Cuba’s ‘Weekly Packet’ Rises in Price While the Censorship of its Content Increases

In its beginnings, the ’weekly packet’ gave Cuban officialdom numerous headaches and enormous gratifications to the viewers, who came to be counted by millions throughout the island. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 January 2022 — The weekly packet, that compendium of audiovisuals, music and digital material that for more than a decade has been an alternative to official television, has risen in price this January and in Havana it will cost 70 pesos each week. Customers are alarmed by this increase and also the loss of quality, due to excessive censorship, which marks the content.

“Important information to all Mega Vision clients, weekly packet,” starts a note included in the product that is being distributed this week in various points of the Cuban capital. “Due to economic changes” linked to the new dollar rate in the informal market, there is a “weekly packet price adjustment starting Monday: 70 CUP (Cuban pesos).” In neighborhoods like Centro Habana it even reaches 100.

The notice has sparked the annoyance of many consumers, who until now paid about 50 pesos for all the folders divided by theme that make up the compendium. A price to which the cost of the courier could be added in case the client preferred to receive it at home.

“I’m not going to pay that amount because it’s getting worse and worse,” laments Manolo, a retiree from Cotorro who had already noticed “the loss of quality” of the materials collected. “Many documentaries have bad subtitles, the copies of the films are bad and to top it all, they have fewer and fewer things that have to do with history and politics.”

“It’s not a matter of twenty pesos difference,” he continues. “It is the enormous difference between what was received in the beginning and the current sloppiness. Until recently they had at least the newscasts of many channels in Florida but they removed them. They have already gone past being servile, they can’t count on me to keep them in business.”

In its beginnings, the weekly packet was a source of numerous headaches to Cuban officialdom and enormous rewards to viewers, who came to number in the millions throughout the Island. Being able to access documentaries, films and television series that were not broadcast on national television consecrated this audiovisual compilation above the official grid.

From its early years, the managers of the business instituted the “zero politics, zero violence, zero pornography” rule that allowed them to circumvent official censorship, although the weekly packet was never appreciated by cultural institutions, which accused them of promoting frivolity and tastelessness.

La mochila, (the backpack) was the official antidote that the authorities found against the “poison that they are putting into the heads” of the young people in the packet. However, the underground offer won the pulse. The alternative prepared by the Cuban State and distributed through the Computer Youth Club, despite its enormous resources, hardly found an audience.

During this time, there have been several attempts to raise the initial price, which was then one convertible peso (25 Cuban pesos). “They tried to put it at 75 CUP a year ago, but people threw a tremendous tantrum and they had to lower it to 50. Overall, with the same amount of money they lowered it, quality also fell and censorship grew,” explains Manolo.

A messenger linked to the Mega Vision production house assured 14ymedio that “the previous price could not be maintained.” Distributed to private businesses, the packet also survives by advertising restaurants, photo studios and musicians who pay to be included in its popular compilations. “Paid ads fell with this pandemic because many stores were closed, we can’t make ends meet with what each customer pays just to watch.”

But the packet does not seem to be hit only by the flight of advertisers and the disappointment of the audience. “Since internet access arrived on mobile phones in December 2018, more and more people consume materials directly from the internet. They watch programs through Facebook, they do a lot of tricks to lower the megabytes and there are even more and more families who pay for their Netflix subscription from Miami,” says the messenger. “With that it is very difficult to compete.”

And he explains: “Many Fire Stick and Roku are arriving that anyone can hook up to their television and access a wealth of audiovisual material. They share it through Wi-Fi between several families and that’s where I think the business of the future is coming, because the packet, more and more, is serving people without an internet connection.”

Others consider that it still “does business and you can take advantage of it.”

“I have a good clientele who are looking for soap operas and reality shows, they are not interested in politics,” acknowledges Barbarita, another distributor of the packet in the municipality of Playa. “These are people who want to turn on the television in the morning and watch that type of program.”

“Cooking courses, music videos and video games are in high demand,” he says. “My clientele has not complained about the lack of newscasts or other topics, rather they would like it to include more music and spaces for participation, such as singing contests.” Barbarita believes that “70 pesos a week is still cheap, it costs less than a pound of beans.”


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