Sukhwin flying high as KLIATV breaks new ground

Sukhwin Sidhu loves airports, but even she did not expect she would one day run the largest network of screens in airport TV in the country.

Growing up in Taiping, a small town in the northern Malaysian state of Perak, Sukhwin’s first job was when she was only 21, with an outdoor billboard company that also published magazines and directories.

At that time, she was studying at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) in Johor, where she would eventually earn a degree in Civil Engineering.

“That was when I fell in love with the advertising world,” said Sukhwin, dressed casually in jeans, a blue blouse, and a jacket when met at her office in Plaza Damas, Kuala Lumpur, recently.

“I knew then that this was what I wanted to do. I stayed with the company for seven years and learnt all I could. However, I felt something was missing – I wanted to start a business and be part of decision makings.

“But my partner advised me to learn more about business or risk losing money quickly!”

She then joined an investment company for 2 years where she learnt how to evaluate audit reports, how to read a company, and understand assets, operational expenditure, equity, and everything related to business.

An introvert by nature, Sukhwin always took a backseat, preferring to manage from behind the scenes, until she found an opportunity that was too good to resist.

Always wanting to expand her horizons, Sukhwin took the plunge at the end of 2018 to take over KLIATV, which had not made a profit since 2011.

A frequent traveller, Sukhwin noticed the TV screens displaying advertisements and other content at airports.

She realised this could be a great business opportunity, and when KLIATV came along, she jumped in, feet first.

Best of all, it involved her two loves – airports and advertising.

“We met the KLIATV owners. They said they were looking for someone to take over the company as its not really their core business,” said Sukhwin.

“They wanted us to look for a buyer, but I was confident we could turn the company around. My partner agreed we should take over, however, we did not want to lose the previous owners. They agreed to stay on as partners for a few years. I couldn’t have asked for a better partners.

Within a year, Sukhwin made several changes in the way the outfit was run, streamlining operations, going down to meet advertisers personally, upgrading the screens slowly as they were mostly old and handling expansion on variety of contents aired.

“We also changed how we presented content by increasing infotainment programmes such as Just for Laugh Gags, interviews with those from the corporate and tourism industry, and producing travel videos,” said Sukhwin.

She also plugged leaks that were costing the company money.

By the end of the year, the company made its first financial gain, and the previous owners were overjoyed as they finally saw some return on their investment in 2019.

“The whole world shut down in 2020. Only a handful of passengers were allowed to travel. The airport became a ghost town, and all the advertisers pulled out and all our screens were airing only COVID messages for travellers. But I saw an opportunity,” said Sukhwin, whose alma mater is SMK Convent Taiping.

“I asked MAHB if I could expand my network. Many people thought I was crazy as everyone else was pulling out, and we just invested so much on the new screens last year but I knew the pandemic would not last forever, and if we could hold out, it would be the best chance for us to grow.”

The nationwide lockdown lasted longer than the original two weeks – it would continue for 84 days before partially reopening. However borders only opened after 2 years for travellers.

Sukhwin had to dig into all her saving including Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to make ends meet.

“When the government announced it would allow the people to withdraw some money from their EPF, I did not hesitate, as I needed to pay my staff,” said Sukhwin.

“Times were tough, but we eventually pulled through.”

Then came the big surprise as MAHB agreed to allow her to expand to more airports in the country.

Today, KLIATV is the largest network of screens airport tv advertising in the country, with 500 screens in six major airports – KLIA, klia2 (Kuala Lumpur), Penang, Langkawi (Kedah), Kuching (Sarawak) and Kota Kinabalu (Sabah). This network consists of screens of variety sizes from big, medium to large.

Brands can display their advertisements in 15 or 30 second durations across the network of screens, 24 hours a day, seven days a week in between the infotainment content.

Always one for innovation, Sukhwin said KLIATV implemented programmatic advertising in January 2023.

Programmatic advertising refers to an automated technology for buying advertising space instead of the traditional, often manual methods, of digital advertising.

“It means an advertiser can be in any part of the world and seamlessly book airtime on our screens without picking up the phone to call us.”

“It was already available in many other neighbouring countries. I did not want Malaysia to be left behind,” said Sukhwin, who now has 3 partners for this system – one for every 2 airports.

“I did not want to put all my eggs in one basket, so I hired three companies to see who could deliver the best results.”

“At the end of the year, we will know which system works best for us as airport itself is a unique market.”

She explained that the system allows a brand to capture its target audience, as content can be programmed to follow a plane’s timetable.

“Say a brand wants to target South Korean tourists. We can programme the screens to show the brands advertisement at all the departures/arrivals of the South Korean flights. It can happen from the moment they disembark, until they leave the airport,” said Sukhwin.

“We have tried this system for a few months, and I am confident that more brands will want to use it.”

“All this would not have been possible without the team of KLIATV that has remained with me since 2019 and we work more like a family. I truly believe in empowering my team as I can’t be an expert in everything and allow them to take leading roles in their respective expertise.”

Sukhwin is now focused on growing the business and is confident KLIATV will continue to strive and remain relevant.


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