There’s a wealth of new period dramas being rolled out internationally from Turkey. The fairy tale land that symbolises a potpourri of mystery in storybooks is in reality, a melting pot of drama, adequate for global consumption. The second largest drama producer globally after the United States produces up to 100 long-running telenovela-style series a year, ahead of Latin American countries is keenly excited to reveal its plans and the rich content that is available in the nation. In 2013, Turkey’s European Union Minister Egemen Bagis threw down the gauntlet to Turkish television executives to develop a US$1billion TV content export industry, spearheaded by this drama boom.
The demand for Turkish television production and the world’s taste for its drama in particular is reaching new heights and spreading quickly to new parts of the world so much so that the television drama industry is now one of the country’s most important exports. According to the Chairman of Istanbul Chamber of Commerce Mr Ibrahim Caglar says, “Turkey is ready for the world. Turkey acts as a valuable production hub of visual culture globally. Our series are watched in almost 100 countries, covering many regions from Latin America, the Middle East to North Africa. The world’s most important production centres are in pursuit of Turkish series and formats today.
“Though there is also a very lively demand in the domestic market, the Turkish television industry ranks as the second-fastest growing in the world. We take great achievements in content production, offering quality technical infrastructure. In 2023, when the Turkish Republic celebrates its 100th anniversary, we are aiming to achieve US$1 billion in export revenues from this market.”
Country of Honour
Caglar pointed out that the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce is the official coordinator of the Turkey Country of Honour Programme this year. The chamber has started preparing for the programme a year ago and they are expecting a strong presence at MIPCOM 2015, showcasing the richness of Turkey’s TV content to the world in an unrivalled way.
Caglar added, “As part of the Country of Honour activities, we will set up a 300 square Turkey tent in which our world-class formats will be displayed on giant screens and various conferences, panels, surprise events and artist signings will be organised. In addition, our Turkey stand will be offering a meeting area for participants. All bilateral meetings of the participating companies, producers and our talents will be organised inside the location.” He also promised that MIPCOM’s opening party, sponsored by Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) and expecting about 300 delegates will be a memorable night for all participants.
Recent estimates from the Chamber suggest the nation’s annual income from soap opera export per year is approximated at US$250 million. Turkey’s financial institution largely shrugged off the effects of the global economic crises and the World Bank predicts that the Turkish economy will expand by 4% this year. The country’s media industry is probably the largest in Europe with more than 20 million TV households serving a population of 80 million. The nation’s public broadcaster, Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) faces competition from several private channels such as Kanal D, Star TV and ATV. Cable and Satellite account for about 50% of the market with an estimate of more than 3 million pay-TV subscribers. Its advertising value is worth US$3.5 million per year, of which US$2.89 is allocated to television.
According to TRT’s Mehemet Demirhan, Deputy Head of TV, the broadcaster is highly investing in local drama production with equal interest in other genres. Recounting some of the big titles he has, “Filinta is a detective story set in the Ottoman Empire era which portraits justice, friendship and fraternity. As for Milat, it is an action-adventure production with striking action scenes, puzzling mind games, conspiracies and love stories, blended with hard truths.”
In 2015, TRT is among the top channel in a nation with 500 TV channels to watch. TRT is especially known for promoting exceptionally outstanding programmes during primetime slots with titles such as Resurrection – a historic drama, Filinta, Milat, 1001 Nights, The Great Exit and even a Korean adaption, What Happen to My Family – Sunday primetime.
Mehemet Demirhan also highlighted that the broadcaster will soon launch the ‘TRT World’, a global English news channel will be officially launched this year. He said that audiences can expect a balance and in-depth reporting with a focus on global responsibility. Headquartered in Istanbul with four newsrooms located around the world, the channel will provide news coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week, bringing live reports, interviews and documentaries. The digital version will provide articles and vodcasts which will allow viewers to take the news with them.
But Turkey is all about the production of local dramas which has captivated viewers – and none more so than Magnificent Century, a period drama about Suleiman the Magnificent, the long reigning sultan who fell in love with a Western woman in his harem. The ratings have been exceptionally and consistently high for this drama. Global Agency, the distributer claims the drama is being watched across many nations across the Middle East and central Asia. Global’s CEO, Izzet Pinto says, “It has been acquired by CCTV in China, Babel TV in Italy and LNK in Lithuania. Turkish content is booming everywhere. As a distributor, we gather feedback from the industry that everyone wants to piece of Turkish drama as it is a revenue spinner for the broadcaster. In territories such as Russia and Bulgaria, ratings for TIMS Productions’ Ottoman Empire drama Magnificent Century have tripled the broadcasters’ average share.” Global has sold its dramas into 50 territories including Central and Eastern Europe, CIS, Australia, the U.S., Canal 13 in Chile, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Turkish dynamic storyline combined with the visual excitement of a detailed period setting appears to transcend culture differences. Pinto thinks, “Its appeal lies in its conservative, family-oriented skew. There is a lot of intrigue in the story as well as passion, love betrayal – the things that audience like to watch. The current content available worldwide, you have Latin American series, which can be good for daytime programming. The American series often seem to have too much fiction in them – which could be why they have lost their appeal in this part of the globe. The Asian series don’t have the location charm to get audience’s attention as it is so different that many non-Asian viewers don’t feel connected to them.”
Global Agency has also slate in reality formats globally and has sold several to the international market. Pinto is one of the brains behind the creation of formats at the organisation himself. Highlighting a recent success, Global Agency’s Is That Really Your Voice? broke record in China. The show debuted on iQIYI, China’s leading online video platform on 5 August this year and soon after its launch, it became the most-watched online show in the country’s history. Airing weekly in a prime time slot, the first five episodes of the show received 200 million views with great reviews from both audiences and television critics. Twenty-four episodes have been planned in total.
Created by Izzet Pinto, Is That Really Your Voice? is a unique variety format in which jury members try to guess the best singer based only on clues given by the contestants’ physical appearance and performances without audio. The show combines comedy and music in a uniquely entertaining way. Pinto said, “I’m pretty sure that everybody will be raving about Is That Really Your Voice? at MIPCOM this year. I believe it will create big buzz and a huge demand from the sector. The reason we trust the show is because of its originality; it is a comedy format based upon music. It is a pure variety programme that can easily adapt to suit every territory’s schedule and it’s great for distribution. We hope to see many different versions of the show after China.”
ATV, a key private broadcaster believes the market is ready to consume Turkish content. ATV has been distributing local content over eight years and the past three years have seen significant breakthroughs. The company will continue to invest in sales because revenue from syndication has not only become a key source of ATV turnover, but has created global brand recognition for the company. ATV’s Muge Hamiki explained that drama has certainly been ranked first in terms of Turkish content. She explained that its programming is unique and hard to categorise. There is action, thriller, romance, and many series cross the genre boundaries. Initially, it was the huge popularity of locally produced dramas that propelled the series and their casts to global fame. Crime-based drama Ezel (71 x 90’), for example, gained a considerable fan base in Turkey and is now selling very well internationally.
Likewise, crime series Karadayi is aired in more than 50 countries in the wake of significant domestic success. Turkish casts have become incredibly popular in the global market place which has now created fierce competition between production companies to sign up key cast members.
One of Turkey’s most commendable distributors for high-quality programming that usually scores good rating with audience across territories is ITV-Inter Medya. The firm started out as a humble domestic film distributor, and has since built a reputation for itself in the region. Amongst its blockbuster titles are 20 Minutes, Filinta, Resurrection, Black Money Love and Black Rose, just to name a few. ITV has once sold 20 Dakika to more than 30 territories in less than four months. (The company’s drama slate makes up 85% in MENA countries accounting for 65% began to strike format sales and drama for the first time.) The distributor has also gone into production and co-production deals with a recent co-financing covenant.
ITV’s Managing Director, Ahmet Ziyalar said, “Conquering new markets is another issue. But now, Turkish dramas are winning the attention of Western and Northern Europe, the U.S., Russia and Latin America countries with straight licencing deals and formats sales. The west always had interest in high-profile contemporary crime dramas but they are beginning to see our strength in historical dramas today. Turkish dramas offer alternative storytelling to the U.S. around family and human issues, which is capable of challenging its dominance. Yes, the world is starting to see the high quality of Turkish drama and there’s a reason for that.
“Our content reflects modern Turkish culture, which is a blend of Eastern and Western culture, and viewers all around the world can find a part of themselves in the content. Love, passion, revenge and power are still the most popular topics but lately, the drama scene garnished with criminals or sci-fielements are increasing,” he added.
He agrees that competition between local players has helped to raise the bar in terms of production quality but says that it is the unique Turkish stories that are behind the huge rise in demand. With a catalogue of more than 5,000 hours of programming, the distributor also has comedy feature films in addition to dramas and telenovelas.
Ahmet also shared that ITV is now ready to start its own production of formats which he anticipates has much potential in this region. Besides drama which is their core business, the company will launch a new line-up of game shows and formats at MIPCOM in October. A new format team has been setup to take the company into a new dimension. They will conceptualise and produce the formats for Turkey and the global market.
Leading Actor of Black Money Love, Engin Akyurek won ‘The Best Actor’ award at the Seoul Drama Awards this September for his performance in the series distributed by ITV-Inter Medya. Engin Akyurek’s co-star in the series Tuba Büyüküstün was nominated for ‘Best Performing Actress’ at the 2014 International Emmy Awards for her performance in 20 Minutes in 2014. Korean fans were totally mesmerised by the Turkish lead actor who won the award for his performance as Inspector Omer in the series produced by Ay YapÄ±m. The drama has been very successful in all the territories aired. The series has already sold in more than 45 territories, and reached 69% of audience share in some locations. ITV Inter Medya expects the series to reach 60 territories the end of the year.
Foreign players in Turkey
The strength of Turkey’s local production scene is now a welldocumented trend. But what advice is there for distributors looking to sell into the country? You’d be lucky to get a finished series into Turkish primetime these days. That’s the general consensus among international distributors, who are increasingly being forced to re-think ways of selling into a country fully self-sufficient in programming.
Now the second-largest producer of TV drama in the world behind the U.S., Turkey is consistently churning out high-end, big-budget series such as Ay Yapim’s Ezel (ATV) and Magnificent Century (Star TV) – far more relevant to its audience than anything coming out of Hollywood. The Turkish production scene has been buoyant for some time, but how has the boom affected the demand for imported programming, and what slots remain open for distributors?
“There are first-run opportunities in Turkey for distributors of drama from the UK, the U.S., or other places, but on pay television and digital channels,” says Jamie Lynn, EVP of Sales and Distribution for EMEA at FremantleMedia.
“It’s very unlikely they will be on the big free-to-air [FTA] channels, though. There are more than 10 FTA channels in Turkey, but for the most part, they are commissioning local content. There are exceptions but the big FTAs are making their own stuff.” Lynn believes some FTA broadcasters’ secondary channels, including those operated by staterun TRT, can provide a way in for distributors selling finished content. But he maintains that pay platforms such as Digiturk and D-Smart provide superior opportunities for finished Western programmes, such as FremantleMedia’s fantasy drama Merlin, which aired on CNBC-e in Turkey.
It’s a view echoed by Chris Bartlett, VP of sales at UK-based distributor Digital Rights Group, which recently sold ITV comedy drama Doc Martin to Digiturk, while also offering the option for a remake to the broadcaster.
“Digiturk is the main one for us; they are buying nearly all the movies and dramas we have,” Bartlett says. “We do talk to the likes of TRT and ATV, and in the past they have taken programming from us, but it’s now really about Digiturk and digital channels for us.
“But because what’s working for Turkish FTA broadcasters are series like [period drama] Magnificent Century, we are being asked whether we have programmes like that. And, essentially, we haven’t got a lot like that, he says.” Nevertheless, Bartlett believes there are gaps for finished programmes on networks such as Fox International Channels’ 24Kitchen. There’s also a small amount of space for documentaries on FTA channels, he claims, highlighting DRG’s recent sale of factual series The First World War (10×60’) to Kanal D as a triumph. He added, “Turkey is a huge market and you have a highly educated audience in the country that will not be satisfied watching only content made in that territory.”
For the moment, though, getting finished programming on to a mainstream Turkish channel remains an uphill task. Broadcasters have definitively shifted their focus from acquiring finished programmes to taking the remake rights to popular Western shows like U.S. network Fox’s The OC and The CW’s Gossip Girl. Star TV, for instance, began airing an adaptation of The OC to enormous success last September, after commissioning 13 episodes from Warner Bros International Television Production, with Istanbul-based Ay Yapim producing.