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Bhakti building network empire

Firm takes advantage of cheap licenses

JAKARTA — Public securities firm PT Bhakti Investama has emerged as the dominant force in Indonesian broadcasting, with stakes in three networks (RCTI, SCTV and Metro) plus a fourth (Global) that plans to launch this year.

Bhakti is taking advantage of the low cost of TV broadcasting licenses to expand its empire while the Indonesian economy staggers amid a prolonged political leadership crisis. And there are no antitrust laws in the country.

Bhakti officials have declined interviews, but some broadcasting execs question whether the company intends to be a long-term player or whether it will sell out after the economy improves.

Headed by president-director Hary Tanoesoedibjo and founded in 1989, Bhakti has stakes in a wide range of businesses, from electronics to tobacco firms.

Last month, Tanoesoedibjo was also named deputy chief commissioner of PT Bimantara Citra, RCTI’s holding company, after it was revealed Bhakti had bought a 10% stake in Bimantara.

In debt

It has since been confirmed that Bimantara’s major shareholders — Bambang Trihatmodjo and Indra Rukmana (son and son-in-law of former president Suharto) — have given him proxy over their combined 45.37% stake. It’s believed Bhakti agreed to bail them out when they failed to repay loans to the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency.

Bhakti already had a major stake in SCTV, which vies with RCTI for second and third place in the ratings behind the leading web Indosiar. By seizing control of Bimantara, Bhakti acquires its interests in Metro and Global.

Its influence is already obvious on both channels. Bhakti rep Oerianto has joined RCTI in a senior finance post assisting president-director Wisnu Hadi. Nenny Soemawinata, who was RCTI’s chief operating officer, this month moved to Global as project director.

Apart from Global, two companies granted licenses in 1999 are preparing to launch. Trans TV aims to go to air in September, and LA Tivi intends to start next year. That will increase the number of privately owned webs to nine.

Many execs believe the advertising market, which is projected to run to $273 million this year (up about 7% on 2000), will support a maximum of five networks.