Fri, 16 Jun 2000

'MTV' amplifies promotion in Indonesia

By C. Stevens

JAKARTA (JP): Throughout the past five years there has been a dangerous beast hunting the cultural souls of Indonesia's youth, corrupting the young and impressionable with hours of frivolous pop.

The animal can be summoned with a twitch of the index finger and is on call 24 hours a day, providing you have access to satellite television. And now it has a new master, a man of experience who plans to lead it into the most fortified of Indonesian living rooms.

According to a pan-Asian cross media survey conducted by the market research group Asia Market Intelligence (AMI), MTV Southeast Asia, since its establishment in 1995, has become the most watched satellite channel in the region.

According to ongoing viewership studies, MTV Southeast Asia is seen in over six million Indonesian homes via DTH and up to six hours a day on terrestrial broadcaster ANteve, through which MTV reaches over 50 percent of Indonesians aged 15 to 35.

Together with MTV Mandarin and MTV India, it has a combined distribution of more than 100 million homes. With a viewership of this magnitude, the brand is certainly one of the defining features of global culture.

MTV Southeast Asia's new managing director, Peter Bullard, said, "To consolidate on this success we are going to focus on stronger distribution and continued aggressive promotion of the brand and shows.

"We have a fantastic strategic advantage over anyone else in terms of music distribution and we have a lot of unique assets. Central to our strategy is the leverage and exploitation of these assets."

Having worked in cable and satellite television for the past 15 years, Peter is bringing a wealth of experience to his position. He began his career in music television in 1985 in Europe with a 24-hour music channel called Music Box. In 1993, he ran the sales team for NBC in Europe, where he remained for two years. He then launched CNBC which was a European business news and information service, and took the role of general manager.

"The daily priorities of running a business channel are not dissimilar to running a music channel," said Bullard.

"You still have to act creatively and you have the same issues of specialized forms of distribution and cultural diversity to deal with. So the leap to MTV was not so high."

As we all know, the last two years in Southeast Asia have been characterized by an economic crisis, and the hardest area hit was Indonesia. So while MTV was introduced to this country five years ago, access to satellite TV, advertising revenue, and preoccupation with the politics of the day has meant that it has not reached the same capacity as its counterparts in other parts of the world. For Bullard, this was a great opportunity to test his skills.

"I saw MTV Southeast Asia as an enormous opportunity. I have spent most of my professional life developing brands from scratch and I'd never had experience developing a mature brand. While MTV is established as a brand it is not necessarily completely established in the market here. And this is a fascinating place to do business when half the population is under 35."

Indeed, with such a vast youth market, living in a time when social freedom is at an all-time high, who can blame the new managing director of the world's number one youth brand for being excited. An Indonesian youth survey conducted by AMI, determined that the three top 10 "coolest" brands amongst Indonesians aged 13 to 23, were MTV at number one, Coca-cola at number two and Levis at number three.

At this point, some readers may cringe at the apparent Americanization these statistics suggest. There is the perception that many of the world's cultures are being flattened into a western monoculture.

With the emergence of transnational markets and distribution systems, made possible by developing communication technologies such as the Internet, cable and satellite, some -- including the government of China and Malaysia's Dr. Mahathir Mohammad -- have warned of the dangers inherent in "western popular culture". And there is little doubt that the spread and popularity of global brands has profound cultural consequences.

But it is also doubtful that national culture is as passive and weak as this. This kind of perception fails to take into consideration other more specific sources of cultural identity such as locality, religion, generation, ethnicity, politics and so on. It is doubtful that drinking Coca-cola or watching MTV makes Indonesians or Malaysians think like Americans any more than eating nasi goreng or listening to dangdut makes Americans think like Indonesians.

In addition to this, a strategy that has worked well for MTV all around the world is balancing local content with international content, so that the brand serves as a way to simultaneously break borders and encourage national pride.

"We combine the best of local music, fashion and lifestyle with the slightly alien world of international music," said Bullard.

Frank Brown, President of MTV Networks Asia, said the music channel has a unique connection with Indonesia's youth. "They see their own culture reflected in the playlist that is 60 percent Bahasa. There are seven programs produced for Indonesia and six Indonesian VJs," he said.

Associate director of MTV Southeast Asia's marketing and communications department, Daniel Tumiwa, backs this up: "The youth in Indonesia is very nationalistic and they like to see their own products on TV. It gives them a sense of pride."

In any case, it looks like MTV is here to stay and with plans to expand into the radio and tabloid markets it will soon become a major feature of Indonesia's popular culture.

"With markets like the European or American markets, it's not hard to put a limit on growth. But in Asia, I can't even see the ceiling. Indonesia is the fourth most populous market in the world. Put that in the context of Southeast Asia, and then in the context of the entire region, and it makes my head spin," said Bullard.