ARY Digital, formerly known as the Pakistani Channel, was launched in the United Kingdom in December 2000 to cater to the growing demands of South Asian entertainment in the region . It uses Samacom, a monopolising uplink provider based in the UAE, as the uplink teleport station.
The channel started off with a format more closely resembling that of PTV Prime and other South Asian channels where it provided slots for soaps in general while presenting an hourly slot for news headlines. Although, flaming political talk shows and dramas were the main priority when it came to programming, the network soon was hailed for its news coverage.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera was enjoying its fifteen minutes of fame that rooted its name prominently in the events folding after the 9/11 attacks but when the war on terror came to neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan had no decent coverage and the likes of PTV hired people without prior knowledge of journalism to be investigative journalists. There was a limit as to how much PTV could show on their network. Soon enough, when ARY Digital started broadcasting news covering the Afghan war, ARY Digital was hailed for their efforts.
This one-screen TV business grew into a network of channels beaming into over 130 countries, but have not yet launched its transmissions in Australian continent. The network however, at present, undoubtedly stands as one of the fastest growing Asian television networks in the world.
The network was successful in acquiring a license for DTH operations in Pakistan, considered a milestone for media in the ever-growing broadcast television market of Pakistan. Since then the network started to commit itself to the continuous development of Pakistan’s media market. The network now boasts a potential market size of more than 20 million households.
The ARY Group, owners of the network, announced the launch of the ARY Digital Tower, one of the tallest media buildings in the UAE. The project is to stand a mammoth 44 to 45-storey broadcasting tower that will house the studios and corporate-head office of all the network’s operations. Construction of the tower, overseen by esteemed Adnan Z. Saffarini of Dimensions Engineering Consultants, is expected to end by 2008.
ARY pioneered and set standards in television programming in Pakistan and all over the world. In 2002, The ARY Star Gold Quiz Show set new standards in the game-show broadcast history being the first live show ever which was offering a hefty prize of one kilogram of gold. For the period of its transmission, participants won over 260 kilograms of gold, undoubtedly the highest stakes of any game-show in the history of South Asian Television. Partly due to the ban on Indian channels around the time, it has helped the channel grow popular by the day. The network in 2005 obtained the rights to show Live 8 on its sister music channel, The Musik. The channel also held rights to the Who Wants to be a Millionaire franchise for Pakistan.
As most of the network's programming is acquired through private production houses from within Pakistan and some based in UAE, where people aren't that much in verse with the latest trends in distribution and quality, the network began to be criticized. This led the network to segment its programming into specialized channels whereby, for instance, having a dedicated channel for news coverage where they excelled leaving behind areas that needed dire attention on the flagship channel.
At present, the network has four different coverage areas around the world: ARY Digital Asia, ARY Digital Middle East, ARY Digital UK/Europe and ARY Digital USA beamed at from the UAE. It has acquired and set up 1,200 premium-rate lines for its call centres to facilitate users.
Although, its operations involve the mission for the betterment of the image of Pakistanis both resident and living abroad, the network has tagged along regional events programming from neighbour India to boost its ratings. In January 2005, the annual Bollywood Music Awards held in Dubai were premiered on the networks flagship channel ARY Digital where celebrities from both the countries managed to gather under one roof. The awards sparked a new interest in the India-Pakistan affairs regarding media policies and ushered a new era of friendly cross-industry work.
To further hook users to the box, the network acquired exclusive rights to showcase all International Cricket Council cricket tournaments in the European markets. Another deal with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) led the network into rightful broadcast of all PCB matches from the year 2003 to 2008.
On 18 October 2007 most of the ARY news team, covering former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's arrival from exile, were killed by one of two explosions. Pictures of the victims were shown live on the news hour and prayers were observed. Bhutto was later escorted safely to an official government house.
Recently ARY Digital has affiliated with several other television networks to promote their content in Pakistan. Amongst these are Fashion TV for which a regional channel FTV Pakistan has been airing since December 2005 on the ARY Digital network. Plans are under way for Al Jazeera Urdu in affiliation with Al Jazeera targeting 110 million Urdu-speaking households worldwide and HBO Pakistan in association with HBO's south-Asian division. With the network's help, Nickelodeon is also planning to kick-start its operations in Nick Pakistan where it would be beamed into 2.5 million households with kids. With so much international diversity under the network's belt, Salman Iqbal, the global CEO and president of ARY Digital network feels confident that the network is bringing international quality to Pakistan's growing market.
By 2004, ARY Digital had started up three sister ventures apart from the flagship channel ARY Digital, channels targeting generalized programming. They include: ARY News, a 24hr news channel; ARY Musik, a channel aimed at the younger generation featuring the latest from the Pakistani music scene & ARY Qtv, a religious service. With these four channels under its belt, the network viewership grew by folds over the coming years and ARY Digital would often then call itself the premium entertainment provider in the region.
In 2004, ARY Digital divided its broadcasts in such a way, that each Continent had different programming at different times, to better facilitate the audience. The Channels were split as follows:ARY Digital Asia
ARY Digital UAE
ARY Digital UK/Europe
ARY Digital USA
This version of the Channel is free-to-air, as channels in the South Asia are usually free-to-air . Unlike other versions of the Channel, ARY Digital Asia, features a wider variety of Programmes and shows. Many of which may include foreign programmes including Hollywood and Bollywood movies, Indian TV shows, for example Fear Factor - Khatron Ke Khiladi is one of the TV shows currently being aired.
ARY Digital UAE is also free to air, but the programming is limited to Pakistani programmes only, this includes ARY Digital's exclusive Dramas and TV shows, this is because UAE's local Channels own the rights for American and English shows and films.
At the turn of events leading to the emergency in December 2007, Salman Iqbal, CEO of the network announced along with the ARY Digital network committee the establishment of a media advisory board, the purpose of which would be to assess the media coverage (be it news or other programmes) on the network. Saying that ARY Digital has been reporting without bias for a while but the recent events ushering the emergency rule and temporary closure of one of the biggest news network Geo TV, ARY Digital required a better unbiased coverage. He concluded that an array of government leaders could weigh the coverage presented by the network on the basis of its rationality and coverage so that the media portrayed by the network was in verse with the way Pakistan is supposed to be imaged. The board would have seats for 20 members, each focusing on different aspects of media would provide their views on how media should be portrayed.
For a brief moment in 2003, ARY Digital received criticism upon its airing of a prisoner's derogatory comments against the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC-3) and a video showing balded young girls behind bars begging for mercy. The contempt of court proceedings against the officials of the network were withdrawn after the judge accepted unconditional apologies.