Following this week’s Discop Istanbul event, TBI speaks to Turkey’s main distribution companies about how changes in the domestic market are impacting their business, how they are dealing with the challenge of selling into the Middle East and how Turkish drama is becoming hot property in Latin America.
A country of 20 million TV homes, Turkey has an established domestic broadcasting and pay TV sector and has forged a reputation as a prolific drama producer.
However, as scripted sales to MENA have fallen away because of political instability and emerging local competition in the region, the country’s distributors are looking to new markets. Universally, they cite Latin America as a key growth region and each also talks of breaking into the hard-to-crack territories in western Europe and into the US.
A new ratings regime that saw TNS take over from Nielsen has also created disruption, with broadcasters still attempting to work out what rates well with the new panel and cancellations coming in as they fine-tune their line-ups. This has led to the creation of some shorter series, although still with the 90-minute episodes the Turkish audience prefers (and which work as two commercial hours in many international markets) such as 13-part Kanal D drama Matter of Respect, which is now hitting the international market.
The bulk of Turkish dramas, however, still run to a large number of episodes, and with their epic feel and stories of love won and lost, are not dissimilar to the traditional Latin telenovela. It should not come as a surprise then that Turkish fiction is starting to make waves in Latin America.
“2015 will be the year for Turkish dramas in Latin America,” says Can Okan, president and CEO of indie distributor ITV Inter Medya.
Kanal D international sales executive Kerim Emrah Turner says Latin America has become a key region for his company. “Two years ago we would have said it was a ‘target region’ and now it has turned into a core market for us. The next big Latin markets will be Argentina, Brazil – where we have just done our second deal – and US Hispanic.” To that point, Kanal D has just completed its first US Hispanic deal, selling Fatmagul, Kuzey Guney and Secrets to Telemundo.
Public broadcaster TRT also has a fully-fledged sales operation, as does ATV.
Global Agency has, in a short period of time, established itself as a serious independent international player (and party organiser, as Discop attendees will attest). The other indie of note is ITV Inter Medya. It scored a coup at the end of 2014 when it picked up rights (shared with TRT) to three dramas from public broadcaster TRT: 13th Century Ottoman Empire epic Resurrection (pictured), weekly family drama Tree of Life and period police drama Filinta, directed by Kudret Sabanci (1001 Nights), and which the company hopes will open doors with buyers in western Europe.
TRT’s deputy head of TV, acquisitions, sales and coproductions, Mehmet Demirhan, says that while it will not seek out third-party content for its catalogue, it is happy to work with other Turkish distributors. “We’d like to benefit from the synergy of independent Turkish sales agents like ITV or Global Agency,” he says. “We believe that we should have more international sales agents like them. It shows the power of Turkish market.”
TRT, which also sells its dramas internationally, gave its business an overhaul last year. “In 2014 we took time to restructure and design our new strategy,” says Demirhan. Its key titles are dramas Dirili and the aforementioned Filinta. It has also begun investing in miniseries, which Demirhan says is a key growth area.
“We think that it is an important genre, and we believe that with high production quality and new stories that have never been told before, miniseries will enhance the global demand for Turkish content,” he says.
Other dramas recently added to the ITV Inter Medya line-up, meanwhile, include Ay Yapim’s Black Money Love, which it hopes will work as a scripted format, and In Between, the 126-part TV adaptation of Fatih Harbiye’s romantic novel. Ahead of Discop Istanbul it also inked a represenation deal with Pana Film, the Turkish prodco that makes long-running political thriller Valley of the Wolves.
ITV Inter Medya’s Okan acknowledges sales have been tough for distributors in the Middle East and says his company is now focusing on individual territories over pan-regional deals. “Since some major Middle Eastern broadcasters that acquire distribution rights to our shows stopped buying Turkish content, we have created a new business model and started doing distribution on a territory-by-territory basis,” he says. “Our key accounts in the MENA region are pay TV operators and free-to-air broadcasters in Egypt, the Gulf region, Lebanon, Algeria and Morocco.”
Kanal D’s Kerim Emrah Turner also acknowledges the difficulties, but underlines the importance of the Middle Eastern countries. “It is a tough and a hard market, but these are our neighboring countries and we have a shared history and relations. From that perspective, the Arab-speaking markets will remain important.”
The problems with selling into the Middle East and North Africa need to be seen in context, with Lat Am and elsewhere picking up some of the slack, says TRT’s Demirhan. “Yes, MENA countries are quite important, but we should not forget that Turkey is the second biggest drama producer and exporter [in the world] after the US.
“The Latin American market is welcoming Turkish content and exploiting the benefits of programming our content. Latin America is the new territory. We have a sales agent for the region, and in a short time we are getting substantial returns and feedback.”
ATV Distribution, the sales arm of free-to-air broadcaster ATV, reported its first deals in Lat Am last year, and with the sale of Sıla to Romania’s Pro TV also ushered Turkish drama into the free-to-air broadcaster’s primetime for the first time.
“Political changes have affected the [Middle Eastern] market and the industry has seen sudden declines,” says ATV Distribution’s head of sales Ziyad Varol, adding that deals are still being made but “there is a clear change of environment when compared with bright days for the market.”
For ATV, the Lat Am expansion started with sales in Chile, and Varol says: “The US Hispanic market is also trending for our ready-mades, and script rights are on the rise for English speaking US market.”
ATV, part of the Turkuvaz Media group, is about to debut a trio of new dramas – Overturn, Stolen Life and Price of Love – and ATV Distribution will bring the female-skewed series to market as finished series and, potentially, formats. Looking at the year ahead, Varol says a key target is increasing the proportion of revenues the division contributes to the group. “ATV Distribution makes 15-20% of ATV’s total revenue and in 2015 we’d like to increase that up to 30%,” he says.
Turkish distributors’ US ambitions received a boost earlier this year when US prodco Intrigue, Carol Mendelsohn Productions, Sony and Timur Savci of TIMS Productions agreed to join forces to pilot of Game of Silence, based upon Turkish thriller series Suskunlar, which is distributed by Global Agency.
For ITV’s Can Okan (left), the next challenge “is the difficult and in some sense conservative markets like the US, and European countries like France, Germany and UK”. With Turkey the country of honour at MIPTV, its distributors will look to make good on the talk while centre stage in Cannes.
Turkey presents international distributors with a challenge. Historically, its pay TV buyers have been good customers for drama and free-TV has been more inclined to take local versions of international formats. However, a move towards local content, a new ratings system that has caused confusion, and a weak local currency all mean reduced budgets for international acquisitions.
The large number of episodes local viewers are accustomed to and the increasing strength of local drama production have made importing drama increasingly tough, although bought-in scripted still plays in primetime on pay TV. There is also an established scripted formats business with local versions of Desperate Housewives, The O.C. and more recently ER.
Despite the obstacles, the main distributors are all doing business. “Licence fees are starting to level out in Turkey as the market has found its price points, thanks to output deals and other long-term agreements,” says Anahita Kheder, senior VP, Middle East, Africa and Southeastern Europe. “As a rough guide, compared to other Eastern European pricing, Turkey buys at the higher end of the spectrum.”
FremantleMedia, which services Turkey from its Dubai office, has sold the finished versions of American Idol, America’s Got Talent and Project Runway to Digiturk and on the formats side, has versions of Got Talent (Yetenek Sizsiniz Turkiye) and Family Feud on air, the latter recently switching from TRT to TV8.
“The Turkish market is extremely competitive, even more so since the launch of a new ratings system,” says Jennifer Ebell, vice president, sales SE EMEA for ITV Studios Global Entertainment.
“The schedules and habits of the free-to-air broadcasters reflect that; primetime is dominated by traditional Turkish drama and the formats market is demanding. Meanwhile, pay TV providers are looking to offer something different to the FTAs in order to attract a fresh audience and that is where foreign content finds its niche.”
ITVSGE’s recent Turkish sales include a drama package to Digiturk, the pay TV platform reportedly bought by Al Jazeera for US$820 million in late 2014, which included Poirot and Murdoch Mysteries. On the formats front, P Productions makes a local version of hit cooking format Come Dine with Me for Kanal D.
On the international drama side, Zodiak Rights has shopped the first three seasons of Braquo and season two of The Returned to pay channel Sinema TV. Elliott Chalkley, the firm’s VP of sales highlights Versailles, Occupied and Tatau as key dramas for the market this year.
“Turkey is a very competitive market where there is a strong preference for local scripted programmes, which can make drama sales challenging,” says Denis Cantin, vice president, head of content sales, A+E Networks.
“However, Turkey is also a receptive market, where buyers are very aware of what is happening in the international TV landscape and acknowledge that the right content has the power to travel.”
A+E, which runs the US A&E, History and Lifetime channels, is ramping up its drama distribution efforts and Cantin reports interest in US cable drama among pay and free TV buyers.
Business and entertainment channel CNBC-E shows BBC Worldwide’s Sherlock and Doctor Who and Worldwide vice president Natasha Hussain says the latter has the fourth-largest social media following in Turkey of anywhere in the world. “Turkish audiences love shows that are creative and inventive with strong storytelling,” she adds.
Worldwide’s format successes include Bake Off, which was recently recommissioned for TV8, which also runs Talpa format The Voice.
A+E’s Cantin concludes: “One of the many exciting aspects of the Turkish market is the willingness of so many of the players to take risks and be innovative. When so much television around the world is starting to look homogenised, this makes Turkey very attractive.”
Founder and CEO Izzet Pinto made his first format sales trip to Cannes in 2006 with just one paper format in hand, Perfect Bride. “It was a big thing to start selling Turkish formats, it was making headlines at home when they started to sell worldwide,” he recalls of the time.
Global’s key formats now include Shopping Monsters (below right), which has now run to over 700 episodes on Kanal D in Turkey, and music talent series Keep Your Light Shining (below), its second original format.
In terms of format creation, the latter was the big breakthrough for Global Agency, which took it to market with a full promo but without a local broadcaster (“it’s not about the local market for us, it’s not a big deal for us to be on air in Turkey,” Pinto says). It has since sold to Brazil’s Globo and Germany’s ProSieben among others.
Its next in-house offering is It’s Showtime, which launched at Discop Istanbul. Global Agency is bullishly predicting the reality-talent show will be in 40 territories within two years. “It focuses on more than just the person’s talent, it’s also about their character and personality,” Pinto says. “It’s very big; it’s very warm.”
The company also has a new singing talent format that was created by Turkish pop star Rafet El Roman, Stairway to Fame. “Our advantage is we are the only format company in Turkey, so if people have a [format] idea they come to us,” says Pinto. “We get pitched a lot but only pick up one or two a year.”
Global Agency also sells third-party shows from beyond Turkey such as Share or Dare from Israel’s United Studios and another show from Israel, Dance With Me, from Studio Glam.
The company’s noisy and highly visible approach to marketing is partly about showing partners how hard they are pushing their content, Pinto adds. “When I created the company it had ‘Global’ in the name because we wanted to be a global brand, so we needed to stand out and be different and find unique ways to promote ourselves. We are very active and aggressive in marketing, which is one reason why indie producers and creators want to work with us. We either do it big or we don’t do it.”
In 2012 Global Agency, along with TIMS (the Turkish prodco behind Magnificent Century) bought into Australia-based Worldwide Entertainment to give it a finished content business. Pinto says: “Our sales team was busy selling formats and drama. For finished programming the buyers are different and we needed a different company to focus on that.”
Could there be more acquisitions in the works, or could Global Agency itself be bought? “I don’t want to sell,” he says. “But do we want to acquire? Absolutely. And if we do acquire a brand we would prefer for it to remain separate, we want a benefit beyond just feeding [content] into the catalogue.”