Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2017

From the box to the mobile

A transformational journey that remains work in progress.

If you belong to my generation and were still considered a ‘kid’ in the early 80s, you will fondly remember a daily hour or so of ‘cartoon time’ on what was then the only TV channel in Pakistan, namely, Pakistan Television (PTV). What was conceived as a private sector project in the early 60s became a national one under President Ayub Khan. Enormously impressed with the way the Japanese had adopted television, Ayub Khan mandated that the use of television should not be restricted to an educational agenda (as thus far envisioned), but should form a means to connect the nation.

And so it came to be that Pakistan’s first official black-and-white TV transmission took place from Lahore on November 26, 1964. The legendary Tariq Aziz formally introduced the service by which Pakistan became the world’s 12th country to launch TV services (source: PTV Ka Safar 1964-1969 – a six-part series).

Early programmes included epics such as Lok Geet and Science Magazine and children’s classics such as Putliyon Ka Tamasha. News in Urdu was eloquently presented by Tariq Aziz himself at the 8:30 p.m. spot. The first advertisement ever shown on PTV was of Japan’s NEC, which was given a 30-second spot for Rs 35. TV became such a novelty for the general public that the police had to switch off TV sets in public places to disperse large crowds that had gathered to watch the first Eid transmission. When PTV started its production of drama serials, which were initially broadcast once a week, it truly became the ‘social connector’ and family-centric service it was envisioned to be.


By the 80s, classics such as Dentonic (an early animated ad), State Life Insurance (with the celebrated Ae Khuda Meray Abbu Salamat Rahen jingle), Morven Gold (when tobacco ruled advertising), Gillette Blue II and Peek Freans became hallmarks; more enigmatic ads continued with the likes of Don Carlos (Servis).


In terms of advertising revenue, the launch of PTV’s Karachi transmission centre attracted company-sponsored sports programmes such as those by HBL in the late 60s. Major advertisers started allocating a large part of their ad budget for TV and when PTV started colour transmission in 1976, the ads, of course, colourfully followed suit. By the 80s, classics such as Dentonic (an early animated ad), State Life Insurance (with the celebrated Ae Khuda Meray Abbu Salamat Rahen jingle), Morven Gold (when tobacco ruled advertising), Gillette Blue II and Peek Freans became hallmarks; more enigmatic ads continued with the likes of Don Carlos (Servis).

Content took on a more international flavour when the semi-private STN started its broadcast in the late 80s. CNN International was viewed for the first time by Pakistanis followed by BBC World. When STN joined hands with Interflow in 1990, Pakistan’s first true ‘private’ channel came into being with the brand name ‘NTM’. Content diversity had started in earnest.

It wasn’t long before NTM’s international content and foreign cartoon afternoon-time for children became favourites. More significantly, NTM’s Chand Grahan, Kashkol and Sitara aur Mehrunnissa went head on with PTV’s well-established and excellently-produced drama serials, and viewers fell in love with NTM stars such as Atiqa Odho, Khalid Anum, Humayun Saeed and Sania Saeed.

Despite the competition, the TV viewing behaviour of the average Pakistani remained much the same. As with radio audiences, TV audiences remained largely family-centric and brand loyal in their viewing habits. Advertisers knew exactly who their audience was. The ‘old’ model of content viewing was firmly in place.

Content becomes king over a digital rebel

The ‘new’ model we see today, of course, is radically different. The migration from a handful of channels to a worldwide phenomenon – where cable and satellite TV services started offering greater choice at a higher price – took place at a tremendous rate. Consumers here and abroad, willingly paid a fee, if not a premium per month, to view additional and diverse content.

Until the point of inevitable disruption... Netflix. And... digital. The consumers, including a generation of Millennials, had started to abandon ‘the box’ in favour of their laptops, tablets or increasingly, their mobile phones. ‘Family-centric’ viewing became far less of a given and advertisers had to completely rethink their advertising models for the digital and mobile platforms. Content providers too, had to include mobile TV viewing in the mix to seriously retain their digital market positioning.

In January 2016, Netflix went global, launching in 130 countries on the back of robust growth for 4Q 2015 with 5.6 million net additions. However, a mere six months later, Netflix reported a sudden downturn in its net global additions, which were only 1.7 million for 2Q 2016 (source: The Wall Street Journal).

And this is testament to one of the difficulties of entertaining mobile TV viewers: they are fickle. The charm of earlier Netflix hit shows such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black was wearing off.


In Pakistan, Netflix has a niche market due to its premium-priced model (Rs 800/month), while mobile TV players such as iflix, Tapmad and Telenor’s WowBox are targeting the mass market (and traditional cable TV viewers) via either more affordable monthly packages.


The other difficulty associated with mobile TV viewers is this: their mobile habits differ widely from region to region. In the UK, for example, Netflix has had much success based on the algorithms they use in order to put relevant content in front of the Netflix user. When a viewer starts to watch Netflix, the algorithms take a few seconds to establish the half dozen or so correctly-predicted choices to serve up for any active viewing session based on past viewing behaviour – a data set which is rich and diverse, if not plentiful.

For others, especially Asian countries (including Pakistan), Netflix is struggling in terms of content relevancy as historical viewing data is scarce. Furthermore, potential TV viewers in the Asian region are most likely to view Netflix content via their mobile phones. To cater to this, Netflix moved to a more conventional native app in the latter part of 2016. In Pakistan, Netflix has a niche market due to its premium-priced model (Rs 800/month), while mobile TV players such as iflix, Tapmad and Telenor’s WowBox are targeting the mass market (and traditional cable TV viewers) via either more affordable monthly packages (Rs 250 to 300/month) or advertising-driven (free) mobile TV apps.

A bankrupt kingdom

The rule of content, however, has come at a price for the likes of Amazon Video, Hulu, Netflix and Twitch. Where consumers were once willing to pay $80 per month, today’s digital consumer wants it all for less than $10. “Content is king, but the kingdom is bankrupt...” as Fox Network’s COO Brian Sullivan said recently and further pointed out that a “$10 ecosystem will not support the creation of quality content which the consumer desires.”

This lesson in economics is one that local service providers who are offering paid-for mobile TV services would do well to learn. Pricing will not determine viewership, but tailored and correctly-predicted content will.

But this is not enough. In contrast to Western markets, the transition to mobile TV viewing in our country has remained very much family- or group-centric.

It is not done in isolation whether at home, at dhabas or community gatherings. This is a highly significant trend that most mobile TV service providers have not factored into their commercial models.

Even worse: they still will not be able to trump YouTube with their offerings as it remains the hands down winner among the top 10 Android video-streaming apps, accounting for 80% of viewing (source: App Annie).

Given all this (sigh), I think I preferred watching Thundercats on NTM...

Yasmin Malik is associated with the UK’s Informa Telecoms and Media. yasminmalik1@yahoo.com