It seems the only way to try to stop the spread of Turkish TV dramas around the world is to pull them off the airwaves. But even that is not likely to work.
The country’s TV sector continues to expand its global footprint with annual exports now exceeding $350 million, according to the Turkish government, and ambitions to cross the $1 billion mark over the next five years.
The latest major territory magnetized by Turkish skeins is Spain, where female empowerment megahit “Fatmagul” has rapidly become a blockbuster after launching in January. It is paving the way for possible penetration on a scale similar to that in Latin America, where shows from Turkey have ousted local telenovelas from the top slots.
The often female-centric series known in Turkey as “dizi” are also making new inroads in Eastern Europe, Asia and South Africa.
But Turkish dramas hit a snag in the Middle East, where top terrestrial broadcaster MBC in March suddenly yanked all its popular Arabic-dubbed Turkish content off the air. It is a decision widely considered to stem from current tensions between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which is believed to control the Dubai-based network.
“Of course it’s a political decision against our government,” says Izzet Pinto, head of Turkish sales company Global Agency. “I hope they change their minds.”
Ironically, MBC owns 03 Medya, which several years ago set up a subsidiary that has become a prominent producer of Turkish dramas including a high-end period drama for Netflix. It is still unclear whether politics will also impact MBC’s production activity in Turkey.
Meanwhile, Fredrik af Malmborg, chief of Sweden-headquartered seller Eccho Rights, which represents roughly 20 hours of Turkish drama airing weekly around the world, says “there will be 10 Turkish series on air in Spain in the coming year” now that “Fatmagul” has broken global ratings records on Spanish channel Nova doubling the cable outlet’s average share.
Principal photography started in March on Netflix’s first Turkish original, an Ottoman-era fantasy that will be a mix of history, action tropes and supernatural elements. The untitled 10-episode show produced by 03 Medya toplines local A-lister Cagatay Ulusoy — who starred in “Medcezir,” the Turkish remake of “The O.C.” — as a young man who discovers he has superpowers and must defend Istanbul from dark forces.
Edgier Turkish dramas made for OTT and SVOD play are considered key to unlocking new markets and taking the Turkish tube phenomenon to the next level. But that hasn’t happened yet, partly because Turkey’s OTT originals have been hit or miss on local platforms such as Blu TV and Puhu. The notable exception is Puhu’s massive hit “Phi,” about a celebrity psychiatrist who is a compulsive womanizer. It has scored massive ratings and is now the first Turkish series to launch in South Korea.
“‘Phi’ has been super successful and given everyone good motivation to create new made-for-OTT hits, but there have been lots of flops as well,” Pinto says.
Also, with the exception of Netflix, which has already purchased robust packages of dizi content, streaming platforms haven’t really bought Turkish dramas yet.
Instead, Amazon Prime Video in March launched its first unscripted original, “The Remix,” an Indian live music reality show, across 200 countries after buying the format from Pinto’s Global Agency, which is spearheading Turkey’s increasingly successful foray into the global formats market.
The Amazon adaptation of “The Remix,” in which 10 teams comprising a DJ and a singer remix existing songs into brand-new cover versions and compete for big money and their chance to cut an album, is now among the biggest-budget Indian reality shows ever after produced, thanks to Global Agency, which picked up the format in Cannes seven years ago and developed the pilot.
Turkey is still a minor player in the formats field, but it is gaining traction. Global Agency’s “Shopping Queen” has been airing in France and Germany, which are the top TV markets in Europe, for the past six years.
Inter Medya, the prominent Turkish drama distributor whose “Endless Love” recently became the country’s first show to win an International Emmy, has also branched out into formats with dating reality series “The Perfect Couple” and quiz show “Money Monster.”
“Turkish formats at the moment are a baby,” says Inter Medya COO Ahmet Ziyalar. “We know they will take take time to become successful in the international market, but we are trying very hard to build up a new line of business.”
Turkey is also proving particularly savvy at tweaking Western talent show formats. Acun Medya, the company founded by popular Turkish TV-personality-media-mogul Acun Ilicali, has turned “Survivor” into an incredible hit in Greece where it has reached a 70% daily audience share.
Acun Medya is also reaping stellar results in Brazil, Mexico and Romania with its sports reality format “Exathlon.”
Dramas, of course, make up the bulk of Turkish TV exports, which are second in the world in terms of sales only to the U.S., and are constantly being churned out.
Standout linear TV skeins that will launch at MIP include “The Pit,” set in one of Istanbul’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Sold by Inter Medya, it is currently a local hit on Show TV. Another series to watch is “Sultan of My Heart,” a period drama co-produced by Turkey and Russia’s Channel 1. It does not yet have a Turkish broadcaster attached but is being hailed as marking a new era in cultural relations between the two countries and is sold by Global Agency. Also creating buzz is glossy new drama “Stiletto Vendetta,” a feamle-driven vengeance drama that’s a hit on Star TV.
Paradoxically, “The Pit” was launched by Inter Medya into the Middle East at the recent Discop mart in Dubai just as MBC yanked its Turkish dramas off the air. But even if MBC does not backpedal, the move is not expected to significantly reduce the Turkish TV footprint in the Arab world.
Qatar-based pay-TV operator beIN Media Group last December inked a package deal with Eccho Rights for exclusive rights to three top Turkish dramas, including “Heart of the City,” which was one of the country’s top-rated shows in 2017.
Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper recently quoted Istanbul Chamber of Commerce chairman Ozturk Oran as saying that if MBC insists on the ban, Turkey will turn it into an opportunity by creating a richer variety of Internet channels “to reach viewers in these countries.”