In the television industry, the ‘lucky’ Wishnutama is a relatively fresh-faced 40-year-old executive who has conceived of hit TV programs and helped create superstars, including dangdut singer Inul Daratista, today’s ‘it’ comedian Sule and even Malaysian diva Siti Nurhaliza.
Wishnutama, a fan of the American sitcom ‘Friends’ and a resident of Kemang, talks to My Jakarta about his studies in the United States, his distaste for sinetrons, the Indonesian version of ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ that wasn’t and his vision of growing local TV stations in the country.
As the leader of TransTV and Trans7, whre do you find ideas for fresh programming?
Every night, I check out what’s hot on YouTube. Inspiration also comes from American TV shows. I watched a lot of Jay Leno and “Saturday Night Live” during my study in the States. Those programs have influenced shows like “Lepas Malam,” “Bukan Empat Mata,” “Extravaganza” and “Opera van Java.”
What’s the quality in you that got you where you are today?
The will to always perform better than the rest. I never dreamed of becoming CEO of a TV station. All I want is for my performance in any position to be acknowledged by my superiors. When I was still a producer at Indosiar, I realized that doing so-so work won’t get your recognized in a competition.
Already a CEO at 40. Do you consider yourself lucky?
The Prophet Muhammad once said, “Be a lucky person.” I tried so long to understand what that meant. I concluded that being lucky is when you are prepared to seize opportunities. So I’ve made myself prepared all the time, because you never know when opportunity will knock.
What do you say about people who prefer international channels to local stations?
The fact is that 98 percent of audiences prefer local to international content, so high-quality programming doesn’t work for them. We once ran this sitcom inspired by my favorite show, ‘Friends,’ called ‘Kejar Tayang,’ which eventually went to the dustbin after years of sinking ratings. Our focus group discussion found that the content was too witty for our audience.
But isn’t that the company’s privilege, to drive opinion on what is hot and not?
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The audience still wants the overly dramatic sinetron [soap opera] with all its nonsense. I’ve tried hard not to have sinetrons in our programs, which has positioned us in the upper and upper-middle class of viewers. But neglecting the demands of the lower and lower-middle classes would push us to the bottom of the ratings.
Understanding intelligent content requires time and higher education. Meanwhile, there are not that many university graduates yet in Indonesia.
So it will be awhile before we have world-class programming like in the States?
That’s the thing about America. I think they believe that the media and military are the tools to control the world. Their military can come and raid any place in the world while their media will do their best to instill their values into the minds of everyone in the world.
What did you study in America?
I initially went to Norwich University, a military college in Vermont, but they discontinued the scholarship grants for Indonesian students. After some time, I saw from a friend that majoring in communications looked kind of fun. Despite my mother’s doubts, I finally decided to major in it, although back in the ’90s communications seemed hopeless for a career. I did part-time work at New England Cable News and got a job at WHDH7, an NBC affiliate in Boston, after I graduated.
My mother asked me to come back and contribute my knowledge to Indonesia. Lucky for me, private TV stations were rising when I returned in 1994.
Any plans for a show like ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’?
We once planned to do it with an Indonesian diva, but unlike networks in the States that aim for worldwide consumption, the cost and effort are just too much if we keep a crew and camera rolling 24/7 for a local audience only.
Is there anything left in Jakarta that hasn’t been covered by the media?
I’m currently preparing a controversial reality show to explore the core problems of the city from a more comprehensive point of view. This hopefully will be an eye-opener on what is actually going on in the city.
In what direction do you think Indonesian media are going?
It is important for local governments to have their own TV stations since local news is more important for people. The trend of local TV stations has been triggered, but only by the financially capable. In the end, all TV stations must go local.
You are now involved in the online media business as well. What do you see in that market?
Online social media are big today. I have benefited from the use of social media so far through direct feedback from the audience, program promotion and being able to predict a show’s future without waiting for the ratings results.
What’s your favorite spot to unwind in the city?
It’s my resort-like home sanctuary in Kemang. I don’t go out much except for good food, and my band’s gigs are just around the neighborhood too. Weekends are usually dedicated to playing PlayStation with my kids or eating out.
Wishnutama was talking to Dyah Paramita.