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Pakistan’s First English TV Channel Targets Growth…In UrduPosted by: admin on Mon, 2010-05-10 10:42
By Javed Mahmood
10 May 2010
KARACHI, Pakistan --DawnNews, Pakistan’s first English-language news and current affairs TV channel, is starting to show gradual improvement in its performance after three years of financial troubles since launching in March 2007, according to executives at the channel. They said the decision to add four hours of Urdu-language service helped boost viewership and commercial revenues.
Mubashar Zaidi, the channel’s news director, said, “We have now decided to launch a separate and full-fledged Urdu channel in 2010 to capture maximum viewership and commercial business.”
DawnNews suffered low ratings and less-than-expected income from its commercial business, Zaidi said, despite a reputation for breaking news coverage and high-quality content. English TV channels are a niche market in Pakistan, estimated at less than one million viewers, compared to 86 million for Urdu channels. However, the relatively upscale, educated and influential English-language audience is in some ways attractive to advertisers. Pakistanis currently have access to six English-language news channels – two domestic, and four foreign (BBC World, CNN, Sky News and Fox News). DawnNews is available via satellite and cable.
A.H. Khanzada, DawnNews assignment editor, affirmed that despite its recent challenges, Dawn remains the most reliable and prestigious media group in Pakistan. “English and upcoming Urdu channels of the group would survive for a long-term because of the brand name and financial strength of the group,” he asserted. Indeed, he said adding the few hours of Urdu coverage has further improved the channel’s image.
Khanzada refuted rumors that the group planned to disband its English programming, dismissing such talk as propaganda that aimed at damaging the channel’s reputation.
Asif Zuberi, chief executive of Aaj TV, one of the five leading Urdu news and current affairs channel in Pakistan, said the marketing of the DawnNews should be improved to better exploit its niche market. “The English newspaper of this group, Dawn, is the largest daily in Pakistan in circulation and attracting business as it has captured the niche readership, comprising rich, influential and policy-makers,” he said, adding that DawnNews should be capitalizing on the paper’s predominance.
Zuberi also claimed that DawnNews spent a lot of money hiring a large team of experienced journalists from various other news organizations, but this strategy didn’t really pay off and caused a major financial burden. Zuberi said a more appropriate strategy for a niche market would have been to stress in-house training to keep down labor costs.
Azhar Abbas, managing director of Geo TV, said the only way for an English channel to survive in Pakistan over the long term is to maintain high quality through rigorous management while avoiding wasteful expenditures. “Good management of the niche market’s channel is very essential for its survival,” he maintained, adding that it is clearly possible to make money in the English language space. That said, Abbas didn’t see room for more than two channels to be profitable in the English market.
Aftab Ahmed, manager of media buying at MediaEdge, Pakistan’s largest advertising company for electronic media, underlined the marketing challenge faced by DawnNews and other English-language channels. “Our clients give commercial business mostly to the leading Urdu channels in the country whose viewership is in millions, with the aim to introduce their products to a large number of customers,” he pointed out. The English language channels’ selling point is not clear, he said.
This does not mean that Dawn will have an easy ride in Urdu-language news television, which is a crowded field. They will have to compete with news operations of Geo, Dunya, Express, Aaj, ARY and Samaa. Notably, all of these channels have the advantage of established correspondent networks in far-flung areas of the country – vital to covering the Pakistan story in depth. It is unclear to what extent Dawn is willing to make the heavy investment in matching these channels’ reporting resources.
Javed Mahmood is a contributor to AudienceScapes and Editor-in-Charge of Pakistan Today