Turkish Airlines now has chefs onboard and Turkish airwaves are basking in newfound ratings gold. While many international TV territories cry poverty, Turkey is showing its prosperity, and MIPCOM’s Country of Honor status can be seen as evidence.
A country with a dual currency system, Turkey is at ease with both the euro and the local lira, reflecting its geographical position between Europe and Asia.
Two million euro have been spent by two Turkish ministries (Culture and Economy) through the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ITO) to stage the honor in Cannes. This is in addition to what individual Turkish companies spent to provide market bags, hostess T-shirts, luncheons, parties and red carpet events for about 15 stars of their TV series.
But the Turks have gone further than previous MIPCOM Country of Honor honorees such as Argentina and Mexico: they formed a committee of 13 TV companies comprised of broadcasters, producers and content distributors, plus academics and representatives from the ITO, who piloted the Country of Honor events in order to assure immediate and long-lasting effects and help Turkey solidify its status as the bold newcomer among large TV content exporters such as the U.S., Canada, U.K., Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil.
Curiously missing from the ITO’s Country of Honor committee was Saran Media, a powerful Turkish media company founded in 1995 by American-born Steven Sadettin Saran, and run by his brother Alan Kenan Saran. The reason given is that Saran Media is mainly involved with importing content into Turkey and not in the export of Turkish TV product. Indeed, Saran is the Turkish distributor for Warner Bros. and they hold the rights of some major international sporting events for Turkey.
It is estimated that in 2015, considering all the territories covered, Turkish distributors sold 135,000 cumulative TV drama hours to 75 countries, generating some U.S. $300 million.
TRT, the state’s broadcast organization, has committed to sponsoring the October 5 opening party ceremony to the tune of an estimated 125,000 euro. Early in the day, commercial network ATV will sponsor the welcoming luncheon at the Carlton Hotel, and on Tuesday night, international distributor ITV Inter Medya will be hosting the second Turkey-themed party.
ITV will also be providing the T-shirts that MIPCOM hostesses will be wearing, while commercial network Kanal D will sponsor the market bags that promise to be of lasting usefulness to all market participants. On the third day, distribution company Global Media will organize what can be considered Turkey’s closing event party. (Global Agency’s Izzet Pinto was traveling during VideoAge’s Turkish tour, missing the interview for this report).
Companies that are not assigned specific events will contribute by participating at seminars and bringing stars, even though this aspect is going to be tricky since distributors and networks won’t know in advance who will be able to leave their respective productions. Furthermore, Turkey’s TV stars are generally content with their domestic status and most of them don’t seek fame outside their market.
Turkey has had a dynamic TV market since Star Network introduced private television in 1989, 21 years after state broadcaster TRT started nationwide TV transmission. At that time, the market was mainly known for importing foreign TV programs handled by several local distribution companies, such as ITV Inter Medya. Prior to Star, the only international buyer was TRT, which began broadcasting foreign TV series in 1974.
Before the introduction of private television, Turkey was known for its vibrant film industry.In the 1960s it became the world’s fifth largest film producing country, with about 300 films being made per year. It was during this period, in 1967, that the Okan family founded Fono Film, a film post-production facility, which Can Okan, one of the founder’s sons, spinned off as ITV Inter Medya in 1992. His brother Cemal Okan now owns Fono Film.
That period saw the creation of a succession of private TV networks such as Show TV in 1992, Kanal D, ATV, TGRT (now FOX), in 1993 and the latecomer Kanal 7 in 1994.
Today, there are 678 TV channels that broadcast locally, regionally and nationally: 25 nationally, 16 regionally, 205 locally, and 432 by subscription. It is estimated that by the end of 2015, the domestic TV advertising market will reach over $1 billion.
However, it took an additional eight years before the first Turkish TV series, Deli Yürek (Wild Heart), produced for Show TV, could be sold internationally by Calinos Entertainment. Their first sale was to Kazakhstan in 2001, followed by Egypt, then Pakistan, Russia and the Balkans.
Calinos was founded in Los Angeles in 1997 by current owner, Firat Gulgen as a domestic TV distributor of U.S. films in Turkey, but two years later moved its headquarters to Istanbul. Firat’s father, Melih, produced and directed 14 Turkish theatrical movies, including the popular Tatar Ramazan.
The business models for the distribution of Turkish TV series have three variations: In the first case, distribution fees, varying from 10 to 15 percent, come from the producer’s end. In the second version, the distributor’s cut is equally shared between the broadcaster and the producer. In the third scenario, when TRT distributes internationally, the revenue sharing is 50-50, without distribution fees.
However, distributors do not charge marketing and other distribution costs to the producers, even though this model will soon change, with producers absorbing some of the marketing costs.
In the early years, producers kept all rights, while the commissioning channel paid only 50 percent of production costs and distributors filled the financial gap by giving minimum guarantees. After 2009, when Turkish series became very popular internationally, the networks paid 100 percent of production costs, kept all the rights, and shared 50 percent of foreign revenues with the producer. In a few cases, the producers keep the digital rights if they’re planning online services (mostly on YouTube).
Nowadays, given the increased international revenues, some broadcasters, such as ATV, are seeking to return to the old system of absorbing only 50 percent of the production costs, but still looking to keep all rights. However, if the commissioning network doesn’t have its own distribution division or the producer is powerful, the producer can decide whom to give the international distribution rights to.
Among the TV networks, only Kanal D, ATV and TRT boast their own international distribution divisions. Nonetheless, the competition to secure the international distribution rights of more than 100 new series produced each year has heated up and, in the process, is changing the dynamics of the business model, which until now has proven successful for all sides.
Today in Turkey there are eight main FTA TV networks (Kanal D, ATV, Show TV, Star TV FOX TV, STV Kanal 7 and TRT1), six of which commission the most series (Kanal D, ATV, Show TV, Star TV, FOX TV and TRT).
With 38 series each, ATV and Kanal D are the networks that commissioned the largest number of series between 2010-2014. During the same period, a total of 175 series were produced for the leading six networks.
Even though the market boasts 85 production companies, only five produce five or more series a year, while 22 reach up to four per year. For example, ATV works with six producers.
Among the broadcasters, only Kanal D and TRT have a production unit. However, TRT’s deputy head of TV department Mehmet Demirhan explained, “very little production is done in-house, even by those networks that have their own production centers. It’s not a government mandate, but simply because creativity can be better found outside.”
With the new TV ratings system in place since 2014 (slanted towards rural audiences), producers are taking more risks. Over 75 series were canceled last season due to low ratings.
As pointed out in VideoAge’s February 2015 Issue, with the new ratings system, the threshold to kill a series has been lowered from nine points to about four. The risk of having a series canceled after fewer than the first order of 13 episodes is serious, especially after producers make initial investments that could reach the equivalent of U.S.$4 million per series.
For example, ATV begins each season with 10 new series on the air and usually ends up with only two or three. For TRT, out of seven series on the air each week, four to six are new.
Usually, a second order runs for 26 episodes while a full season is 39 episodes of 110 minutes each (the typical length of each episode). Turkish telenovelas were introduced in 1974 and range from 52 to 78 one-hour episodes (for export).
In addition, demand for better wages from “below-the-line” workers is increasing production costs, which now range from U.S. $50,000 to $190,000 per one-hour episode, but, as indicated by TRT’s Demirhan, they could reach $250,000 to $500,000 per each traditional 110 minute episode (each episode is then re-edited for export as two one-hour episodes).
Each weekly drama series can be canceled after its fourth episode, but usually the networks give producers a chance to tweak it by changing scripts and characters. In the case of TRT, however, low ratings don’t necessarily mean cancellation, if the series show good “social values.”
At times, however, the international market can come to a production’s rescue, when a series is cancelled because of the low rating by the commissioning channel, but is successful overseas. This is the case with Kurt Seyid ve Sura, a series produced for Star TV and distributed internationally by Eccho Rights, a Swedish company with offices in Istanbul.
Once a series runs it course, it could have a second run on another channel of the same group, but it’s rarely syndicated domestically.

Audio Version (a DV Works service)

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