Where is the World Cup ‘nobar’? Communal screening tradition threatened by exclusive broadcaster in Indonesia

Photo illustration
Photo illustration

The hype was there four, eight, and even 12 years ago. This year, promotions for nobar in Indonesia seem relatively muted.

Nobar is an Indonesian portmanteau for nonton (watch) and bareng (together). In this football-obsessed nation, people getting together to watch their heroes from thousands of miles away on a big screen is a tradition, even if matches start at ungodly hours of the evening or morning here.

For the 2022 World Cup, nobar events aren’t entirely absent, but there just doesn’t seem to be as much hype for them during this edition of the quadrennial event.

Could that be down to lingering pandemic anxiety, or the host of controversies, such as human rights abuses and discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people, that have cast a shadow on the Qatar World Cup long before it even began?

Yet with no clear favorites on the pitch, this is shaping up to be one of the closest and most exciting world cups in recent memory. Matches also kick off as early as 5pm in Jakarta, owing to the Indonesian capital being merely four hours ahead of Doha.

One factor that may be majorly impacting nobar culture during this year’s World Cup — which didn’t hamper previous editions — is a local broadcast rights holder keen on holding on to its exclusivity.

Media giant Surya Citra Media (SCM), which is part of the Emtek Group conglomerate, holds exclusive local broadcasting rights for the world’s biggest football competitions, including the UEFA Champions League and the English Premier League. 

For the 2022 World Cup, SCM has made a select number of games available on free-to-air TV through its channels SCTV and Indosiar. But those who wish to watch all 64 World Cup games must purchase a subscription through the streaming platform Vidio.

The Indonesia Entertainment Group (IEG), a sub-holding company of SCM, recently stressed that the Vidio subscription is for private use only.

The company says venues that wish to hold nobar screenings must officially obtain permission from SCM.

“Nobar activities can bring in crowds, which could be beneficial for a venue. So [registering] would respect the rights of SCM, which owns the [broadcasting] rights to the Premier League and the World Cup,” IEG General Manager Belfonti said in a press release last month.

“We have hired lawyers for this registration issue. We will act sternly on venues that violate the rule.”

Violations would encompass not only the nobar events themselves but also their promotion online and/or offline.

Violators may face a fine of up to IDR1 billion (US$63,690) under Indonesia’s intellectual property protection laws.

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The registration fee varies depending on the size of the nobar venue and its commercial potential, but it could reportedly go as high as IDR20 million (IDR1,273) for a Premier League plus World Cup package. For private use, the same package costs IDR569,000 (US$36.24).

As a business owner, the stark gap is obviously something to consider if they want to host nobar at their venue.

I visited a modest café in Tangerang to watch Morgan Freeman awkwardly lip sync his way through the World Cup opening ceremony on Nov. 20. There, the café owner, who asked that his establishment and his own name be not disclosed, said obtaining a nobar license from SCM does not make much financial sense as his business hasn’t fully returned to its pre-pandemic glory.

“I will just be careful not to promote the nobar — especially on social media — and rely on my regulars to fill the seats here,” he said when I asked him if he was worried about the hefty fine.

“Nobar events don’t generally bring in a lot of money anyway, if patrons come and purchase only a cup of coffee but they stay for two hours.”

Yet perhaps as a reflection of the increasingly commercialized beautiful game (there have been numerous credible evidence that Qatar bought hosting rights for this World Cup, after all), few can fault SCM for taking a hard stance against unlicensed nobar events. While the company has not disclosed financial details about its acquisition of World Cup broadcasting rights, one can only imagine the fee to be exorbitant.

In 2011 in the US, Fox and Spanish-language network Telemundo forked out US$1 billion to secure TV rights to the 2018 and 2022 world cups.

Indonesian venues who want to abide by SCM’s nobar rules may register for a license at ieg.id. As of this article’s publication, some 200 venues in Jakarta are World Cup nobar-licensed, out of around 1,000 nationwide.

Upscale establishments seem to be winning the game. Pasren Asthana, a swanky new hangout spot in the hip neighborhood of Kemang, South Jakarta, was chosen as SCM’s official nobar venue in Jakarta. With limited seating, nobar tickets are being sold from as low as IDR79,000 (US$5.03) to as high as IDR602,700 (US$38.36) for the World Cup’s group stage matches.

One can suspect that, like in previous World Cups, at the hypothetical absence of the commercialization of nobar, public venues like the Gelora Bung Karno (GBK) sports complex would have hosted free screenings of major World Cup events like the opening ceremony and match. This year, it didn’t, though there are plans to screen other matches at GBK.

It remains to be seen if SCM is serious enough to carry out its threat against violators. We hope the lawyers won’t ever have to get involved and we can celebrate the beautiful game without much controversy in Indonesia. God knows there’s already enough of that in the host country.

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