Raza Naqvi and Annie Khan have given Voice of America a toehold on Pakistani television with “Zindagi 360,” an emerging cable channel hit for the Hum TV network…
After years of struggling in the Pakistani media market, Voice of America decided to start fresh.
Finding affiliates that would do business with VOA was difficult due to perceptions about the U.S. and possible local government pressure. And when potential partners did come forward, they tended to be extremely expensive to do business with, or would banish VOA programming to hinterland time slots. Or both.
However, the combination of a new executive producer at VOA’s Urdu language service, a new Pakistani TV partner, and a new program strategy is showing signs of life.
First, a bit of background on Pakistan from a media strategy point of view:
In a multi-agency Pakistan “Deep Dive” hosted by the Office of Strategy and Development at the BBG, research highlighted that 66% of the Pakistanipopulation is under the age of 30. Among youth, 91% see their country heading in the wrong direction — saying that while they’re favorable toward democracy, it doesn’t work well in their country. They feel they cannot hold their government accountable, even through elections.
Other attitudinal takeaways included Pakistanis feeking tired of being told to “do more” by the U.S. government, and U.S. aid was viewed as wildly unpopular — seen simply as the U.S. buying off the Pakistani government, with no benefit to the individuals surveyed.
Only 17% of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the U.S., with 68% holding an unfavorable view. Yet 64% want improved relations with the U.S.
For VOA, first steps included targeting a younger demographic via cable television. Cable in Pakistan, while still nascent in its development, is growing rapidly, with 8 million users according to 2010 data from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
Zindagi 360, a faster-paced lifestyle show targeting young adults debuted in September and showed a bump in the ratings in just its third episode.
Airing on Friday evenings at 7 p.m. on the Hum TV cable net, Zindagi 360 improved ratings by 239% and reach by 49% with a quarter million viewers tuning in, according to ratings agency M/s Media Logic.
With research showing that two-thirds of Pakistanis had burned out on political content, Zindagi (which means “life” in Urdu) hosts Raza Naqvi and Annie Khan have initially gone lighter, attracting eyeballs with travelogue and interview stories from across the U.S.
On the most recent episode, Naqvi interviewed Hollywood star Faran Tahir and his parents about their Pakistani-American experience, having emigrated from Pakistan, and now living in San Diego.
Tahir has appeared in numerous blockbuster movies including Star Trek, Iron Man, and Charlie Wilson’s War. TV credits include Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Burn Notice, and countless others. Tahir’s maternal grandfather was a Bollywood star.
VOA Urdu Executive Producer Joy Wagner feels very good about the initial progress, noting “We have a winning combination in Raza and Annie. They are appealing to our target demo and are delivering hip, unique stories from the U.S. that can’t be found on any other channel.”
Next steps for Zindagi 360 include increased on-air promotion and follow up research with viewers for guidance on how to improve the program.
Note: Cable Television Comparisons
One might wonder whether the quarter million viewers Zindegi 360 has attracted can be judged as a success or not.
As noted, the Pakistani cable market stands at about 8 million (2010). While a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, we’ll attempt to give perspective with some U.S. numbers, where the cable household reach approaches 100 million.
While hit shows such as Monday Night Football can reach 16 million or more on cable, and other individual hit shows on MTV, FX or Fox News Channel can reach 4 to 6 million, the average prime time numbers are much less than most people would likely perceive.
A few average prime time audience numbers, according to Neilsen:
Discovery Channel: 800,000 and 900,000
Comedy Central: 717,000
National Geographic Channel: 333,000
Country Music Television: 249,000
Again, apples to oranges, but most would feel that the audience size of Zindagi 360 is quite promising.