The story of television in Pakistan is in certain respects similar to that of radio. State-owned Pakistan Television (PTV), remained the only TV channel in the country for a long time. It was only after the establishment of PEMRA that privately owned TV channels were permitted to operate.
An important distinction, however, was that unlike radio stations, dozens of private TV channels were allowed to broadcast their own news and current affairs programmes.
In the 16 years since private TV channels began operating, television has become the dominant medium and the medium of choice not just for accessing news but also infotainment and entertainment content. Wherever television is available, most Pakistanis seem to prefer it to radio as a source of information.
As of late 2017, 89 satellite TV licences had been issued by PEMRA. Another 29 foreign channels had been granted landing rights.
At least 30 private TV channels, prominent among them Geo News, Dawn News, Aaj TV, ARY News, Capital TV, Samaa, Dunya News, Waqt News, and Express News, exclusively broadcast news and current affairs programmes. Many print media organisations operating prior to 2002 expanded to include TV news platforms. Almost all TV news channels maintain their websites, which include news coverage from their main platforms.
While the broadcasts of the clear majority of news and entertainment channels are in Urdu, transmissions of a number of TV channels are in regional languages, such as Pashtu, Sindhi, Balochi, Punjabi and Seraiki.
The country’s first English-language news channel, Dawn News, started test transmissions in May 2007 and went live in July the same year. In May 2010, it started only Urdu broadcasts due to financial reasons related to thin viewership for English-only content in the country. Express 24/7, the only other English-language television channel to be established in Pakistan, remained the only 24-hour English-language news channel in Pakistan until its closure in November 2011. The proprietors cited difficult economic circumstances and insufficient advertisements as the reasons for the closure.
According to Gallup Pakistan, the Pakistani affiliate of Gallup International Association and a pioneer in media research, at the end of 2016 on average a Pakistani TV viewer spent two hours a day watching television.
Many sections of the TV news media have faced strong criticism for an inclination for breaking the news first at all cost and engaging in what can only be described as sensationalism.
The news media coverage of politics at times does not have a moderating role and delves into subjectivity. Some TV talk shows proceed to discuss and condemn a certain organisation, institution or political party’s policies or decisions, often without inviting representatives from or seeking the stance of that institution.
At times, some TV talk show hosts have been well-known leaders of political parties and use their programmes to defend and promote the policies of their parties and censure those of other parties.
Private TV channels are only authorised to broadcast content by cable and satellite and not via terrestrial transmitters. That has contributed to a smaller footprint for the private television channels in rural Pakistan. Only the channels of the state-run PTV use terrestrial transmission, which has enabled PTV to maintain its domination of rural TV audiences.
The Pakistani television sector has quickly managed to overtake other mediums in terms of both audiences and revenue. Gallup Pakistan estimated that there were 86 million TV viewers in Pakistan in 2009. Out of these, 48 million were terrestrial viewers who could only receive PTV channels.
The popularity of direct satellite television has gradually waned. TV news and entertainment channels depend almost entirely on cable networks to reach the audience. Almost all of the electronic media revenue is generated through on-air advertising. Cable networks do not pay anything to the channels for transmitting their content. The channels do not charge any subscription fee from the end consumer either.
In the total advertisement revenue of PKR76.2bn for all mediums in the country in FY 2015-16, half (PKR38bn) went to TV channels while the rest was divided among other mediums. Among the TV channels, the top earners were Hum TV (PKR3.84bn), ARY Digital (PKR3.80bn), PTV Sports (PKR3bn), Geo Entertainment (PKR2.93bn) and Geo News (PKR2.6bn). The advert income share included PKR2.5bn each for PTV Home and Urdu1, PKR1.9bn for Samaa, and PKR1.8bn each for ARY News, Dunya News and Express News.