Though linear TV still reps 80% of local consumption, Turkish originals made for OTT and SVOD play are widely considered key to unlocking new markets and taking the Turkish tube phenomenon to the next level.
Just as importantly, these shows employ more compressed storylines and a greater edge. They are seen as the conduit to break out from a free TV ratings system put in place in 2012, in line with the country’s conservative political climate. According to some biz insiders, the system has forced writers and producers to water down quality. This, in turn, has made it more difficult to create premium content.
“Screenwriters are much more motivated to write for streaming platforms,” says Arzu Ozturkmen, a performing arts professor with close ties to the Turkish TV community. “They see more flexibility and more margins for different themes and different narrative structures.”
Ozge Bulut Marasli, who heads production at Dogan, which is Turkey’s largest media group, calls local OTT originals “the beginning of a new era for Turkish content.”
But it is early days. Dogan operates the BluTV platform, which, in January, aired “Innocent,” the country’s first streaming series, a 45-minute crime show that has clicked locally.
A key difference is that a prime time series on Turkey’s free-to-air channels has to be hours long, whereas OTT shows can be either 45 or 70 minutes, Marasli points out. Also, “characters can be more real,” she notes, because “they use the language they use in real life, since there is less censorship.” And, while the bulk of Turkish shows are melodramas, “we can now try thrillers, horror, and sci-fi,” Marasli notes.
Freedom from the country’s creatively constricting linear TV ratings system is so welcome that actors and creatives are keen to be involved, even though the budgets are not as high. Also, unlike free TV shows, the number of episodes and production schedule for streaming platforms is locked in advance. Making a show for linear broadcasters instead means writing it as it’s being produced, with the risk that it could be cancelled, which by one estimate, happens almost 50% of the time.
“Turkish drama totally suits a global OTT environment,” says Prentiss Fraser, exec VP and managing director at Fox Networks Group Content Distribution.
So far Turkey’s standout OTT show is “Phi,” about a celebrity psychiatrist that has scored massive ratings on Dogus Media Group’s Puhu TV and will soon become South Korean TV’s first Turkish drama thanks to a deal struck by sales company Eccho Rights.
Netflix launched in Turkey in 2016, and initially got very little traction until this year, when it localized the service. It announced its first Turkish original, a yet-to-be-titled Ottoman era show with a supernatural twist, toplining megastar Cagatay Ulusoy. The Netflix show is set to debut in 2018.
Due to the localization, “we expect a much higher growth rate for Netflix and expect it to surpass 1 million subscribers in 2020,” says IHS Markit analyst Constantinos Papavassilopoulos, who notes that Netflix so far has decided to localize its service only in Turkey, India, Poland and Israel.
The IHS Markit analyst sees Netflix’s decision to localize as being based primarily not on the size of the market (India and Turkey have big local markets, but Israel does not) but “on the export potential of the local content production industry,” he says. In other words, Netflix is looking to exploit Turkish content internationally.
Fredrik af Malmborg, managing director of Eccho Rights, which sold some 400 hours of Turkish TV drama content made for linear TV to Netflix to fuel its Turkish rollout, says the shift in format to shorter series made for OTT does not sit well with the majority of global buyers who want the longer-running Turkish series.
“You can’t really sell anything to Latin America without having 100 episodes available,” he says. “Whereas your typical Turkish OTT original is 10 episodes.”
However, Eccho Rights intends to use such shows as “Phi” to build a segment of client that includes OTT platforms around the world. “This differentiation is an opportunity to open up new inroads, especially in the Western markets,” says Marasli. “It’s quite exciting.”