Almost every Cuban house is now invaded with the latest American TV shows. From sitcoms and cheesy reality shows to the latest soap opera and the trendy sci-fi series, nothing is now out of reach for the Cuban TV viewer.
The interesting part comes from the fact that Cuba is a country with almost null internet access and a only a half dozen nationwide TV stations. So, how is this pervasive infiltration of American TV possible?
If you ask a Cuban you’ll discover a particular word that locals use to describe their Cuban version of TiVo: “El Paquete”. The literal translation would be “the package”, which doesn’t tell you much until you understand the story behind the name.
Advertisment for the paquete
The few Cubans who have access to internet fast enough to download videos are mostly embassy workers and employees in foreign company headquarters in Havana. These enterprising individuals manage to download and assemble a once a week compendium of media, usually totaling from 250-500 gigabytes.
This downloaded cache of entertainment, news, and curiosities from the world wide web is then classified in folders according to content categories. An important note here is that the usual censorship laws do not apply because this is all being done off the books, so to speak.
The most popular “paquetes” are the ones that hold the latest films and international music, many include programming for Latin American audiences made in the United States. Other folders include the latest apps and software, digital magazines, videogames, news, TV series (I have seen everything from Alf to Breaking Bad), music concerts, and awards shows.
No “paquete” would be complete without an offline version “revolico.com”. It means “fuzz” in English and is the equivalent of craigslist.com for Cuba. Revolico.com is distributed offline by people who download the database and then write simple programming so it functions without internet.
Of course all of this information comes with a price. In the first layer of the distribution network there are compilers who sell all the media that they downloaded that week for a hefty fee to a distributor. The distributor then organizes the media by content in different folders and sometimes even uses graphic designers to put in advertisments for local Cuban restaurants, bars, or electronic repair shops. At this point the organized “paquete” is ready to be sold to anyone interested at a price that ranges between 1-2 USD. The total amount of data in the “paquete” sums to thousands of hours of videos.
Millions of Cubans now dedicate their free time to watching content “el paquete” or using the offline revolico.com to buy and sell everything under the sun.
Some say that this data flow will last until the penetration of the World Wide Web, the only real competitor in terms of quality and quantity. Until that day comes Cuban’s unique way of keeping up with the rest of the world’s media consumption is here to stay.
Written by Graham Sowa.