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The History of Television in Pakistan

Pakistan's TV history goes back to 1964, when the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV), owned by the government, was set up. At the time, television was seen as a way to build a nation in the newly formed country.  The first TV show in Pakistan was broadcasted on November 26, 1964, from Lahore. In the years that followed, PTV grew its programming and started to show news, dramas, and live events.

During the 1970s, people in Pakistan turned to PTV as their main source of entertainment and news. It was, however, also criticized for not having enough diversity and being too strict with censorship, an issue it deals with to date. The government in Pakistan has continued to use PTV to promote a homogenous national narrative and silence voices that disagree with it. 

Between the 1960s and 1970s, Japanese technicians were brought in to train PTV staff as part of the technical assistance provided by the Government of Japan to Pakistan. The training provided by Japanese technicians had a significant impact on the development of PTV and helped to establish a strong foundation for the television network and laid the groundwork for its future development.


The Golden Era of PTV:

The golden era of Pakistani television is generally considered to be from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. This period was characterized by the production of high-quality dramas, sitcoms, and other programs that resonated with viewers and had a lasting impact on Pakistani culture and society. It was marked by the production of high-quality dramas, such as "Waris", "Tanhaiyaan", "Ankahi", "Dhoop Kinare" and "Alpha Bravo Charlie" which were written by some of the most talented writers in Pakistan. These dramas tackled serious social and political issues, while also providing entertainment.

Sitcoms such as "Fifty-Fifty" and "Half Plate" were also a staple of Pakistani television during the golden era. These shows were known for their witty writing and strong performances and were beloved by audiences. Variety shows such as "Neelam Ghar" and "Jinnah Ke Naam" were also popular during the golden era of Pakistani television featuring a mix of music, and comedy, and were a staple visual diet of families before the daily 9'o clock news bulletin.


The dramas, sitcoms, and variety shows of this time had a significant impact on society. They helped to raise awareness about important social and political issues, and their themes and messages continue to resonate with audiences today through their afterlife on digital media outlets such as Youtube. The golden era of Pakistani television came to an end in the mid-1990s with the arrival of satellite TV, which brought a flood of foreign shows and channels to Pakistan, and the rise of private channels. As a result, the quality and variety of programming on PTV began to decline.


Semi-Private TV Channels:

In the late 1980s, the government started a semi-private TV station, Shalimar Television (STN) which subsequently leased its infrastructure to NTM, Prime TV, Channel 3, and ATV. STN was started by The Pakistani Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in 1988 as an alternative to state-run PTV. It was one of the first semi-private channels to be set up in the country and started broadcasting its own dramas, and variety shows breaking PTV's monopoly in television media.


In the 1990s, Turner Broadcasting (TBC) of the US started shipping its shows to Pakistan through Shalimar Television Network. CNN, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, and Turner Classic Movies started broadcasting at dedicated time slots on STN. At the time, there wasn't much international programming to choose from, and Turner's channels were the few choices free to watch for the Pakistani audience without using a dish or cable TV. 


Dish and Cable TV:

In the mid-1990s satellite TV started to become popular in the country. Channels from the U.S., Russia, and above all from the newly liberalized media market of India saturated the market. MTV, Channel V, Sony Entertainment Television (SET), Star Plus (now owned by Walt Disney Company), and Zee Network became household brands among those who could afford a dish or cable tv.


Private TV Channel Boom:

Under General Musharraf's liberal dictatorship, Pakistan's private TV industry grew like a weed at the start of the 21st century. Indus Television Network (ITN), Geo TV, and ARY Network became pioneers of privately owned entertainment and news channels. Since then, they have had a big impact on the country's politics and the media scene in general. After more than 20 years, Indus Television Network went away, but Geo TV and ARY Network are still going strong and have had a big impact on how Pakistanis get their news and entertainment. Both channels have had to deal with a lot of problems, but they have stayed popular with Pakistani viewers and are now some of the most important producers and distributors of Pakistani movies.


The Rise and Fall of the Indian Soap Opera:

In the early 2000s, Indian soap operas also became supremely popular in Pakistan mainly due to the shared language and cultural similarities between some parts of the two countries, as well as the availability of Indian channels through cable and satellite providers. However, their popularity waned due to the on-off government restrictions due to political tension, and an increase in local TV channels producing better soap operas for the local audience.


HUM Network Limited's Strong Entry:

2005 saw a new entrant in the market, Hum TV. Run by a woman director, Sultana Siddiqui from the Golden Era of Pakistani Television. Hum TV quickly became one of the most popular entertainment channels in Pakistan, thanks to its focus on high-quality TV soaps. The channel has since become a household name in Pakistan and has helped to establish the Hum Network as a major player in the Pakistani media industry.


Hum TV soap operas have had a significant impact on the television media landscape for Urdu and Hindi-speaking audiences in South Asia. To produce its dramas, the channel bought high-end technology and attracted talented writers, directors, and performers. This set a new benchmark for Pakistani programs and influenced other networks. The channel adapted engaging, and thought-provoking novels into serialized TV shows with gender equality, poverty, and prejudice as common themes echoing the glory of the Golden era of Pakistani television. Hum TV's programs in Urdu and Hindi, widely spoken in North India and Pakistan, also helped create a market for Pakistani television and created star power for its actors (Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Saba Qamar, Sajal Aly) in the Hindi film market of India.


The firm has since gone public on Karachi Stock Exchange and has added Hum Sitaray, Hum Masala, Hum Mena, and Hum News to its roster over the years. Hum Play, the company's streaming platform, complements its television stations where it streams the company's drama serials and other entertainment on demand. Hum Network Limited has also produced numerous Pakistani films and Its dramas have an international audience through youtube for those with a knack for South Asian soap operas.


Rise of Regional Television:

Regional language television channels are a relatively new phenomenon in Pakistan, but they have rapidly gained popularity in recent years. These channels cater to specific regions of the country and broadcast content in the local languages spoken in those regions. The emergence of these channels has been driven by the increasing demand for content that is relatable and reflective of local cultures and lifestyles. Some of these channels are:

  1. Pashto 1: This channel broadcasts in Pashto and targets the Pashtun population in Pakistan, it's based in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

  2. Sindh TV: This channel broadcasts in Sindhi and targets the Sindhi population in Pakistan, it's based in Karachi, Sindh.

  3. Balochistan TV: This channel broadcasts in Balochi and targets the Baloch population in Pakistan, it's based in Quetta, Balochistan.

  4. Apna Channel: This channel broadcasts in Punjabi and targets the Punjabi population in Pakistan, it's based in Lahore, Punjab.

  5. K-2: This channel broadcasts in Urdu and targets the population in Pakistan, it's based in Lahore, Punjab.

  6. Khyber News: This channel broadcasts in Pashto and targets the Pashtun population in Pakistan, it's based in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

  7. KTN: This channel broadcasts in Sindhi and targets the Sindhi population in Pakistan, it's based in Karachi, Sindh.

  8. Avt Khyber: This channel broadcasts in Pashto and targets the Pashtun population in Pakistan, it's based in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

  9. Aruj TV: This channel broadcasts in Balochi and targets the Baloch population in Pakistan, it's based in Quetta, Balochistan.

  10. PTV Home: This channel broadcasts in different languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Pashto, and targets the population of Pakistan, it's based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Please note that this list is not exhaustive and there may be other regional language channels in Pakistan.


Urdu Language Pakistani TV Channels:

Currently, Pakistan has a wide range of Urdu-language TV channels. Some of them are:

  1. PTV News

  2. Geo News

  3. Express News

  4. Dunya News

  5. ARY News

  6. Samaa TV

  7. 92 News

  8. News One

  9. Bol News

  10. Dawn News

  11. Aaj News

  12. Hum TV

  13. ARY Digital

  14. Urdu 1

  15. Geo Entertainment

  16. PTV Home

  17. ATV

  18. TV One

  19. Express Entertainment

  20. A-Plus Entertainment

  21. Hum Sitaray

  22. Geo Kahani

  23. PTV Sports

  24. Geo Super

  25. PTV National

  26. PTV Global

  27. PTV Bolan

  28. PTV World

  29. PTV News HD

  30. Geo News HD

  31. Express News HD

  32. Dunya News HD

  33. ARY News HD

  34. Samaa TV HD

  35. 92 News HD

  36. News One HD

  37. Bol News HD

  38. Dawn News HD

  39. Aaj News HD

  40. Hum TV HD

  41. ARY Digital HD

  42. Urdu 1 HD

  43. Geo Entertainment HD

  44. PTV Home HD

  45. ATV HD

  46. TV One HD

  47. Express Entertainment HD

  48. A-Plus Entertainment HD

  49. Hum Sitaray HD

  50. Geo Kahani HD

  51. PTV Sports HD

  52. Ten Sports HD

  53. Geo Super HD


The rise of digital technologies in the past few years has also led to new ways to watch TV, such as online streaming and catch-up TV. Some Over-the-top media platforms relatively less popular than terrestrial and cable television in Pakistan are:

  1. Netflix

  2. Amazon Prime Video

  3. Iflix

  4. Zee5

  5. UrduFlix

  6. PTV Home (Official streaming platform of Pakistan Television)


And, finally, the most popular youtube channels in Pakistan as of January 2023 are:

  1. Har Pal Geo

  2. ARY Digital HD

  3. A Plus

  4. S Plus

  5. Hum TV


In conclusion, even though Pakistan's TV industry has grown specifically in the past two decades, the government still has control over the media, and censorship is still an issue including the on-off outright banning of Youtube, Facebook, and over-the-top media platforms such as Zee5. The fact that only a few big companies own most media outlets has also continued to make the Pakistani media landscape less diverse. As technology changes, it's hard to say what the future of television in Pakistan will be, but the country's rich and prolific TV history will continue to be of cultural importance.

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