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Turkey’s TV Business Booming Despite Domestic Woes

Though tumult at home has decimated some branches of the Turkish media sector and polarized a viewing population, drama production hasn’t dropped a stride and buyers at MipTV will see a variety of fresh offerings to cater to expanding global demand.

Global Agency, which broke onto the international scene in 2011 by taking Ottoman costume drama “Magnificent Century” worldwide, brings a twist on some familiar names with “Queen of the Night,” which once again sees “Century” lead actress Meryem Uzerli working with the Taylan brothers directing duo. The O3 Productions drama, which has been airing for two months in Turkey, finds Uzerli caught between father and son in a love triangle.

“Century” sequel “Kosem,” which picks up a few generations after the death of Sultan Suleyman and traces the life of the most powerful woman in Ottoman history, is also on offer with over 16 two-hour episodes screened in Turkey since November. “Kosem,” is already following Global favorites “Century” and “1001 Nights” into new territories including Vietnam, Indonesia and sub-Saharan Africa, and it’s not alone.

As Global CEO Izzet Pinto notes, most clients who purchased “Century” and “Nights” have continued to buy new series, with “Broken Pieces,” “A Part of Me,” and “Never Let Go” among those generating keenest interest worldwide.

Pinto is most excited about his new music format “The Legend.” The primetime competition, featuring contestants who judge themselves, premiered at MipFormats.

Global is not alone in bringing new content to the fair. Eccho Rights is launching Endemol Shine Turkey’s “Winter Sun,” the story of twin brothers who grow up in different worlds, but come together over the murder of their father. While “Sun” began airing in Turkey in February, Eccho’s next scoop, “Black Hearts” is as fresh as they come, set to bow in early April. Eccho director Fredrik af Malmborg offers a sneak peek at the hotly anticipated show this week.

Malmborg and Pinto both see East Asia as a key emerging market for Turkish content, continuing the expansion that has taken Latin America by storm. Eccho dubbed over 1,000 hours of drama into Spanish last year and its daily series “Elif” has built a very loyal following in Indonesia. Malmborg is also looking to break into territories that have thus far proven difficult for Turkish content.

“Cherry Season” and “Kurt Seyit and Sura” are about to start airing in Italy, with Malmborg eyeing France and Spain as well. And he says that’s not all, “After the success of ‘Narcos’ on Netflix, we believe Turkish drama with subtitles can work anywhere, including the U.S.”

Both chiefs appear sanguine about the effects that continued media crackdowns and social polarization may have on the drama industry. Government intervention with oppositional news outlets — including takeover of the country’s largest newspaper and closing down two TV channels last month — has increased the proportion of pro-government media touting strongly nationalist sentiments. Thus far Malmborg notes that he hasn’t seen the government actively regulating producers, though that group may be self-censoring.

Pinto sees the recent rise of government channel TRT in part as a challenge for those splitting the audience not tuning in to those broadcasts. Noting that seven free TV channels are now competing for the same market share, he highlights the difficulty of breaking in. “There are certain projects people are already following on all those channels, so it’s getting more and more difficult every year.”

Both agree that Turkish viewers are still the key entryway to a global market. Malmborg highlights the shift that content aimed for Turks brought to Latin America. “They bring a new perspective. Family values taken seriously with a somehow classic plot.” He suggests viewers find it refreshing after the cynicism of telenovelas.

If family values are what’s driving the Turkish storm, there may be more on the way, as a January bulletin in the country’s legislative gazette notes plans to increase scrutiny of all media, including TV, for content that might have a negative effect on family values.

This has led some to wonder whether the drama sector, responsible for $250 million in exports last year according to state run Anadolu Agency, could be next in line for government intervention.

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