Sun, 04 Jun 2000

New Indonesian TV stations: To be or not to be

By Antariksawan Jusuf

JAKARTA (JP): On the Indonesian television landscape, the talk of the town is whether the five new free television licensees are ever going to hit the air at all. If yes, the next question is whether they will survive in the competitive market?

The government last year granted five new free-tv licenses to Trans TV, DVN TV, PR TV, Global TV and Metro TV to add to the five commercial stations already in operation. They have been given two years to begin their operations, until September 2001, or else they will lose their one billion rupiah guarantees.

So far only Metro TV and Trans TV have set their launch dates, respectively in November 2000 and June 2001.

Metro will go narrow casting with round-the-clock news, including a 30-minute Mandarin news segment and 60 minutes of English news. It targets itself to be the "CNN of Indonesia," says Metro's operations director Zsa Zsa Yusharyahya, a former presenter of the first commercial station's, RCTI's, news program Seputar Indonesia.

Metro is backed by businessman Surya Paloh, the publisher of Media Indonesia.

But why all the round-the-clock news? "Changes happen within seconds and they cannot wait for a deadline. With current reform openness, it is the right time for Indonesian people to have a portion of news any time they need. News is no longer a secondary need, especially for busy viewers. So they can tune in any time according to their habits."

Metro TV's coverage area in its first phase will take in greater Jakarta at 57 UHF. It will also be accessible throughout the country via satellite dishes. But it has yet to determine which satellite -- Palapa of Satelindo or Cakrawarta of Datakom -- to use. In the second phase, coverage is expected to reach several other cities, such as Bandung, Surabaya, Semarang, Solo (Surakarta), Makassar and Medan. "It depends on our investment and cash flow."

While Trans TV, whose directors include Ishadi SK, former director general of radio, film and television of the now-defunct information ministry, and former RCTI director Alex Kumara, is to take a broadcasting approach with general programming line ups like RCTI, SCTV, TPI, ANteve and Indosiar.

To support their programming, Trans TV visited a television programming market held in Cannes, France and LA Screening in Los Angeles this year. During the event in Cannes last April, Trans TV reportedly committed to hundreds of hours of programing from international distributors.

PR TV, which stands for Pasaraya TV and is backed by businessman Abdul Latief, former manpower minister and the owner of the Pasaraya shopping stores, expects to make its maiden broadcast in April next year. PR TV's managing director Chrys Kelana, former head of RCTI's Seputar Indonesia, said the station will have general programming in order to catch a wider audience. PR TV hopes to secure 10 percent of the total advertising market to survive.

Will they survive? Every station is optimistic and their mantra is one of efficiency.

"As we are going narrow casting and the majority of programs are produced by in-house, we can be very efficient. We aim to employ a maximum of 280 people, very slim compared to a broadcast station," Zsa Zsa said.

PR TV, which plans to reach three cities in its initial stage, expects to run a slim operation in terms of human resources. "We prefer to have a smaller staff but of highly capable people."

R.T.S. Masli, chairman of the Indonesian Advertising Agency Association (PPPI), said the new stations would enjoy the growth of advertising industry.

"Advertising agencies tend to buy programs, not television stations. Pick an example such as Si Doel. It does not matter if it is screened on RCTI or Indosiar," he said.

So, there is a chance that every player can grab a piece of the growing advertising cake.

He said the country's advertising expenditure was predicted to rise by at least 20 percent to Rp 5.6 trillion, 65 percent of which is predicted to account for television industry. The forecast is based on the performance of advertising spending before the crisis which recorded year-on-year growth of 20 percent to 28 percent.

But some skeptics say the projected amount of advertising expenditure does not reflect the actual growth which remains low because of bonuses and discounts for advertisers. And if the actual expenditure is divided by 10 stations, one or two stations will meet their doom. Only time will tell.