Entertainment - Pakistan Media is freer than Indian Media
The Jang Group has changed the way Pakistan consumes entertainment, believes Sarmad A Ali, managing director of Total Media Solutions, (Jang Group Marketing).What started in 1939 as a weekly newspaper from New Delhi, is now a media entity with daily newspapers, television channels, film production and distribution businesses. The Daily Jang is Pakistan's largest-selling Urdu newspaper, while the group's English daily, The News International, is second in circulation to The Dawn. Jang Group also has television channels in multiple genres including Urdu news, music, sports and general entertainment. Ali claims all these channels have been progressive in their content and approach, airing shows that address issues regarding youth identity, incest and corruption. "This has made the Jang Group go beyond a media brand to become a love-mark," Ali told DNA Money's Nirmal John and Arcopol Chaudhuri in an interview. He also elaborated on the media scene in Pakistan and Jang Group's activities in the country. Excerpts:Tell us about the evolution of the Jang Group over the years… The Jang group started out in 1939 from Delhi as a weekly newspaper, when the founder of the group, Mir Khalil Ur Rehman, thought it was appropriate to start a publication that would inform people about Indian soldiers fighting in the Second World War. Our Urdu newspaper, The Daily Jang, started in October 1947 as an afternoon paper, but within a year it became a morninger. By 1960, we were publishing the paper not only from Karachi, but also from Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Quetta, Multan and London. We then ventured into English newspapers and magazines. We also circulate a no-frills newspaper called Daily Awaam.No-frills newspaper? Yes, it's a no-frills newspaper, only 6-8 pages, all in black and white and is priced at Rs 3. That's the interesting bit about newspapers in Pakistan. In India, newspapers are extremely low priced, this is not the case in Pakistan. The average price of an English newspaper is Rs 15 (Pakistani rupees). Our Urdu paper The Daily Jang is priced at Rs 9 on a weekday and Rs 10 on Sundays. How did the foray into the broadcasting business happen? We were working on Geo television since 1996 and we began broadcasting in 1998. Within a year, we acquired a TV production company called Combined Productions. Then we ventured into radio by acquiring the ad sales and programming rights of Radio Pakistan. Our four television channels - Geo News, Aag TV, Geo Super and Geo TV — are treated as foreign channels broadcasting into Pakistan from Dubai by paying a fee. We've haven't yet got a radio licence because of strict cross-media laws. How strict are these media laws? Geo TV had aired a television chat show on incest for example. Hasn't that kind of programming faced political or religious opposition? Yes, on occasions we've faced problems from political and religious entities, but we've survived. The media scenario has changed now. Those restrictions are not there. We're a progressive media brand, and have built trust amongst our audiences due to our fair and balanced stance on issues. In terms of media laws, there are no laws that talk about foreign direct investment (FDI), but the government does not encourage it.How strong is the foreign media participation in Pakistan? CNN and BBC are consumed by the upscale market. We are also in the process of launching our first English news channel, but we're still evaluating our options since the market, by my estimates, is too small to make it viable. Effective literacy rate is about 25% right now. There's also tremendous viewership for Indian television channels. Star Plus, which is watched by housewives, is the third most popular channel after the other GECs— Geo TV and Hum TV. Having said that, I think the popularity of saas-bahu serials is probably waning a bit. What is the difference between the Indian media and the Pakistani media? I think, the Pakistani media is freer than the Indian media. It is more willing to take up issues. I do not see a lot of serious issues being debated in the Indian media.How strong is the advertising revenue? In Pakistan, the total advertising market is about Rs 2,500 crore (Pakistani rupees) and 34% of this is with our media properties. TV advertising takes up about 48% of the total, print media 43% and outdoor 6-7%. Internet's share is only 2.5%. In the last five years, the media and entertainment industry has grown at about 20-25%.That's quite a robust rate of growth! Yes, but last year it was flat, almost 2%, due to the political turmoil. But now, due to economic growth, we expect it to bounce back.What is the television audience measurement scene in Pakistan like? You had set up the first audience measurement system there... Yes, that was in 1990, when I was working with Saatchi & Saatchi. P&G was coming into the Pakistani market and they wanted measurement. So, my initiative was part of a client-driven exercise. Today, there are 76 TV channels — news channels comprise about a dozen of them. The audience measurement is done through a mix of peoplemeters and diary.