Creatively, Turkey’s TV Soaps Have Conquered the World

The country’s rising middle-class means biz potential is boffo

One of the rising stars of emerging-market economies, Turkey is a sprawling territory that spans Europe, Asia and the Middle East, nicknamed both the New Tiger and China of Europe. A young and highly wired demographic, an increasing middle-class and a low screen count give the country plenty of room for growth in the theatrical and digital arenas. That said, Turkish pop culture has a strong national component, both in film and TV, characterized by a mix of secular and Muslim influences. Turkish soaps are a booming business, exported to some 76 countries. Another export is “Desperate Women,” a popular local adaptation of “Desperate Housewives.” Growth of the TV ad market is double-digit, and digital marketing is a major phenomenon. Argo recently shot in Istanbul, where the filmmakers used the Turkish capital’s Golden Horn bay, its Sultanahmet Old-City area, the Grand Bazaar, and the magnificently exotic Hagia Sophia mosque. So there are opportunities in Turkey besides just tapping into an under-penetrated market.

(From the pages of the April 9 issue of Variety.)

(Pictured Above: ‘Fetih 1453’.)


Local films nabbed a whopping 46.6% market share last year. That’s impressive, considering that only 70 local pics were produced in 2011, the most recent available figure. The Turkish box office champ in 2012 was “Fetih 1453,” a turbans-and-testosterone epic helmed by Faruk Aksoy about the capture of Constantinople in the 15th century by Ottoman Turks. “Fetih” pulled in $31 million, more than 10% of the nation’s $234 million 2012 total box office. Six of the top 10 pics were local. The top Hollywood title was “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” at No. 3, with $10.5 million via domestic distrib Tiglon, which handles Fox product in the region. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” pulled in $7 million, and “The Dark Knight Rises” $4.7 million, both via Warner Bros. WB and UIP release Hollywood and Turkish titles locally. UIP is the top distributor, with a 32.4% share. Average ticket price: a very decent $5.33.

(Pictured Above: Anatolia, Konya, fruit market.)


Turkey has become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations thanks to its natural attractions, unique historical and archaeological sites, improving infrastructure, and tradition of hospitality. Istanbul, one of the world’s largest cities, has two suspension bridges over the Bosphorus that link Asia and Europe. The Asian part of the country, called Asia Minor by the Romans, was the crossroad for many ancient civilizations. Turkey is surrounded by three seas, which makes it a popular summer destination.

(Pictured Above: Anatolia, Konya: Whirling Dervishes.)


The World Bank expects Turkish economy to grow 4% this year and 4.5% in 2014. Imax recently announced the opening of three theaters, for a total of five throughout the country. “When they (Imax) start opening places, it’s generally a country on the up,” notes IHS Screen Digest chief film analyst David Hancock. He sees Turkey as having the potential to grow fourfold and become a billion dollar cinema market once the number of screens (only 2,000) proliferates. But movie attendance is low, 0.6 annual visits per person, compared with 2.7 in the U.K. Recent pics lensing there include “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Taken 2” and “Skyfall,” all tapping into Turkey’s generous tax rebates.

(Pictured Above: Istanbul: people relaxing at Chemberlitas baths.)


There are 18 million TV homes in Turkey, which makes it one of Europe’s major markets. Half of the viewers use satellite TV or cable; there are more than 3 million pay-TV subscribers. The market was liberalized in 1990, when pubcaster Turkish Radio & Television started competing with what are now two dozen private national channels, including prominent players Star TV and ATV, and hundreds of regional and local outlets. “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and “Pop Idol” are big, but the most popular show is steamy soap “Magnificent Century,” which airs on Star. Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted it as blasphemy. Pushing the boundaries of Muslim mores can be an issue: Turkey’s TV regulator fined broadcaster CNBC-E for airing an episode of “The Simpsons” in which the Bible is burned.

(Pictured Above: Istanbul: Ortakoy Mosque and Bosphorus Bridge at dusk.)


42.5% of the population is aged 25-54; 26.2% are under 14. There are lots of cool, stylish kids with the latest smartphones. The country has among the world’s highest social media use through mobile Internet. An estimated 30 million Turks use Facebook. Turkey ranks eighth among nations in terms of Twitter penetration. Some 71% of Turkish Internet users go online every day for entertainment purposes. According to the BKM (Interbank Card Center) data, the Turkish e-commerce market reached a whopping $25 billion in 2012.


Size: 780,580 square km
Largest City: Istanbul
Religion: Muslim 99.8%
Languages: Turkish (official), Kurdish and other minority languages


Population: 80 million
Urban dwellers: 70%
Average age: 28
Population aged 14 and under: 26.2%


Hollywood has not helped Turkey’s image in the West, but tourism is growing as time diminishes the damage done by “Midnight Express.”


Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature and teaches at Columbia U.

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