PEMRA Indian content ban to impact broadcasters

MUMBAI: 21 October, 15:00 hours is going to be a landmark day in the history of south Asian media and entertainment. Reason: that’s the day when the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s  (Pemra’s) order issued on 19 October banning all Indian content on Pakistan media will come into effect.

The authority’s order is directed at all FM radio licence holders, landing right holders, and satellite television channels operating in Pakistan. Most TV and FM Radio channels air substantial amount of Indian content, sometimes going up to as much as 50-60 per cent.  That was trimmed down to six per cent following the Pakistan crackdown in September, when the old regulation promulgated during General Pervez Musharaff’s reign was activated.  And now, the latest order has reduced that to zero.

However, PEMRA, in its order, says that Pakistan’s TV and FM radio services can continue to air up to 10 per cent foreign content from nations other than India. The authority has threatened defaulters with punitive legal action.

Pakistan’s No 1 TV show was Indian import Naagin which was aired by Filmazia and helped its rise in the ratings pecking order while shows such as Yeh hai Mohabbatein helped boost the viewership of channels such as Urdu1 and shows such as Kumkum Bhagya  were rated highly on Geo Kahani. Among leading entertainment channels in Pakistan are: Colors, HumTV, Ary Digital, PTV Home, Geo Entertainment, APlus, ATV and Geo Kahani.

According to Pakistan TV executives, the impact of banning Indian content is going to be felt by India’s music labels and TV channels. “Close to about Rs 25-30 150 crore of exports are going to vanish for Indian music and TV companies,” says an industry observer.

However, they expect the official ban to continue for only a while, once the political heat between the two nations cools down. “We have already requested that Indian broadcasting companies from whom we have acquired the content to understand this force majeure which has been put on us,” says a Pakistan TV executive. “It is an act of the government over which we have no control, and we have to comply. Of course, our viewers are not going to be happy with such a sudden call to action and their favourite Indian TV shows going off just like that, and our ratings will probably  drop. But, we have to deal with it, positively as, it is in the two nations' interest.”

In the meanwhile, Pakistan channels are looking at filling the gap created by Indian content going off-air with Turkish and American content.

Among the Indian TV networks which will feel the brunt of the ban include Viacom18, Zee TV, Sony and Star India.

Of course, music labels will also feel the impact, but to what extent was not clear at the time of writing.

The point of concern is whether the Pakistani ban will lead to a spurt in piracy of Indian content online and offline. "This is what Pakistan probably has in mind,” says a media specialist. “The official ban will lead to revenue losses on account of trade, but the piracy losses could probably be in multiples. And if Pakistan so desires it can  magnify the problem.”

(Updated on 20 October; the figure of losses that Indian broadcasters would suffer was upped to Rs 150 crore after discussions with broadcasters and theatrical film distributors.)

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