If you want a first-hand look at the globalization of the TV business, take a ride on a New York City subway at rush hour.
Every other person, it seems, passes the time by watching video on a smartphone. A quick glance at those screens confirms they are serving up a melting pot of programming. Soap operas from South Korea and Taiwan, costume dramas from Turkey, Bollywood romancers and many more imported options can be found unspooling during the morning commute.
This underground multiplex is a vivid example of the incredible mobility of television and movies in the long-tail era, where there’s a digital video outlet to serve every niche. It also explains why Warner Bros. just cut a deal in February to buy the New York-based digital video company DramaFever, which streams Korean-language movies and TV shows with subtitles.
Any seasoned buyer or seller attending MipTV will tell you that the days of the U.S. and the U.K. being the dominant exporters of high-end programming to the world are long gone. And the level of import-export activity among the biggest global territories is seeing a significant increase. In recent years, Turkish dramas have proven to be huge hits in many Latin American markets and the Arab world. The same goes for Korean serials.
The upsurge underscores the growth of production infrastructure around the world as markets that were once dominated by state broadcasters have matured and diversified. The success of programs like Turkey’s juggernaut novela “Fatmagul” has opened the eyes of programmers to the importance of casting a wide net when shopping for shows.
“The lesson is we really have to keep an open mind on programming and acquisitions and not be culturally biased toward a single language,” says Alan Sokol, president-CEO of Hemisphere Media Group. Hemisphere operates five Spanish-language cable channels in the U.S. and owns Puerto Rico’s powerhouse broadcaster WAPA TV.
“Fatmagul,” revolving around the tribulations of a young woman from a coastal village in Turkey, has been a runaway hit since its January bow on WAPA. Awkward dubbing (given the phonic distance between Turkish and Spanish) and cultural differences have not stopped “Fatmagul” from delivering an astounding 28.4 household rating and 44 share on WAPA. Turkish dramas have also scored in such major markets as Brazil and Mexico.
“This gives us a much more global perspective on what could work in our market,” Sokol says. “It’s making us aggressive in terms of seeking out nontraditional sources.”
The Turkish TV boom is turning the nation’s largest networks and distributors, including Kanal D, home of “Fatmagul,” and ATV, into players. Sokol, an international TV veteran, says he’s not surprised to see other territories dive in to the novela business, which hinges on high volume production of programs designed to air nightly over 120 to 180 episodes.
“The rest of the world is starting to catch up with the production factories of Latin America,” Sokol says. “They’re putting a personal touch on it. That makes it different and interesting for our viewers.”
Hemisphere’s CentroAmericaTV, focusing on Central American auds in the U.S., has just launched the ambitious original series “Calle 7,” a reality show that Sokol describes as if “‘Big Brother’ and ‘American Ninja Warrior’ gave birth to a new show.” It’s a co-production with El Salvador’s TCS eyed to sell in other markets.
With any luck, “Calle 7” will wind up on the must-see TV list at rush hour.