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Turkish TV Goes Global as Local Coin Drops

The sharp devaluation of the Turkish lira on foreign currency markets amid tensions between populist Presidents Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan is prompting Turkey’s TV industry to increasingly turn toward the global marketplace, where it is second only to the U.S. in terms of scripted content exports.

Exports are clearly becoming more important as producers in some cases get almost twice as much money from international, just as local linear broadcasters are cutting their budgets due to a drop in advertising intake.

Inflation is high in the country, and the Turkish lira has lost roughly 40% of its value against the U.S. dollar 40% year over year.

“The economic downturn is prompting a push toward partnerships and co-productions, but also toward making Turkish stories more international by making more shows that can play on global streaming giants,” says Ates Ince, managing director of new sales company Madd, a partnership between two of Turkey’s leading producers, Medyapim (“Mother”) and Ay Yapim (“Fatmagul”).

This is a clear indication that local players are rethinking their strategies not just to distribute their shows but “to get closer to our global business partners,” he says.

At Mipcom, Madd will discuss “new opportunities with some of the big players.”

Ince is a former top exec at Dogus Media Group, where he headed the digital division that launched local streamer PuhuTV and its hit series “Phi.”

Meanwhile, in Turkey’s free TV world, which still accounts for the bulk of the country’s drama viewers and of Turkish product seen worldwide, broadcasters are unsurprisingly “cutting their budgets because advertising revenues are going down,” says Inter Medya COO Ahmet Ziyalar. He notes that producers, in turn, are cutting their budgets, which “will affect the quality of product.”

However, some Turkish producers are now willing to risk losing some money in their sales to local broadcasters and, instead of cutting budgets, are looking to recoup that loss from international sales. Turkish broadcasters and producers are sharing international revenues and asking sales companies to start sharing the risk by providing a minimum guarantee up front, “which wasn’t the case six months ago,” he notes.

“Devaluation can make production cheaper,” says Fredrik af Malmborg, chief of Sweden-headquartered seller Eccho Rights, which represents roughly 20 hours of drama in production in Turkey. But if the lira continues to drop, “the risk will become hard to handle,” he says. An unstable economy is not good for anyone and can affect production quality, Af Malmborg notes.

Eccho, which continues to sell a lot of Turkish shows to Latin America, has more recently made major inroads in Spain, where revenge crime drama “Ezel” recently premiered strongly on terrestrial channel Nova following the smashing results earlier this year on Nova of Turkey’s juggernaut soap “Fatmagul.”

“Spain has finally embraced Turkish drama, and I think we will continue to see that,” Af Malmborg says.

As for exports elsewhere, the Eccho Rights chief points out that while Saudi-owned Middle East broadcaster MBC’s unexpected ban on Turkish dramas, announced in March, has impacted his business, this year he’s closed a three-series deal with Qatar-based pay-TV beIN and is working with its rival OSN as well as Dubai TV. The ban is said to be due to political tensions between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but is prompting MBC to make more Arabic originals and kickstart a TV industry in Saudi.

Ironically, Turkey’s MBC-owned 03 Medya production company produced Netflix’s lavish first Turkish original “The Protector,” toplining megastar Çagatay Ulusoy (“Medcezir”) as Hakan, which is expected to bow in October.

According to MADD chief Ince, global OTT players and digital streamers are reshaping shaping the TV industry in Turkey. He points to the launch of local streamers PuhuTV and BluTV and the rise of what he calls the “Turkish Super Series,” modern 60-minute edgy premium titles such as “Persona,” “Phi,” “Innocent” and “Outlivers” that are experimenting with different forms of storytelling, freed from the constraints of the country’s increasingly stringent censorship limitations on free TV.

“On digital you are free to produce all kinds of stories,” he says.

However Turkey’s economic crisis is stunting streamers and linear TV seems set to remain central to the industry.

Af Malmborg cautions that while “there is potential to make Turkish dramas for SVODs around the world, we haven’t seen too many examples of that yet.” Time will tell.

The more immediate impact of the economic crisis is likely to be a reduction in the country’s content output, which almost doubled in the past five years and is creating “clutter,” according to Ince, who notes that seven free-to-air Turkish channels are airing at least 40 shows each week.

“This surplus is creating high programming costs and low [or even no] profit for the local TV channels,” he says.

So regardless of the current economic fluctuation, he continues, the Turkish TV drama industry is set to “get leaner, more focused and selective in order to survive in the long run.”

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