As Turkey’s TV industry reels from the shock of the country’s sharp currency devaluation, Netflix is starting to establish its footprint and get traction in a market that remains among the world’s top five exporters of serial dramas.
“The roughly 40% tumble of the Turkish lira amid tensions between populist presidents Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan has caused interest rates to skyrocket and linear broadcasters’ advertising revenues to shrink,” says Ahmet Ziyalar, COO of prominent sales company Inter Medya. “As a result, due to budgeting problems, the number of successful dramas [on linear TV] decreased dramatically this season.”
Ziyalar calls 2019 an experimental year for the Turkish industry. “Digital platforms have been trying things that were long in-the-waiting,” both thematically and in terms of shorter episode lengths, since Turkish dramas on linear TV run between 120 and 150 minutes, excluding ads, he notes. That’s an “old-fashioned” format that could be on its way out, he says.
Netflix in December dropped its first Turkish original, the lavish supernatural drama “The Protector.” Series toplines megastar Çagatay Ulusoy as a young antiques dealer, Hakan Demir, who discovers he hails from an ancient line of superheroes and must protect present-day Istanbul from evil forces. The show — 10 episodes ranging in length between 33 and 45 minutes each — is produced by 03 Media and went out in 190 countries. It was viewed in more than 10 million households during the first four weeks, according to Netflix, which is dropping season two of “The Protector” globally on April 26.
In late March, Netflix announced its second Turkish original, “The Gift,” starring Beren Saat, best-known for playing the lead in female empowerment drama “Fatmagul,” which was a global hit.
In “Gift,” Saat plays a young Istanbul artist named Atiye whose life changes when she meets an archaeologist and secrets from her past hidden at an ancient temple called Gobekli Tepe are revealed. As with “Protector,” it features a big Turkish star in a drama with supernatural elements set in modern Turkey, but it’s also steeped in the country’s cultural and historical heritage.
Meanwhile, there is lots of insecurity in Turkey’s still overwhelmingly dominant linear TV world. “Everyone is quite worried, and there is a lack of short-term capital,” says Fredrik af Malmborg, chief of Stockholm-based rights-seller Eccho Rights, which was recently acquired by South Korean entertainment powerhouse CJ E&M.
At MipTV, Eccho will launch two Turkish shows, romancer “The Promise” and family melodrama “Wounded Birds.”
Af Malmborg says, predictably, the pressure on budgets “is not good for quality.” The combination of slightly lower production values and jittery local broadcasters, who can’t afford to wait for a show to gain momentum if it doesn’t bow with a stellar start, has led to a slew of skeins being pulled after a few episodes recently on Turkish broadcasters such as Kanal D, Show TV, and on Fox Turkey, which cancelled anticipated series “Vurgun” that toplined the star of Turkey’s top 2016 TV export “Broken Pieces,” Erkan Petekkaya.
“Producers are now trying to come up with stronger stories instead of being overly reliant on star-driven casts,” notes Ziyalar.
At MipTV, his Inter Medya will perform its full-fledged international launch of 1970s-set dark romancer “Bitter Lands,” which has been reaping strong ratings on Turkish broadcaster ATV and is produced by Tims&B Prods., the powerhouse behind global TV hit “Magnificent Century.”
But there’s agreement that though new formats for streaming platforms are emerging, “international buyers still want long-running Turkish dramas,” says Izzet Pinto, chief of sales company Global Agency. He notes that all the drama producers and TV channels are much more dependent on international sales, “which puts a lot of pressure on distributors” who have been venturing into other types of content.
Besides a new skein called “Sisters,” which has been the Saturday night ratings winner on Star TV in Turkey, Global Agency will bring several formats to Cannes, such as “The Legend,” created by Pinto, who calls it the new “The Voice” and “The Remix,” another music competition show that Global TV developed. An Indian version of “The Remix” launched on Amazon Prime Video last year across 200 territories and the show has since scored another adaptation on South Africa’s SABC1 and is optioned for sales in the U.S. by Craig Piligian’s Pilgrim Studios.