In late October, football fans across Indonesia roared from their living rooms as rivals Chelsea and Manchester United clashed in the English Premier League. They were watching through the Jakarta-based streaming service Vidio — the only way to access the high-stakes match.
If you’re not a sports fanatic, Vidio has you covered, too. Not with global blockbuster TV series like House of the Dragon or Succession, but with hyperlocal, Bahasa Indonesia-language escapism. Viewers have been tuning in by the millions to My Ice Girl, a lighthearted crime drama where two high-school outsiders — played by homegrown, up-and-coming stars — are thrown together to solve the mysterious death of one of their siblings. (It’s adapted from a hit local novel on Wattpad, a popular source for material.)
Vidio is succeeding where foreign competitors like Netflix and Disney+ have stumbled in Indonesia — by developing an acute sense for what Indonesians want to watch. Despite earlier being considered an underdog, it is now the fastest-growing streaming service in a country of 270 million, and the biggest in terms of active users with about 60 million viewers per month, the company told Rest of World. In the second quarter of this year, it snatched the number one spot for over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms across all of Southeast Asia, according to consultancy Media Partners Asia, both in new subscriber growth and popularity of original content.
Rest of World’s interviews with industry players, including Vidio’s CEO, suggest that the company’s success lies in commissioning dozens of extremely localized, original shows a year, and ramping up sports programming. The company’s growth has begun to draw media attention overseas, but even they are aware that their success is tenuous: The U.S. streaming giants have much deeper pockets, and can offer their creators a global platform.
“Whatever works in other countries might not necessarily be 100% [replicated] here,” Sutanto Hartono, Vidio’s CEO, told Rest of World.
“We have to ask ourselves — not now, but five to 10 years down the road — how can we still survive, and hopefully, even dominate the market, with the fact that these are our competitors?” he said.
In the region, “in terms of engagement, Vidio leads,” Vivek Couto, co-founder of consultancy Media Partners Asia, told Rest of World. “And in terms of revenues, it’s Netflix [first] and then Vidio.”
Just a few years ago, Vidio was a small, YouTube-like creators’ platform, with daily views hovering in the single digits. In 2018, they secured broadcasting rights for that year’s Asian Games — an unusual decision because, historically, Indonesians have never had an appetite for multi-sport events. But the winds had started to change since the Southeast Asian Games in 2017, and Vidio was among the first to notice.
“We were the first ones … who reached out to the Asian Games agents [and said]: ‘We want this,’” Hartono recalled. “We predicted ahead [that] it would be a big boom.”
Roughly 15 million viewers were glued to the platform to watch match after match — a number comparable to a TV broadcast event. The payoff prompted Vidio to switch its business model from creators to conventional streaming.
Hartono, 55, has helmed Vidio’s parent company, Surya Citra Media (SCM), since 2011. He’s also the managing director of Elang Mahkota Teknologi, more commonly known as Emtek, the giant media group that controls both entities. During that time, Hartono has occupied a place in the inner circle of the Sariaatmadjas, the owners of Emtek and one of the richest families in Indonesia.
At first glance, Hartono appears to be an outsider. He’s a serious, bespectacled, middle-aged senior executive in a suit, somehow incongruent with his job dealing with Indonesia’s eccentric creatives. In conversation, however, Hartono is upbeat, with deep knowledge of the entertainment industry and an appreciation of the arts. He speaks fast, with a habit of leaving a word or a sentence unfinished as he jumps to the next, driven by a chain of thoughts impatient to be expressed.
The original concept for Vidio, he told Rest of World, was purely as a digital platform for Emtek’s sprawling video content from its various TV channels. But being in Emtek’s media ecosystem meant that Hartono had access to decades of data, which consistently showed that the one thing Indonesians love more than Korean dramas are their local shows. Ninety percent of Emtek’s top soap operas have always been local, Hartono said. External data suggested the same thing: Before the pandemic hit, the Indonesian box office grew sharply every year, and reports on OTT content consumption consistently placed Indonesian shows at the top, Hartono said.
“It’s a journey,” said Hartono. “But we [decided] that, in the end, we need to play with local content.”
Competitors have not been idle. Netflix has been pushing to produce more Korean dramas, one of the most beloved genres across East and Southeast Asia. Just in September, the U.S. company announced that it would come up with seven new Indonesian titles, spanning sci-fi thriller, comedy, and period drama, and work with internationally renowned directors like Timo Tjahjanto and Joko Anwar.
That number, however, is still dwarfed by the 37 new titles Vidio has been funding over 2022. Next year, it aims to invest in about 40 titles, focusing on improving overall quality. (Vidio declined to specify how much they’re investing.)
Meanwhile, Disney+ has moved aggressively to partner with local provider Telkomsel to bundle its subscriptions with mobile data plans, which have helped deliver it the country’s biggest subscriber base of around 5 million. Recent statements by content executive Rebecca Campbell suggest the company is homing in on local content, too.
“Netflix, Disney, Amazon, and others also want to do series … A good thing, because it will be a training ground for local writers,” said Wicky Olindo, CEO of Screenplay Films, the major production house responsible for 2016’s ultra-violent action thriller Headshot and Gundala, an Indonesian superhero movie released in 2019.
“It will help filmmakers to start practicing with new genres, and also educate the audience to start watching new genres of Indonesian content,” Olindo said.
For now, Vidio has accessibility on its side, with a freemium model that sees subscriptions start from 29,000 rupiah (less than $2) — giving users access to most of its original series — all the way up to 569,000 rupiah ($36.5) for those who want to watch exclusive sports events like the FIFA World Cup or the English Premier League. Netflix, the biggest streaming service in the world, charges a narrower band of rates — between 54,000 rupiah ($3.5) and 186,000 rupiah ($12) — depending on device and quality of stream. Vidio only allows streaming on one device at a time per subscription, something Netflix is beginning to enforce as well. In marketing materials, Vidio heavily pushes its local content and international sports events.
As Vidio attempts to scale up, attracting higher-profile directors may pose a challenge. Indonesia has had a thriving film industry, but is often faced with limited budgets and heavy censorship, affecting quality. Speaking to Rest of World, Timo Tjahjanto, known internationally for his gory horror and action films like Macabre (2009) and The Night Comes For Us (2018), described the satisfaction he feels in reaching a broader, international audience on a platform like Netflix.
“There’s nothing that makes me happier than when a random Indian guy suddenly says, you know, ‘I watch The Night Comes For Us.’ That makes my day, because I love Indian films,” Tjahjanto told Rest of World. “So I’m still going for platforms that can … at least provide that access.”
Tjahjanto is more hesitant about another cultural impact brought by streaming services, likening it to social media. The viewing habits of users, he says, lead creators like him to consider algorithmic trends when starting a project.
“It’s also become a place where, because there’s an abundance of narrative content, it becomes less precious,” Tjahjanto told Rest of World. “Suddenly, you can skip it as easily as you scroll for something, like Instagram or TikTok.”
Couto, the media analyst, predicts that Vidio will become profitable in the next two or three years. But, to merit global attention, the platform will need to ensure continued growth in subscriptions — 10 million paying customers within three to five years is his benchmark — and add more revenue streams, whether through its new gaming feature or e-commerce.
“Vidio is definitely doing increasingly well on the monetization side, but it has a long way to go,” said Couto.
Once Vidio is established in Indonesia, the platform will be looking at potential markets in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, Hartono said, with plans to develop more Muslim-friendly content. He cited Turkey as a prime example of a Muslim-content supplier for the world. Vidio also continues to explore ways to take advantage of Emtek’s connections with the larger Southeast Asian tech ecosystem, including with companies like Grab and Bukalapak, experimenting with crossovers between content and e-commerce, such as promoting shopping options while viewing video.
“In content, we’ve got your full attention,” Hartono said. “So now that we’ve got your attention, what else can we do?”