Two of the most established media groups in Jamaica – broadcasting-focused RJR Communications, and newspaper enterprise The Gleaner Company are to combine into a single company

RJR, a PMA member, is currently the largest media group in the country, comprising TV Jamaica and three radio stations. It is a descendant of Radio Jamaica, founded in 1939. The Gleaner Company, publisher of daily broadsheet The Gleaner, dates back to 1834, and owns titles in Jamaica, North America and the UK, as well as several broadcasting subsidiaries.

The merger of the two publicly listed companies will create the largest media group in the region – spanning radio, television, cable television, print, online, and new media products and services.

The transaction process may take six months, and the resulting company will be renamed. Gary Allen, currently RJR’s Group Managing Director, will become Chief Executive Officer, with The Gleaner’s MD, Christopher Barnes, as Chief Operating Officer.

Gary Allen, who is also a PMA board Vice-President summarised the reasons and benefits of the union – a case of: “You can improve your AV, and we can improve our online presence,” he said, explaining that The Gleaner Company had previously been looking to acquire equipment and resources to add audiovisual content to its successful online presence, meanwhile RJR had been considering hiring staff to create text content from its wealth of audiovisual media.

The two companies concluded that, rather than duplicate capabilities, they could share costs – crucial in the currently cash-strapped advertising market in Jamaica. Allen told the Public Media Alliance that the deal would create a “symbiotic” win-win situation.

Lester Spaulding, Chairman of RJR and future Chair of the merged company, underlined the challenges in the Jamaican media landscape: “The current market, with the amount of existing players, is saturated; especially where there is low economic growth. When added to the recent moves by local telecoms to enter the media space, heightened competition is sure to put increased pressure on the industry.”

The Gleaner’s chairman Oliver Clarke said: “What Jamaica faces is that there are a number of foreign companies coming in and putting up programmes that solicit advertising and you have a lot of businesses that are not making their way. The Gleaner’s interest in this is trying to create an organisation that is viable, can last, and is Jamaican,” he told the Gleaner.

Both parties emphasised the need to bolster Jamaican ownership of media at home and abroad. RJR has recently invested heavily in its own subscription TV platform, 1Spot Media, which has worldwide access. Gary Allen said: “Having invested locally first, we were looking at how to build our audience and broadcast Jamaican information and content globally.

“We were looking to ramp up marketing – to the Jamaican diaspora, then to others interested in Jamaican sport and music around the world… we have found a good partner [in The Gleaner] because of its linkages in other markets.” (The US, Canada, and the UK).

We won’t reduce the number of outlets – we want to preserve the diversity of voices

The merger comes at a time of increasing media consolidation in the region. In March this year, the British-owned multinational giant, Cable & Wireless Communications, acquired Columbus Communications – a cable TV and broadband provider for the Caribbean. At the same time, CWC’s traditional rival, the Jamaican-owned Digicel, a multi-regional telco and internet service provider acquired several regional cable companies and a slew of ISPs around the region. Allen said these events were “a real game-changer” for media in Jamaica.

Both companies run radio stations, and the deal means they will be able to make savings on transmission costs by sharing infrastructure.

The Gleaner’s newspapers will continue using existing names, as reported on their website. Allen added: “We don’t intend to reduce the number of outlets – we want to preserve plurality and diversity of voices.”

The Public Media Alliance will be attending and supporting the Caribbean Broadcasting Union AGA – a key media event for the region – in Grenada from 17 to 20 August 2015, see below.