with an unmistaken passion for the entertainment industry inspired Dawes to branch out and create his own legacy- the birth of Hype TV.

"It is so cool to be associated with Jamaica," he smiled, seemingly overwhelmed with pride. "We are so proud. For example when Usain won the race at the Olympics- his reaction- that was [of] a typical Jamaican," referring to Usain Bolt's illustrious victory celebration at Beijing. "Jamaica is a hype little country and we showing the world in our little way what makes us Jamaican. A small country with such a heavy impact, we have all right to be hype; we gave the world Bob Marley; we gave the world the last God (in reference to Haile Selassie I / Rastafarianism) – there is something about us that we have to get out there," he articulated like a true patriot. This is exactly how the name Hype TV came about.

Dawes wanted to provide a medium through which the Jamaican culture (and the Caribbean region by extension) could be showcased so that people all over the world could know how we live and how we entertain as a people.
Dawes saw there was an absence of an appropriate media outlet for the Jamaican music industry which was quickly expanding. "If we are dependent on other networks from other countries, they'll give their perspective and not authentic Jamaican information on the artistes," he explained. Accordingly, Hype TV came to being in August 1999. "I never really saw it as a business I saw it as a mission. Hype TV was a hobby and it took me a long time to see it as work," stated Dawes. Initially it was intended to be a television program as opposed to an actual channel. After much deliberation and encouragement however he came to realize that his vision was much bigger than a simple television program. "I have to give thanks to man like Dave Kelly (renowned Jamaican producer); I went to him and told him my idea and Dave encouraged me to do it. He saw the need for a medium that showcase the talents we have in Jamaica," Dawes said. Clearly with stakeholders interested there was no turning his back on this venture.

"When the president of United States wants to talk to the world he goes to CNN. We have to get ourselves out there so when people want to get Jamaican culture we have a means for them to access it" he expressed. Furthermore he holds the belief that, "We should not be taken seriously unless we have a medium as powerful or major as the other major international music channels, they would not give reggae and dancehall the respect it deserves."

"Things have changed," he asserted, "What happen is that the world is interested in Jamaican culture so we have to bring the culture to the world. People like Usain have single handedly been promoting Jamaica with his personality, being not just a sprinter but an ambassador." Dawes noted that the artiste themselves are at the forefront of the international arena and therefore should also take on the onus of positively portraying the image of our country. "Without even formally doing it with the government we are going to have to get the entertainers to know every time they leave Jamaica they are billboards promoting our culture," it was duly prompted.

Looking towards the bigger picture, Dawes subscribes to a multilateral approach. First we brandish our people to wet international appetites and then we provide a readily available platform to further sell Jamaica, the brand. "We have to get the interest in Things Jamaica by using a medium that is easy for the world to see. 2012 we will be turning 50 years old and I think it is the right time to step up and make everything that is exciting and good about Jamaica to be on show. So, we will be working hard on that and have people tune into Hype for that," he shared.

While working within the industry for a considerable amount of year, Dawes has seen significant progress made in terms of artistes gaining exposure, especially on the international scene. The industry has however fallen short of attracting complementary revenues for our product. "Right now I think we are in a very interesting time because although it is easy to put your creativity out there, I mean, we see people like Clifftwang being an overnight star but now we are being challenged with getting people paid for their talent. So I'm trying to come up with an idea of making it easy for people that love our culture to actually access it and pay for it. I think the way is basic; to give it away for free but get paid to perform and merchandise, we have to work in that direction," resolved the trailblazer.

In a sudden moment of nostalgia Dawes smiles saying, "It's amazing that this project started at home and Andrew Val was the first employee, being presenter and camera man at the same time." Since it first came on air, Hype TV has really come a long way. During 2005-2008 the channel was a part of the Direct TV package broadcasting in the 52 states of North America. It was also provided in ten Caribbean countries a part from its homeland, Jamaica. Unfortunately Dawes had to pull the plug on international broadcasting. He explained, "It was a very expensive venture, we weren't getting the support of the corporate world and also we had to admit that in terms of the push in the North American market enough was not done by Direct TV to really get the message out there. Enough people didn't know about our presence but looking back the experience was a great one." He indicated that as a small independent company Hype TV has been over shadowed by the much larger companies. The entity has however been able to stand its grounds over the years.

Hype TV can be credited for leading the emergence of local music television in Jamaica, "I think we have played a major role in helping to break down the stigma that locals did not want local content on TV," Dawes proclaimed. Today domestic music TV stations have increased in their numbers yet Dawes feels no threat or competition as he considers these other stations as his "coworkers", noting that they're all geared towards a similar aim- to extend the reach of the Jamaican entertainment industry.

Currently the Hype team is reforming its strategy to use technology to attract a larger audience with minimum capital investment. "We are about to do something just as impressive without letting too much out of the bag. We really want to take it one step further and push it outside the country. This time instead of it just being Hype TV as a station or content provider we will be seeking the support of an army of young people who have the tool of trade." Johan happens to be strong believer in the potential of youths. Incidentally, Hype Tv has been the launching pad for several young people such as television and radio personality Lady Deidra and the innovative video editor Ca'dien 'Kritik' Christie both of whom are now making strides within the entertainment industry.

Alluding to Hype TV's reputation as a flagship for the local music television sector Dawes remarked, "It is not a coincidence that we are the first or amongst the first station to be on the mobile TV because from day one we believe in getting our content on different platform."

Yet amidst his company's prolific energy to innovate he also recognizes the necessity of corporate assistance, "We have tons of ideas but who is going to support us?" he probed. "That's why I have to big up a company like Lime and Red Stripe Bold for spearheading a show like 'Teacha's Pet' because this is investing in Jamaican pop culture and in a way it is a big risk but there is a need," he further added.

Free-to-air stations, he indicated, has however seriously infringed upon their possibility of corporate funding. In addition to this cable providers have also posed problems for the station. "What I would really, really, really love is for the cable companies in Jamaica and the region to treat us just the same way they treat the international networks because there is no way we can improve unless we get their support," he implored adding, "Our viewers compare us to the international stations but we don't get treated as such so we're looking forward to building a better relationship with them."

Nevertheless Dawes remains in high spirits. His exuberance for Jamaica's entertainment world coupled with his youthful disposition and continued wont to challenge his creative capacity has kept Hype TV in good standings. Although he noticed that no one is saying thanks for the work his team is doing, at the end of the day artistes are getting shows and traveling. For him, this construes the entertainers as cheering team that inspires the company's morale. In closing he professed, "Somehow I guess we will have to write our own history."
Image To contort oneself into the prescribed of mediocre minds - contradicts character.
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