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Turkish TV Dramas Continue to Sell Despite Local Turmoil

Undeterred by local turbulence, Turkish TV dramas continue to expand their global footprint. Netflix recently nabbed more than 400 hours of “dizi,” as the shows are known locally, and local hits such as “Insider,” produced by Ay Yapim, and Kanal D’s “Wounded Love” continue selling solidly around the globe.

Paradoxically the country’s post-coup attempt climate has been conducive to more foreign production companies coming in, thanks in part to the roughly 17% drop in the Turkish lira value against the U.S. dollar being seen as a positive. In January, L.A.-based Karga Seven Pictures (“Hunting Hitler”), which is owned by Red Arrow, opened an Istanbul office to churn out Turkish content. Endemol Shine Group, which opened an outpost in 2014, is a big local player, as is Fox.

According to the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, annual revenue from overseas sales of Turkish TV shows surpassed $350 million in October, up from $300 million in 2015.

“For us the Turkish market is definitely growing,” says Prentiss Fraser, exec VP and managing director at Fox Networks Group Content Distribution. The company is launching six titles at MipTV, including local hit “Second Chance,” about a woman starting over after her husband disappears without a trace.

There are some indications that the Turkish TV boom could be peaking, with fewer smash hit shows among the multitude being churned out. But experts say the phenomenon that has made Turkey the second-largest exporter of scripted TV content after the U.S. is still in full swing. The market starting to evolve toward the OTT sphere.

In January the first Turkish streaming series, titled “Masum” (Innocent), launched on local platform BluTV. About six months earlier Netflix launched in Turkey in partnership with local telco Vodafone, after buying a mega package of local content for worldwide play from Eccho Rights. Netflix is expected to soon announce its first Turkish original.

At MipTV Ay Yapim will launch its first OTT original, “Phi,” about a celebrity psychiatrist who is a compulsive womanizer. The show is being touted as the first in a new wave of edgier Turkish TV fare. It will be interesting to see how the launch of Netflix and Amazon Prime as well as local streaming platforms in Turkey could impact the market.

Meanwhile, in the latest instance of a shift from exporting ready-made TV shows toward formats for remakes, a Hindi-language adaptation of Turkey’s female empowerment megahit “Fatmagul” premiered April 3 on Fox’s Star India pay-TV network. And a Spanish redo of psychological thriller “The End” will soon air in Spain on Telecinco.

Turkish serials are still going strong. In Latin America they are hotter than ever. In Chile, Perù, Panama, and Uruguay last year at least four out the top 15 shows in all categories were Turkish, while not a single one was American.

Timur Savci, head of shingle TIMS, which spearheaded the country’s TV boom with “Magnificent Century,” and other small-screen execs say that the ratings system introduced in Turkey in 2012, using high-consumer TV households as its base, has become a stumbling block. Having that audience segment as reference constrains creativity by favoring repetitive storylines, and long running times, they claim. This in turn is making it “more challenging for Turkish producers to export their content,” Savci says.

“The ratings system doesn’t allow you to make different genres or styles,” says producer Pelin Distas Yasaroglu who shepherded “Phi.” “In our market during the past five years everyone stopped dreaming because of these obstacles.” The exec sees edgier shows made for OTT, and therefore not beholden to free TV ratings, as a potential gamechanger.

“Edgier stories and scripts, and shorter running times, will make them more interesting for Europe and the U.S.,” agrees Eccho Rights managing director Fredrik af Malmborg.

Despite mayhem caused by the July 2016 military coup attempt, early indications are that the TV advertising linked to those ratings “is still growing” says IHS Markit analyst Orpheas Tapanlis, who points out that the plunge in value in the Turkish lira “makes foreign investment in the Turkish media market quite attractive.”

“We saw [the turbulence] as an opportunity,” says Emre Sahin, founding partner of Karga Seven Pictures. Since opening its Istanbul outpost in January, Karga has already secured two commissions. One is a series from Fox toplining one of Turkey’s most internationally bankable stars, Erkan Petekkaya, though other details are being kept under wraps.

Karga Seven also secured rights outside the U.K. for British writer Jason Goodwin’s bestselling mystery books series “The Janissary Tree,” set in 19th century Istanbul. In a first, this Turkish skein will be shot in Turkey in English with a mixed international/Turkish cast.

“A lot of people are wondering if it’s a bubble or just reaching its peak, but I think it’s early days,” he adds.

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