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Private TV productions

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Huge investments have been made to procure the latest equipment to improve the quality of programmes

By Syed M. Aslam
May 01 - 07, 2000

For almost three decades since the first television station was set-up in Lahore on November 26, 1964, the state-owned Pakistan Television Corporation enjoyed a complete monopoly over the national airwaves. Except for brief duration in mid-nineties when NTM, a private network allowed to produce and market its programmes, the virtual monopoly of the PTV remains intact till today.

Today PTV has two channels, the general-purpose PTV 1 and PTV World which was introduced in 1998-99 to offer a second choice to the viewers on the one hand and to tap advertisement revenue from the advertisers who cannot afford to run their advertisements on the more expensive PTV 1. The advertising tariff on the PTV 1 is much higher as its broadcasts reaches to an overwhelming 88 per cent population of the country compared to 56 per cent of the PTV World despite being viewed in 37 countries in the region.

While PTV still maintains its state-owned status today it encourages the private production of programmes through sales of airtime to the private producers. PTV 1 sells time slots to five media marketing and production companies. It has reserved five days of the week to these five companies keeping rest of the two days for programmes produced by its own production centres.

PTV World, on the other hand, has worked out a deal to sell its airtime (7-11 PM) to two media marketing and production companies — Teleworld and Weekend. The market prudence to run the PTV on solid financial lines to exploit all revenue generation potential has resulted in increased private productions.

Today private production houses have mushroomed in all the major cities of the country which are fiercely competing for a cut of a market which has just two functional television channels. Both PTV 1 and PTV World broadcast seven prime time programmes each a week. Sources told PAGE that PTV 1 alone broadcasts 21 programmes a week including the prime time dramas.

Talking to PAGE Satish Anand, the managing director of Eveready Group of Companies, a private production company, said the absence of real growth and small market due to presence of two functional television channels has not discouraged private TV productions. This optimism can primarily be attributed to the immense potential which yet remains untapped in the country, he said. Even the shattering experience of the closure of NTM which financially destroyed a number of private producers finances of all types and new and old still keep pouring in the private productions.

He said that the phenomenon can be attributed to the fact that private production in the recent past was much profitable. It can also be attributed to the plans to introduce PTV 3 to replace STN this year and private satellite channels next year which would also be allowed to broadcast their own news to break the taboo of the past. However, he said, the quality of private production has failed to benefit from the greater exposure at present as producers, at least some of them, are after the loose money.

In addition, he said, there is a dearth of good writers, technicians and subjects which is further worsened by the lack of training institute for all the related fields of production. Satish feared that the limited exposure restricted to two functional channels and the heavy programming like the broadcast of 21 dramas on PTV 1 alone would result in losses to more private productions in near future. However, he also said that PTV's decision to sell time, different as is with PTV 1 and PTV World, is at least creating a semblance of competition to not only improve the quality of programmes in the long run but also for mutual financial benefit of every player be it PTV, private producers, media marketing companies, advertisers and the programme sponsors.

He said that overall the business offers substantial profitability to the private producers which looks sustainable if the private channels will go on air as scheduled next year. It will also depend on the production costs of a programme, he added.

Furqan T. Siddiqui, programme manager and producer of another private production house Evernew Entertainment, told PAGE that though the production costs of a 13-part prime time drama serial has increased to as much as Rs 6-7 million private production still remains a profitable business depending on the quality of a drama. Evernew which has produced a number of successful serials as Junoon, Tum Hi To Ho and Des Pardes — the first two in America and the last in Scotland — is producing a serial Woh Kaun Hay which will be filmed entirely in Pakistan at an estimated cost of Rs 4 million.

Furqan too agreed that a large number of production houses, both small and large, competing for a limited market catered by just two functional channels have compromised the quality of private productions in general. He said that private producers are looking forward for the opening of private satellite channels next year while the competition from foreign satellite channels has made them more aware to improve the quality.

He said that huge investments have been made by the private producers to procure the latest equipment to improve the quality of programmes for the overall benefit of everyone attached with the production companies including actors and technicians. However, in the time to come only the fittest of them would survive as exposure to foreign channels have made local viewers much more quality conscious. With remotes in their hands the viewers could hardly be tempted to watch a sub-standard programme which could be changed at the flick of a finger, he added.