“Turkey’s expanding TV business is attracting plenty of international attention thanks to the strength of its drama programming and advertising market. Andrew McDonald reports, as Discop Istanbul gets into gear.
Turkey’s TV content market has evolved dramatically in the past decade and a half. Once home to a high number of foreign imports, including Latin American telenovelas, Turkey has since developed a rich drama industry of its own that now accounts for the bulk of the main terrestrial broadcasters’ primetime output.
Though international unscripted formats such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and Pop Idol have found homes in Turkish schedules, it is big-budget, weekly home-grown dramas that are demanding the most investment and winning the biggest ratings.
They are also gaining the attention of schedulers outside the country, thanks to their high production values. Turkish content is already notching up sales in Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Middle East and parts of Asia, and is even starting to find audiences further afield.
“Turkey is not a great market for formats,” admits Izzet Pinto, founder and president of Turkish distribution house Global Agency. “Formats were doing very well, but now most are being commissioned for just one season and the reason is that in primetime people prefer to watch drama series. Therefore, local scripted productions dominate.”
Ziyad Varol, deputy content sales manager at ATV, one of Turkey’s biggest broadcasters, agrees. “In terms of primetime slots, drama is definitely the number one content type. If you look at ATV’s programmes you’ll see that in seven days you will definitely have scripted TV series on five or six days, mainly dramas but also sitcoms,” he says. The channel’s scheduling is done with a close eye on what rival broadcasters are doing on any given day – particularly Turkey’s number one terrestrial network Kanal D, he adds.
Even Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, which Varol claims has been “doing really well” for ATV over the past six months, only finds a home in the ‘primetime-3’ slot of 23.00. Earlier primetime-1 and primetime-2 slots – 20.00-22.00 and 22.00-23.00 respectively – are given over to scripted content. Is there much room for unscripted formats in Turkey?
“Gameshows and other entertainment shows get limited space on Turkish TV, so we can’t say the situation is better at the moment; it has always been like that,” says Idil Belli, general manager of Sera Films. The Turkish distributor sells format rights to Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and Dragons’ Den in the country, thanks to a local distribution pact with Sony Pictures Television.
While Millionaire has found a home on ATV, Dragons’ Den airs on Bloomberg HT, a niche Turkish news channel created in 2010 thanks to a deal between local station Kanal1 and Bloomberg. Though the network airs another Sera-distributed gameshow, called Think, in an evening slot, Bloomberg HT head of acquisitions Aylin Amber admits these shows cannot challenge Turkey’s mainstream drama output.
“Even though it’s the minority of the audience, there are a lot of people who prefer to watch a gameshow instead of watching a local series, so it’s a perfect alternative. But we definitely can’t compete with them, because from the time we were measured, I know that 80% or 90% of the audience is watching local series,” she says.
Ansi Elgoz, MD of Endemol Turkey, also concedes that “broadcasters have very limited space for non-scripted formats.” Endemol Turkey was set up in 2008 to produce local versions of formats such as Total Wipeout, Fear Factor, The Money Drop and Deal or No Deal, and though Endemol does also deal internationally in drama output, even imported scripted formats have a hard time competing with home-grown shows, Elgoz says.
“At the moment, there are about 65 to 70 drama series this season on air in the Turkish TV landscape – a huge number. Of these, only one is adapted: Desperate Housewives. All the other scripted concepts are locally developed, so if you look at the ratio, adaptations in Turkey are always more difficult,” she says.
Though Turkey is not a closed shop when it comes to overseas drama, the popularity of home-sourced stories is clear. Kerim Emrah Turna, international sales and acquisitions specialist at Kanal D, says his channel’s version of Desperate Housewives is doing well in its Sunday 20.00 slot. However, the channel’s big project for this year is a locally developed drama called Kuzey Guney (North & South), which airs in the equivalent Wednesday night slot.
Elsewhere, Endemol Turkey partnered with Argentinian network Telefe to adapt primetime daily telenovela The Successful Mr & Mrs Pells as a weekly drama for the Kanal D. Yet despite other adaptations of the format in Poland and Chile, the show, called Mükemmel Çift (Perfect Couple) in Turkey, didn’t make it past one season. Similarly, ATV’s remake of Chilean network TVN’s popular telenovela Donde Esta Elisa? ended last year after one 26-episode run.
It is yet to be seen how well Fox TV’s new scripted sitcom Young Enough will do. The Turkish channel, which was rebranded from TGRT after News Corp acquired it in 2006, bought the remake rights to the show from Sera Films, which licensed it from Mediaset. In Italy, the show is known as Casa Vianello.
The reason why locally developed projects seem to fare so much better is partly cultural and partly down to the practicalities of making a series for the distinct Turkish market. Global Agency’s Pinto notes that due to Turkish regulations, nudity and sex are not shown, which made the country’s version of Big Brother markedly different from some of the format’s racier European versions, and would effectively rule out an adaptation of popular Western shows like Sex & the City.
In addition, Turkish primetime dramas tend to run to 90 or 100 minutes per episode, while US dramas average out at around 45 minutes, making it difficult to adapt a series without substantial re-writes.
“You take the concept but to make it longer you have to write another episode. Or you have to put two episodes together, which doesn’t make sense, because an episode has its own development, climax point and conclusion. So it’s very difficult to expand a 45-minute concept into a 90-minute drama per week. Instead of trying to adapt it, you might as well re-write it,” says Elagoz.
Turna says the reason why Turkey tends towards longer episodes is to do with regulations that limit ad breaks to 12 minutes in every hour. This is in line with European legislation, which Turkey has adopted voluntarily despite not being a part of the EU. “To get a bigger part of the advertisement pie, channels are demanding 90-minute episodes from the producers in order to have a couple more primetime advertisement slots during the programme,” he says.
By the same logic, you might then expect Turkish dramas to be equally hard to sell abroad due to episode length. Yet this does not seem to be the case. Indeed, ad gains along with rivalry in the Turkish market are helping to drive up production values, which in turn is making Turkish drama more appealing to international buyers.
“Since there’s huge competition between the Turkish broadcasters, they invest more and more in the production quality in order to get a bigger slice of the advertisement market in Turkey. So that’s why the production quality is increasing day-to-day in Turkey. We believe that in the very near future, we will cover nearly all the world with these productions,” says Can Okan, president, CEO and co-founder of Istanbul-based distributor ITV Inter Medya.
Okan claims that in the past couple of years production budgets in Turkey have doubled, with some period dramas costing US$750,000 per episode. Over at Kanal D, Turna agrees: “We are spending incredible amounts of money when we begin the shows. For example, for Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman ki (Time Goes By), just for the first two episodes we spent more than €1m [US$1.3m]. But the market is very competitive.”
Time Goes By is now in its second season and hit a peak 71% share during one airing last year. It’s a key title for Kanal D’s sales division, while Turna says that in many territories, 90-minute Turkish drama episodes are shown in their entirety or stripped as two 45-minute episodes
“In Eastern Europe – for example, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, Slovakia – all of these countries are airing lots of Turkish drama series,” he says, adding that Kanal D drama Gümüs hit an episode peak of 85 million Arab viewers after it was sold to MBC in the Middle East – a record for the region, he says.
Elsewhere, ATV drama Ezel has already been distributed to more than 40 countries and was the most watched programme in Hungary last year, according to Varol. Remake rights to the show have also been sold into a handful of countries, including Belgium, with talks underway with a US broadcaster.
“This proves that Turkish drama is also suitable for other territories,” says Varol. “If you look at the territories where we have mostly sold our titles, they are in the Middle East, the Balkans and, to some extent, Eastern Europe – ex-Soviet countries as well – and we have started to expand our presence to African territories.”
Executives representing ITV Inter Medya, Global Agency and Turkish broadcaster TRT were at Natpe in Miami in January to try to open up sales into Latin America – reversing what was once an established trend in the Turkish market.
“Telenovelas were incredibly popular 10 or 15 years ago. When I was younger our whole family used to watch Latin telenovelas during daytime and also in some primetime slots. At that time we only had one or two Turkish drama series, but for a very long time we haven’t aired any telenovelas on the mainstream Turkish TV channels,” says Turna.
Pinto, who is currently shopping a number of Turkish daytime entertainment formats along with drama series such as Magnificent Century and 1001 Nights, adds that these days the stories being told by Turkish drama series are “absolutely different” from Lat Am novelas.
“There is huge television activity in Turkey,” adds Patrick Jucaud-Zuchowicki, general manager of Basic Lead and the man behind Discop Istanbul, which has its second outing this week. “Over the past three years we’ve seen Turkish drama producers expand their reach beyond the Turkish marketplace. They sell drama series into the Middle East, into Central Asia, the Balkans, even into Latin America, so Turkish content has a strong attraction and that is something that has helped us establish our market.”
The success of Turkish drama is also helping to reshape the domestic market and stimulate competition. After setting up shop in Turkey four years ago, Endemol recently appointed ATV’s former head of drama Hulya Vural to head a new drama division, to create its own locally developed scripted content.
The major broadcasters are also stepping up their in-house production efforts, increasing competition with established Turkish producers like Ay Yapim. At ATV, Varol explains that though the network makes magazine shows and some studio content in-house, it doesn’t have a drama production unit. However, he says it has plans to set up a production arm, probably in the next three to five years.
“We see the potential,” says Varol, claiming that to keep international rights to shows “you need to be very strong or you need to produce the content by yourself.”
Meanwhile, major Western players are also showing interest in the Turkish market, due to its impressive growth and promising forecasts in the TV advertising space – particularly against the backdrop of a wider European downturn and poor returns from many Eastern European markets.
Though the main five Turkish broadcasters, with the exception of Fox, are still owned by Turkish firms, Kanal D reportedly attracted interest from RTL, Time Warner, News Corp and investment group Texas Pacific Group when the network’s parent, Dogan Holding, sought advice on a possible sale in 2010.
The same parties were also recently linked to ATV when it put itself up for sale at the beginning of the year, with the main terrestrial broadcasters a seemingly logical target for Western players hoping to break into this market, due to the concentration of ad revenues among these channels
“Turkish cable and satellite channels have a fundamental structural problem. We see an increasing audience share, but they are not able to monetise it because a lot of them they are fragmented and advertisers have relationships with the big broadcasters and get a fair amount of discounts there,” says IHS’s head of advertising research Daniel Knapp.
However, he believes the rewards that the Turkish market can yield for outside investors are clear. “Recent years have shown that the Turkish TV market is an opportunity too good to miss,” he says. “In 2010, the ad market grew by 40%. For 2011, we project it to grow by 22% in net terms, which is phenomenal. We don’t see this growth anywhere else.
“Whereas all the other markets are going to be fairly static, fairly low growth – in the UK going from €4bn in 2011 to €4.4bn in 2015 – Turkey will go from €1bn to €2bn in the same timeframe, so doubling the size of the TV ad market.” he adds, claiming that Turkey, along with Russia, will be the key European markets to watch over the next few years.”