Aurora Magazine

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A news programme is under way at PTV’s Islamabad studio.

PTV’s Paradise Lost

Mamun M. Adil examines the factors that contributed to PTV’s rise and fall.
Published 03 Jun, 2023 12:02pm

This article is part of our cover story <strong>Future Imperfect?</strong>
This article is part of our cover story Future Imperfect?

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 as that is when some of the best commercials were produced. Although the reason for this is 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 in Karachi in October 1962. Their programming 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; some were gifted to a select number of individuals. It was expected that Philips would be given the contract to establish a station called Pilot TV (Rahbar TV in Urdu). However, it 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 Chairman and MD by President Ayub Khan. Pilot TV’s programming was also limited to three hours a day, six days a week and TV sets were set up in public sites. Such was the interest that their presence resulted in traffic jams that were so chaotic that some of the sets were 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. 

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, as commercials only appeared on cinema screens. The first commercial aired on PTV was for NEC televisions, even though 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; 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 increased by more than 233% the following year reaching 220 hours and doubled in the subsequent year. Within about 10 years, programmes such as Neelam Ghar and Khabarnama were introduced in addition to several drama serials. A TV licence fee was introduced in 1970, which resulted in a sizable revenue stream in addition to advertising. 

The 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 ‘mass medium’. Advertising minutes amounted to approximately 35 minutes daily and the average cost per second ranged from Rs 110 to Rs 183. Sectors such as FMCGs, financial institutions and personal care products accounted for nearly 66% of the advertising. Furthermore, all the stations (Dhaka, Karachi, Lahore, 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.

Monopoly Heydays

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 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 YoY throughout the nineties – even though foreign satellite channels had begun to transmit 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 increased significantly. However, although PTV’s viewership was impacted, the advertising revenue, for the most part, was not. The Star invasion began in the early 2000s 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. By 2008, PTV commanded 24% of the share, and by FY 2012-13, PTV’s leadership days were over. As of FY 2016-17 the channel commanded 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 which have a share of five to 10%. Part of the reason for the decline is attributed to the fact that PTV did not keep up with changing times 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.

First published in The Dawn of Advertising in Pakistan (1947-2017) on March 31, 2018.