The upcoming year will crown another TV trade show: DISCOP Istanbul, so VideoAge is going to take a brief break from our NATPE coverage (which you can see here, here and here), to explore DISCOP Istanbul. The market —  in which NATPE is a minority shareholder — will take place from February 28 to March 1 at the Intercontinental Ceylan Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey.

And, if DISCOP Istanbul can me considered an emerging market, Turkey has matured into a full-fledged capitalistic country with civil liberties. It’s a far cry from years ago when a Turkish TV executive at MIP-TV threatened VideoAge because it made reference to Istanbul’s historical name, Constantinople.

The third edition of the three-day market brings together representatives from 27 Middle Eastern, North African (MENA) and Eurasian and Central Asian countries.
Those territories are home to half a billion people, nearly 150 million TV households, 15 million pay-TV subscribers and 250 million mobile phone subscribers, according to Basic Lead, DISCOP Istanbul’s organizer.

“Record numbers of households across the Middle East are signing up for pay TV, according to new research from Informa Telecoms & Media,” said Patrick Jucaud, general manager of Basic Lead. “In 2000 there were just over 2.5 million pay-TV subscribers across the MENA region. By the end of last year that total had more than tripled to 9.2 million, and Informa’s research shows it is heading for 9.6 million by the end of 2011 and will pass the 10 million mark next year.

“Services like Al Jazeera Sport are increasingly putting the cost of pay TV within the grasp of the mass market. If you add to that the Arab Spring movement, with one of its aims being to close the income disparity gap, then you have a situation that is increasingly positive for television content business,” he said.

“The appetite for local, regional and international programs has grown over the 12 months,” Jucaud added.

DISCOP has  also chosen to include Central Asia in the market because, according to Jucaud, “Since the first days of DISCOP, we have been observing the growth of the television industry [there]. Bringing this region under the umbrella of DISCOP Istanbul, alongside the Middle East, Northern Africa and other Eurasian countries, allows us to offer participants a comprehensive showcase of this rapidly evolving and expanding business region.

Brand new to this year’s event is the “Spotlight on Central Asia,” a conference and business networking program which is set to take place alongside DISCOP Istanbul.“It will provide insights on local co-production and investment opportunities alongside a presentation of the region’s main content development, production, creative and distribution players, promoting the concept of a new ‘Silk Road,” Jucaud said.

As of this week, 42 sellers (from 29 companies) had already registered for DISCOP Istanbul and 173 buyers from 101 companies were confirmed to attend. According Jucaud, those buyers include free and pay-tv operators, mobile networks, territorial agents and alternative content distribution platforms. “In total we expect 250 physical buyers,” Jucaud said, “a 15 percent increase over last year’s figures.”

Unsurprisingly, the largest contingent of buyers and sellers are from Turkey, with this edition boasting a larger contingent of Turkish companies than ever before.

“In the past couple of years, Turkey has put itself on the map as the world’s fastest-growing drama series exporter,” Jucaud said. “It reflects the fact that while traditional soap operas are shot in studios, Turkish drama series are shot on location on real streets and in real houses and sets.”

And all the the major Turkish networks and pay-TV operators will participate in the event.

After Turkey, the second largest contingent of buyers is from Lebanon, then the United Arab Emirates and Kazakhstan. The second largest contingent of sellers is from the U.S.

“Across other countries covered by DISCOP Istanbul  you see a growth in the number of independent TV formats adaptation rights buyers,” Jucaud said.

Jucaud expects overlap between DISCOP Istanbul and NATPE exhibitors. “We have many TV content suppliers in common between the NATPE and DISCOP organizations, especially South-American companies,” Jucaud said.