Gunjan Prasad
Mar 11, 2015

Cashing in on Indonesia's appetite for Hindu mythological programming

JAKARTA - Indonesia has been on an Hindu epic TV binge. Here's how a lagging free-to-air channel started and rode the craze right to the top of the nation's ratings.

Mahabharata—the show that kickstarted a craze
Mahabharata—the show that kickstarted a craze

A game of dice plays a pivotal role in the great Hindu epic, Mahabharata, as it changes the fortunes of its protagonists and sets in motion one of the greatest wars fought in Indian mythology. Possibly inspired by this risk-taking, ANTV, a free-to-air television channel owned by the Indonesian conglomerate Bakrie Group’s Visi Media Asia (VIVA), bought the rights to the popular series from Star Plus India. The risk? They aired it in a predominantly Muslim nation during prime-time in March last year.

The gamble paid off in a big way for ANTV, which until the middle of last year was struggling to keep its No. 6 position in the US$1.5 billion Indonesian television industry.

Building on this success, ANTV has followed Mahabharat with other Indian mythological shows such as Mahadeva, Jodha Akbar and Shakuntala. Today the channel hobnobs with the topmost Indonesian GEC channels such as RCTI and SCTV.

“Before Mahabharata, the average channel share of ANTV was 6.2 while the top position was held by SCTV was at 14.7,” explained Nitin Kumar, technical advisor (trading and investment), Maxus Global Indonesia. “Within 9 months, the average channel share of ANTV moved to 16.3 and at its peak also managed to unseat the No. 1 local soap—Ganteng Ganteng Srigala.”

Prime time television has traditionally been skewed towards run-of-the-mill cinetrons, reality TV, horror and locally dubbed Bollywood movies.

The differentiation in programming and consistency of content, combined with high production values, ultimately worked for ANTV.

“Indonesians feel a certain cultural closeness to Indian mythological tales. We were able to tap that pulse and deliver something unique to both our viewers and advertisers,” said Kiki Zulkarnain, general manager of programming for ANTV.

Before this wave of popularity, ANTV’s core audiences have essentially comprised housewives from Indonesia’s lower socioeconomic strata. But with its newfound dominance during prime-time TV, it has now gained audience share by attracting whole families of their prior audience as well as new audiences from the nation’s wealthy.

Advertiser interest is high too as it gives them an additional opportunity to place their spots on these high viewership shows. “Nowadays when television inventory is saturated and there is high clutter due to heavy demand, to get a programming format that offers us captive audience interests us a great deal,” said Michael Hartono, director, marketing & communications, McDonald’s Indonesia.

There are many channels such as Transcorp trying to counter the sudden surge of ANTV on the back of Indian content without, however, being able to mirror its success.

That said, Indonesia is known to be a nation led by trends and fads. It was Korean pop not too long ago and Japanese pop before that. According to Rajat Basra, CEO of Omnicom Media Group Indonesia, unless ANTV manages to revitalise content on a regular basis, there is no saying when boredom will set in and the audiences will flow back to the time tested mix of horror, reality, romance and Bollywood.

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