Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

PTV's paradise lost

Updated Apr 13, 2018 01:14pm
Examine the factors that contributed to PTV’s rise and fall.
A news programme is under way at PTV’s Islamabad studio. Prior to the opening up of private TV channels in the early 2000s, PTV was the only source of news and entertainment. In its early days, 20-minute news bulletins in Urdu and English were broadcast from every centre. Khabarnama, a 25-minute news programme which was aired every night at nine p.m., began in 1970, initially from the Karachi. It became one of the most watched programmes in Pakistan. Commercials which ran prior, during and after Khabarnama were charged a premium. (photo: Arif Mahmood/Dawn White Star)
A news programme is under way at PTV’s Islamabad studio. Prior to the opening up of private TV channels in the early 2000s, PTV was the only source of news and entertainment. In its early days, 20-minute news bulletins in Urdu and English were broadcast from every centre. Khabarnama, a 25-minute news programme which was aired every night at nine p.m., began in 1970, initially from the Karachi. It became one of the most watched programmes in Pakistan. Commercials which ran prior, during and after Khabarnama were charged a premium. (photo: Arif Mahmood/Dawn White Star)

Be they advertising professionals or members of the general public, many people are of the opinion that the sixties and seventies were the ‘golden age’ of Pakistani advertising. It was then that some of the best commercials were produced (some remembered to this day). Although the reason for this is widely attributed to the people who led the agencies, another player with a claim to an equally significant role in the creation of this advertising is Pakistan Television (PTV).

Early days. But first, a detour

What is not generally known is that Philips TV was the first channel aired in Pakistan. This was in Karachi in October 1962. The programming, which included recitations from the Quran, news, general knowledge shows and music, was aired from 6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. To increase penetration, Philips imported 200 TV sets and placed them in public spaces (clubs, educational institutions, hospitals, hotels and parks) and some were gifted to a select number of individuals. In the light of these developments, it was expected that Philips would be given the contract to establish a station called Pilot TV (Rahbar TV in Urdu). As it turned out, the contract was awarded to the Japanese company Nippon Electric Company (NEC), in partnership with Wazir Ali Industries. Pilot TV’s first station was established on the grounds of Radio Pakistan’s office in Lahore, and went on air on November 26, 1964. Aslam Azhar was appointed as Chairman and Managing Director by President Ayub Khan. Similar to Philips, Pilot TV’s programming was limited to three hours a day, six days a week (Mondays were a holiday) and TV sets were set up in public sites. In fact, such was the interest that their presence resulted in traffic jams that were so chaotic that some of the sets had to be removed. After a 90-day experimental phase, a private company called Television Promoters Company was formed in partnership with NEC, the Gosho Company (Japan), Thomson Television (UK) and the Government of Pakistan (with controlling shares). The logo was designed by the well-known artist Abdur Rehman Chughtai, who also conceived the Radio Pakistan logo. The company imported 8,000 sets, which were sold for Rs 800 to 1,000. Subsequently, the government allowed nine firms to assemble TV sets in Pakistan and within three years, the estimated number of sets rose to 45,000. By this time, the name was changed from Television Promoters Company to PTV – a public limited company.


Despite mounting criticism of PTV due to their high rates, monopoly and the fact that it was considered to be a government mouthpiece, revenues continued to grow year-on-year throughout the nineties – despite the fact that foreign satellite channels had begun to transmit to Pakistan via satellite. In 1992, PTV launched PTV 2, their first satellite channel (renamed PTV World in 1998).


Securing commercial airtime

Ziauddin Jeddi, former Sales Controller at PTV, recalls the myriad problems that arose when it came to securing advertising, mainly because the concept was a new one until then, commercials only appeared on cinema screens. The first commercial aired on PTV was for NEC televisions, despite the fact that they were not readily available in Pakistan. Telops, which contained a single line about a brand, were the primary form of advertising. At times, the design of a print ad was replicated for this purpose, and eventually, a voiceover complemented the cards. The first brands to take advantage of this were Dalda and Capstan; the durations ranged between seven and 15 seconds. Jeddi remembers meeting the heads of leading agencies and encouraging them to shoot commercials. PTV even went to the extent of lending the agencies video cameras. According to data sourced from PTV, between 1966 and 1967, approximately 62 hours of commercials were aired; this number increased by more than 233% the following year reaching 220 hours, and then doubled in the subsequent year. Within about 10 years, programmes, such as Neelam Ghar and Khabarnama, were introduced in addition to several drama serials that are remembered to this day. A TV licence fee was introduced in 1970, which resulted in a sizable revenue stream in addition to advertising.

Impact of colour

The introduction of colour in 1976 was a major boom driver for TV commercials. Within a few years, an average of six hours of programming was aired, two of which were in colour. As far as penetration was concerned, in 1964 it amounted to a mere nine percent; by 1978 it reached 72.5% with at least a million sets in place, making TV a truly ‘mass medium’. Advertising minutes amounted to approximately 35 minutes daily and the average cost per second ranged from Rs 110 ($11) to Rs 183 ($18).


Part of the reason of the decline is attributed to the fact that PTV did not keep up with changing times in terms of programming and could not compete with the glossier dramas and sensationalist news programmes that defined the new generation of satellite channels.


Sectors such as FMCGs, financial institutions and personal care products accounted for nearly 66% of the advertising. Furthermore, all the stations (Dhaka, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta) were linked, thus permitting PTV to charge higher rates for commercials aired on all stations. In an article published in Dawn in the eighties, Javed Jabbar pointed out that although “advertising in the cinema existed before the seventies, the advent of television stimulated the birth and growth of entirely new talent aiming to specialise in the creation of TV film commercials.” He added that the advertising profession, partially as a result of TV advertising, began to attract people. “Whereas earlier, advertising was a little-known profession, dismissed as a minor sidekick to print media, advertising in the seventies emerged as an independent and specialised profession, the only one in the country where multimedia skills were needed and where they appeared to exist.”

Monopoly hey days

By the late eighties, according to data published in Dawn, total advertising revenue amounted to Rs 1.6 billion, of which 34% was allotted to TV, while print commanded 44% and radio, outdoor, direct marketing and other media had a combined share of 22%. The sectors that advertised on PTV the most were food, drinks and powdered milk (29.6%), personal care products (12.8%), clothing (seven percent), electronic appliances (6.9%), pharmaceutical products (6.8%), the government (5.6%) and cigarettes (4.1%). Live sports transmissions were becoming increasingly common, many of which were sponsored and a number of advertising options were introduced, in addition to regular spots. These included mid-break spots which were among the most expensive. Then there were ‘special position spots’ – commercials aired before dramas or the Khabarnama began. Then there were single and multiple sponsorship options; if a brand sponsored a TV show, their name was announced before the show began and only the sponsor’s commercials were aired during the course of the programme.

The satellite invasion

Despite mounting criticism of PTV due to their high rates, monopoly and the fact that it was considered to be a government mouthpiece, revenues continued to grow year-on-year throughout the nineties – despite the fact that foreign satellite channels had begun to transmit to Pakistan via satellite. In 1992, PTV launched PTV 2, their first satellite channel (renamed PTV World in 1998). By the end of the decade, the penetration of foreign satellite channels had increased significantly as even low-income neighbourhoods gained access to them via cable. However, although PTV’s viewership was impacted to an extent, the advertising revenue, for the most part, was not. The Star invasion began in the early 2000s, bringing with it the popular saas bahu dramas into Pakistani homes, followed by a plethora of local satellite channels after the opening up of the media by President Musharraf; their advent signalled the beginning of the end of PTV’s market leadership.

Decline into irrelevance

According to data in Aurora’s November-December 2002 edition, that year, satellite channels such as Indus, ARY and BBC started to gain traction among audiences. At that time, 20% of advertising spend went to satellite TV and the remainder went to PTV; by 2004, the figure for satellite reached almost 50%, with more entrants such as Geo commanding a significant piece of the pie. The rest, as they say, is history. By 2008, PTV commanded only 24% of the share, and within the next five years, by FY 2012-13, PTV’s leadership days were over. As of the last fiscal year, the channel commands a mere five percent of the total ad spend, preceded by at least six satellite channels, including Hum, ARY Digital, Geo News, Geo Entertainment and Urdu 1, whose shares range between five and 10 percent. Part of the reason of the decline is attributed to the fact that PTV did not keep up with changing times in terms of programming and could not compete with the glossier dramas and sensationalist news programmes that defined the new generation of satellite channels. Although today it seems easy to dismiss PTV as a ‘has-been’ channel, it is important to remember that the station served as an effective training ground for many of the producers, directors and writers who went on to work at, or establish, the channels we watch today, not to mention providing the advertising industry with a platform to showcase what can possibly be termed their best work to date. 

Mamun M. Adil is a leading advertising and communications expert at Aurora. mamun.adil@gmail.com

First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.