DawnNews in Urdu- What went wrong?


When Dawn launched their TV channel with the brand name ‘Dawn News’ a couple of years back, it was perfectly in line with the immutable laws of branding. It made use good use of an already established brand name Dawn and augmented the brand essence of the newspaper. It positioned itself as the leader of a new category by claiming to be Pakistan’s First English Language News Channel, which it really was.

Instead of trying to be all things to all people, it kept its focus narrow by staying true to its initial positioning. In fact it boosted that image by coming up with unique and innovative programs like News Weakly by Sami Shah, For the love of Food by Aida Khan, Open Frequency, Late Swing, Cutting it,  Techie Watch,  First Blast, Breakfast at Dawn, No reservations, TalkBack by Wajahat S. Khan and a host of other programs all in English. It hired newscasters who spewed out fluent English in foreign accent so much so that sometimes when you weren’t looking at the screen, you were fooled into believing that it was CNN or BBC. And the person spearheading this stew of foreign accents was Saima Mohsin.

Being part of a large media empire that encompasses all media, it promoted itself aggressively whether it be through the parent company’s radion channel CityFm89, newspaper, magazines Herald and Spider or even through Aurora in which only a couple of months ago the interview of DawnNews CEO Shakeel Masud was published in which he claimed that DawnNews had broken the shackles and had audiences now from even the SEC C and D when initially it had from only SEC A and B. The launch of DawnNews in USA and GCC countries had received overwhelming response and plans were underway to launch in Canada and Europe.  It seemed that the channel could do no wrong.

Then one fine day, it was gone. Just like that. Half of Dawn News’ airing time was suddenly relegated to Urdu language news and programs. In fact the prime time from 7 to 9pm was exclusively devoted to Urdu language. And the justification given for this topsy turvy change was some market research which Dawn claims has shown that there’s more demand for Urdu news channels with creditable news and reporting.

Something’s not right here. If what this market research is inferring is true, then there’s a dearth of good Urdu channels with authentic reporting and the consumer is rejecting them and wanting something credible. In reality the converse is true. Urdu news channels are a dime a dozen and the consumer is hooked on to them with no regard for whether they are reporting right or wrong. In fact people love to devour even the talk shows which are proven to be the least credible with hosts and even guests of dubious standing.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Dawn’s market research was authentic and people are really craving for a spank clean Urdu news channel. Even in that case, what would you do if you were a successful English news channel? Common sense dictates you would come up with another channel as a sub-brand with Urdu programming. Why on earth would you slash your successful programming to make room for something which may or may not succeed? You won’t. Unless you were out of your mind. Or your supposedly successful programs weren’t as successful and this was really what the market research unearthed.

But why weren’t they successful? What was wrong with them? Only those with access to the insights of the market research would know that. One reason could be that a very high barometer for success was set for them, probably benchmarking the Urdu programs for them. If this was the case, then it was a sure recipe for disaster, because going by the sheer size of the Urdu-speaking market, the English one can never even come close to it. Even if you take the Dawn Newspaper, no matter how successful it becomes, it can never be at par with the Urdu newspapers. So that could be one reason.

Another could be the fact that the channel is still in its infancy and is comparing its success rate with that of the market leader GEO. If more time was given to these programs with fewer expectations, maybe they would have pulled through as well. In Malcolm Gladwell’s words, these programs were not allowed to reach their ‘Tipping Point’. How do you determine when the tipping point of a tv programs is going to be reached if at all. There’s no research done to estimate a trend. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers: The Story of Success says the tipping point for a person to make it is 10,000 hours. After he has spent 10,000 hours practicing whatever it is that he does whether it be sports or software programming, a single small opportunity can tip the fate in his favor big time.

But how much for a tv program to reach the same level of success is not known. To get an idea of how much time and effort may be required to attain the pinnacle of success, here’s an example of a local success story. If you are into listening morning show programs on the FM channels on your way to work or study, then you are probably familiar with the Taza Dum program hosted by Adeel Azhar on FM107. If you haven’t heard, ask around. He has become something of a rock star of radio drive shows, popular even amongst the school-going tweens.

But how did he reach this coveted status? In his own words, he had been doing this show for three and a half years with no luck, he was receiving criticism from all quarters and was just on the verge of quitting when all of a sudden the show shot to success overnight. It’s tipping point had been reached. How much time has Dawn given to its English programs to try to reach the elusive tipping point? Marketing Research can help with a lot of things. This is not one of them. It’s purely a matter of gut instinct of a veteran.

Even those few programs that are still in English are getting affected by the Urdu onslaught. Have you seen No Reservations lately? Ayesha Alam who was doing a good job of presenting in English is having quite a few awkward moments trying to express herself in Urdu. The forced transformation appears to be painful for her.

If you closely look at the day-wise schedule of Dawn’s week, not a single English program is on air from 6pm to 11pm at any day of the week except Sunday which three programs are aired on prime time: No Reservations, Fusion and Beautiful People.

And what’s the story behind Beautiful People? It’s an Indian program with Bollywood celebrity interviews. What was the need for that? Let’s just say that the market research showed that people wanted to see Indian celebrity interviews on a Pakistani channel, wouldn’t it have been better to air something new? The last interview shown was of Deepika Padukone and it was from the time her first movie was released, more than two years old! What’s wrong with Dawn?

The bottom-line is that Dawn’s brand essence is slowly receding. A brand is a single idea in the mind of the consumer. Dawn followed that rule religiously until now. It was following a blue ocean strategy which all brands should aspire to follow, but now it is back to the red ocean strategy, which in layman terms is called the rat race.

“The problem with rat race is that even if you win, you are still a rat.”

DawnNews would do well to take a leaf out of its sister concern CityFM89’s notebook which has carved out a wonderful niche for itself purely by being true to its roots. It recognized that it was a niche brand and worked with respect to that positioning instead of competing head on with the Urdu FM channels like DawnNews is trying to do now.

If you want to know more about what went wrong behind the scenes other than the branding failure, check out these poignant posts on a blog called the Cafe Piyala which has the inside scoop on how Wajahat Khan resigned from Dawn News, how people were either shown the door or pays drastically cut. All that is not discussed here because this site is confined to purely branding issues and not workplace politics.

Dawn News started out as a great brand and it ought to revert to its original brand essence if it is to prosper instead of trying to be something which it is not. Dawn already has had a bitter experience with two failed Urdu projects in the form of Hurriyat and Zulfiqar. If Dawn continues its Urdu transmission, history would simply repeat itself.

One comment

  • Well written–as a 20 year old very patriotic Pakistani young adult raised abroad, I found that DawnNews was the only TV channel I would turn to in the wake of breaking news throughout the last year however I was very disappointed with the change in thought process–Quaid-i-Azam intended Dawn to be the nation’s first English language daily and DawnNews should have stayed in its footsteps.