« Following its purchase of Star TV last year, Turkey’s Dogus Media Group is focusing on rebuilding the mainstream channel with original and international productions. CEO Cem Aydin spoke to Michael Pickard.
When its plans to add a home-grown mainstream network to its portfolio of thematic channels were stifled by the economic crisis in 2009, Turkey’s Dogus Media Group was forced to put its ambitions on hold.
Its desire to expand remained, however, and the group moved its focus from launching a network to acquiring an existing one. In line with this new strategy, in October 2011, Dogus paid Turkish conglomerate Dogan Media Group US$327m for its entertainment network Star TV.
Dogan originally bought Star for US$306.5m in 2005 after previous owner Uzan Media folded in 2003 with debts of US$6bn. Star joined Dogus’s stable of seven other channels, which run alongside websites, radio stations, magazines and a publishing imprint. The business is part of the wider Dogus Group of 122 companies, operating in sectors as diverse as banking, construction, real estate and energy.
Explaining the Star purchase, Cem Aydin, CEO of Dogus Media Group, says the firm had become a “pioneer” in thematic channels and wanted to try its hand in a “new and more competitive market” – mainstream TV.
“We worked on a project named TV-en for almost two years,” he says. “But unfortunately, due to the financial turmoil, the project was postponed for an indefinite period. In 2011, when new advertising opportunities arose for mainstream channels, this was the right time to take a project from the rack. Turkey’s first private TV channel, Star TV, was on sale and so rather than building a TV channel from scratch we decided to rebuild Star TV.”
Dogus Media Group was founded in 1999 with the acquisition of NTV, Turkey’s first 24-hour news channel, which had launched in 1996. Business and entertainment channel CNBC-e debuted in 2000 while sports net NTV Spor, music channels Kral TV and Kral Pop, Hindi news net HDe and entertainment net e2 completed the line-up until Star was added last year.
Dogus wasn’t the only company affected by the economic crash, as the entire Turkish media industry faced cuts after a period of expansion, but Aydin says the country’s recovery is now gathering pace. “We were affected but the recovery process has been fast,” he says. “We expect the ad market to grow by 20.4% in 2012 and bring fresh blood to the media industry in general. We aim to increase our ad share in the market until 2013 and keep it around 11.2% afterwards. Obviously, TV still occupies the largest portion of ad share and the acquisition of Star TV has enabled us to double our market share projections for the next three years.”
Advertising sales have also been impacted by the collapse of the Turkish ratings system, which was abandoned last year amid allegations the personal details of some panelists were leaked, which potentially left them open to bribes to change their viewing habits.
A new ratings system will launch in May, but Aydin says: “We’re in limbo right now. This is not good for the sector. Advertisers need measured metrics; they want to see who they reach. And the ad price is also determined through ratings of the time slot. We broadcasters need the metrics to see how our shows are doing and also to talk to the advertisers.”
Despite some signs of economic growth, Dogus does not intend to venture back into acquisitions, as Aydin says picking up new networks is “not a priority for us right now. Improving Star TV, according to our goals and vision, ranks higher on our agenda and we need to concentrate on this objective,” he says.
In terms of content, Dogus’s networks have found success with both home-grown and imported shows. On CNBC-e, worldwide hits including the BBC’s Merlin and Doctor Who, US network CBS’s comedy How I Met Your Mother, Starz original series Spartacus: Blood & Sand and HBO’s Game of Thrones have won strong audiences, while NTV’s documentary hour on Sundays and local news show Close Up are also popular.
Meanwhile, e2 has a slate of international productions including HBO’s Treme and BBC comedy Come Fly With Me, as well as US talkshows such as The Ellen Show, The Conan O’Brien Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
At Star, Ottoman Empire drama Magnificent Century (Muhtesem Yuzyil), made by TIMS Productions, was acquired from rival Show TV, in part to highlight the takeover completed by Dogus, and viewers have followed. “We obviously treated this transfer as a launch tool to attract attention to the change taking place at Star,” says Aydin. “It is doing very well since the story is quite appealing and tragic and it has a loyal audience. But Star will create its own productions soon enough.
“For the past three or four years, historical series have been on the rise, occupying a serious position in the entertainment world and attracting significant attention to certain periods of history. We believe this trend will continue for a few more years as there is quite a lot of historical material that can be used.”
Other popular shows airing on Star include Iffet, a drama about a woman who is betrayed by her lover; and One Man, One Woman (Bir Erkek, Bir Kadin), the Turkish adaptation of Canadian comedy series Un Gars, Une Fille.
Gameshows are also finding viewers and Star airs a version of Israeli format Still Standing, under the title Eyvah Dusuyorum, which is produced by Endemol Turkey. The channel is also prepping a Turkish version of US classic Jeopardy!. “In terms of primetime series, locally originated productions have been dominant until recently,” says Aydin.
One notable exception to this is Kanal D’s remake of long-running US drama Desperate Housewives, which is running as Umutsuz Ev Kadinlari, produced by Medyapim.
“We are always looking to acquire successful international content,” says Aydin. “Adapting scripts is a rising trend but it is quite difficult to find stories that fit the local culture. Producing original dramas will still be the priority of the sector.”
The number of programmes exported from Turkey is also on the rise, as shown by Magnificent Century’s roll-out into more than 40 territories worldwide by distributor Global Agency. “Turkish series have become quite popular abroad, especially in the Middle East. It is to such an extent that the popularity of these series has boosted interest in Turkey, creating a new line of tourism. It is an exciting but understandable development, given the proximity of the cultures.
“This growth will continue as long as series dominate the primetime hour. But will this spread to other regions? The answer to this lies in shortening the duration, the variety and the production quality of the projects,” explains Aydin.
“Primetime is dominated by Turkish series that run for three hours, with ad slots. A show that runs for almost three hours every week has the possibility of falling into a vicious circle and, currently, the Turkish television industry is suffering from this fatigue. It is having a negative effect, because in order to fill that time space, the stories become longer than usual and lose their dramatic effect.”
As Dogus has bought into Turkey’s mainstream television market with its acquisition of Star, so too have international broadcasters, which are looking to exploit one of the fastest growing TV markets in the world.
Discovery, National Geographic and Disney all have a presence in the country, and while not directly competing against Dogus’s stable of channels, their presence is a sign of the value of the market to foreign broadcasters.
However, Aydin says this competition is not something local networks have to fear, but is something they should embrace. “NTV has been the pioneer of news channels in Turkey by positioning itself as ‘the news channel of Turkey.’ But recently we have had international companies entering the scene, such as Al Jazeera,” says Aydin. “The existence of such competitors in the market is valuable and beneficial to raise standards. The same is also true for players like TNT and Fox in the entertainment world. Such international companies spice up the course of Turkish media.”
Since officially relaunching Star in January after completing the acquisition, Dogus is now preparing for a “second launch” this fall as the growth of the channel forms the focal point of the media group’s ambitions for the immediate future. Part of this plan is to follow the changing audience landscape in Turkey and, in particular, how younger viewers are taking their viewing habits online.
However, Aydin says traditional TV is still the main medium. “The most significant change in Turkey has been witnessed with the expansion of new media, with the mass penetration of internet into households,” he says. “Nevertheless, television is still the main source of information and entertainment.
“Turkish television is quite up to date with what happens in the international arena. The younger audience, on the other hand, is following TV online and has created its own digital entertainment world. We strive to create content that appeals to these youngsters as their habits will be determining the trends of the next few years.” »