The U.S. program suppliers who were on the platform when pay TV launched in Indonesia have had a bumpy ride, rocked by paltry subscriber take-up, botched pricing, and the departure of two senior execs.

Don’t blame HBO Asia, CNN Intl., ESPN Asia, the Discovery Channel and Turner/Cartoon Network for the feevee fiasco that’s resulted in about 10,000 homes signing up in a country of 180 million people.

The buck stops with Indovision, the Indonesian company that was awarded the sole license to distribute and market direct-broadcast satellite programming.

After an extensive restructuring, which included slashing sub prices and the cost of decoders, Indovision now claims it’s on the right track.

Indovision president Peter Gontha, who juggled that job with other responsibilities in the Bimantara empire (his last coup was a big petro-chemical deal) has taken control of the pay TV operation, his spokesman said last week.

This follows the exits of Indovision group managing director/COO Lloyd Lochra (who moved to an unrelated company in Singapore) and American consultant Jack Porray (who went home after his contract expired).

Gontha has called on veteran U.S. exec Steve Mathias (a former president of Johnny Carson Prods.), who has been working in Jakarta as a consultant to Bimantara’s free-to-air broadcaster SCTV, to help refocus Indovision.

“We were disappointed with the (initial subscriber) numbers, but after revamping and streamlining the operation, we’re heading in the right direction, ” Mathias told Variety.

Mathias says the number of homes hooked up has doubled in the past three months since prices were slashed, and the number of hotel rooms receiving the service has mushroomed from 18,000 to 29,000. Indovision also is making a concerted effort to sign up big new residential developments.

The monthly sub fee was halved to $22, and the cost of a decoder plus the first month’s sub was slashed from more than $1,000 to $320.

Radical action

Radical action was needed to counter the frustration of some U.S. program suppliers, who were peeved by the stagnant penetration after being on air for 15 months.

CNN Intl. opted to unscramble its signal from Oct. 1 in order to keep advertisers on side. That means it can still be seen by the estimated 1 million homes that bought sat dishes before the services were encrypted.

“We’re still part of the Indovision package (but) we wanted to maximize advertising sales opportunities,” said a CNN spokeswoman in Hong Kong.

More momentum

Indovision expects to gain further momentum when a cluster of Star TV channels is beamed into Indonesia soon on the AsiaSat 2 satellite. Mathias hints that a number of other new channels will be added, including MGM Gold, a co-venture between the U.S. major and Asia Media Management, an offshore company formed by a group of Indonesian entrepreneurs including Gontha.

“Indovision made a miserable start, mostly due to inexperience,” says one Jakarta broadcaster. “ESPN programs came in without being time-shifted so people could not watch major events in the evening; there was no dubbing or subtitling; and (Indovision) did a lousy job of promotions and advertising.

“Now they’re on the road to improvement, and there is better coordination and communication” between Indovision and program suppliers, he added.

Mathias is enjoying the challenge of beefing up Indovision’s cluster of channels and penetration, but has resolved to call it quits and return to the U.S. when his contract is up next April. He says: “I’ve been trying to retire since 1988,” when he first went to Indonesia to help launch Bimantara’s web RCTI.

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