Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2014

Noises on

The media needs to be reined in as well as improved, but who is going to do it?

(The article was first published in Nov-Dec 2014 edition of Aurora.)

If there is one point on which Pakistan’s largely divisive society agrees on, it is that our media has crossed all boundaries of sense and decorum. Pose the question of how do they rate our media to a wage earner, a professional or even a marketer and the chances are that they will all respond with a shake of their head, a slight touch of umbrage in their voice and say, “hamara media awara hai” (our media has gone wild). The media, they are talking about is clearly the news channels.

A look at the ratings for the period from January to June 2014 seems to back up the hypothesis that our public is not interested in what the news channels have to offer. The leading entertainment channels received average ratings of about one percent while for news channels the highest rating was half that. Considering the current security situation as well as the ongoing political crisis, one could assume that people would be constantly tuning in to the news channels to keep up with events. We have all seen the news updates relayed by family and friends by SMS, calls or social media warning us about a strike call, bomb blast or some other untoward incident. The expression ‘news dekho’ (watch the news) is commonplace.

The entertainment channels do not offer the public the opportunity to see their elected representatives speak their minds or questioned in a manner akin to interrogation, although the talk shows provide entertainment of sorts, as politicians lose their composure and resort to name calling or even physical attacks.

So it seems that the people have spoken; tired of the substandard content the news channels produce, they are choosing to watch dramas and sitcoms instead of news bulletins and talk shows. One reason (which we cannot ignore) why news lags behind entertainment could be the fact that the reach of the Peoplemeters panel is not nationwide. It covers major cities, such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, with most of the panelists located in Karachi. Given that media habits in cities and towns are not homogenous, a case could be made that these ratings are not reflective of the larger picture and only mirror the preference of the larger cities. Where the truth lies is debatable, but regardless of what kind of channels people tune in to, the verdict is somewhat unanimous that our news channels leave much to be desired.


In a market where the medium is definitely not the message, the media circus, most audiences are fed up with, is likely to continue, with marketers acting as the ringmasters. So, please stay in your seats, the show must go on!


Yet, ask an average marketer to select the channels he wants to advertise on and you can bet his reply will be the news channels. In fact, when it comes to advertising, the news channels hold sway over the psyche of our marketers; a state of mind that is reflected in the breakup of commercial airtime (CAT) for the period of January to June 2014.

Although the entertainment channels consistently outperformed the news channels, advertisers allocated a larger percentage of their spend to news programming. In the same period, the average gap between news CAT versus entertainment CAT was four percent. The figure may not seem significant, but factor in the higher tariff rates of the news channels, and the dissonance between what viewers watch and where marketers advertise is clear.

The next question (one that is frequently brought up) is how to improve standards? The media needs to be reined in as well as improved, but who is going to do it? To answer this question, we need to examine how the media-audience-advertiser relationship works worldwide.

Channels around the world operate on a subscription basis; viewers pay the channels directly and the revenue obtained can then be used to improve the quality of content. If a viewer does not like a channel’s content, he simply unsubscribes. Channels also obtain revenue from advertising, with ad placement based on past ratings or potential future ratings. In the US, the ratings are guaranteed by the networks to advertisers at the time of purchase and commercial airtime is usually purchased at the start of the year in a process called the upfront buy. This arrangement means that the networks have money in hand to spend on programming and the advantage for advertisers is that the ratings are guaranteed. The ecosystem works with checks and balances and viewers can exert influence in two ways; they can choose not to watch content they do not like and thus affect the ratings, and they can also send a stronger message by unsubscribing.

The system in Pakistan is different. Given that viewers do not pay the channels, the channels rely on advertising for revenue and the stated sole basis for advertising allocation to channels is ratings. Technically this means the public does have a say regarding which channels get advertisements. However, in the same way that our stock exchange is subject to speculation and is not a true economic barometer, the allocation of ad revenue to channels is not solely based on ratings. This scenario ultimately means that marketers are the sole group of people who can affect the quality of the content the news channels are airing.


Myopic thinking plagues our country in many ways and the brand custodians who are content to associate their products with yellow journalism and unethical practices are a prime example.


Looking at the enormous amount of ad revenue the news channels have earned over the years, one would have expected them to have invested some of it into better content. However, when marketers are content to air their ads on channels that use pirated songs and farcical editorial matter, not to mention absurd on-screen graphics, there is no compelling reason for the news moghuls to contemplate a change. The real villains of the piece are sadly the same people who talk a great deal about ethics and corporate social responsibility – the marketers; while privately criticising the circus the media has turned into.

Yet, when it comes to where to advertise, the same news channels with their insensitivity and sensationalism become the obvious choice for brands. The rather flawed argument can be made that they air ads and it is not their place to influence content. This reasoning rang hollow when it was used by some multinationals to justify advertising on banned Indian channels or those airing pirated movies a few years ago.

Myopic thinking plagues our country in many ways and the brand custodians who are content to associate their products with yellow journalism and unethical practices are a prime example. Worldwide, if there is a controversy related to a channel or programme, the brands pull out quickly and disassociate themselves from the matter, as they know that the public will club their brand with the content. The rule is simple; you sponsor something, you endorse it. Sure, some brands will relish the hype and keep advertising, but most will look for a way out. In Pakistan, the opposite happens, brands are eager to sponsor controversial content.

In a market where the medium is definitely not the message, the media circus, most audiences are fed up with, is likely to continue, with marketers acting as the ringmasters. So, please stay in your seats, the show must go on!

Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan. tyrone.tellis@gmail.com