Turkish TV drama: Why is it conquering world markets?

In the first part of this series of articles on Turkish television and its worldwide success we defined the circumstances under which the producers and distributors of Turkish TV content found a window of opportunity to conquer markets formerly occupied by U.S. series and Latin American telenovelas.

This vacuum became visible years ago at the NATPE International Budapest conference, where East European broadcasters and pay TV channel operators complained that they were no longer receiving from the U.S. several series that had good audiences in their countries –-the CSI series among them--- because they had been cancelled in their home country. At the same time, the telenovela producers found that the product that had been sold for years to Western and Central Europe was more difficult to market and the time slots they had held were being lost to local product and imports from the region or nations closer to it.

The new product made available from the States was considered to be more complex and darker than what the European audiences seemed to be willing to accept, while Latin American telenovelas, according to the same sources, were ‘repetitive, it was often perceived they had been rewritten from earlier content’.

The same situation was being perceived in Latin America, where sitcoms and U.S. drama had moved to pay television --with high penetration indices in several countries-- and seldom arrived to Free To Air screens. The sea change occurred when Chilean station Mega TV decided to air the first-ever Turkish product locally dubbed in Latin America, Las Mil y Una Noches (1001 Nights, Global Agency). In December 2016, Mega TV director of contents and international business Juan Ignacio Vicente told Prensario that ‘The Turkish continuous success reveals the shortcoming of the Latin American creators; there’s more consideration to the length of the series that regarding their plots’. ‘The Turkish product focuses on another aspect of the classical love story; it touches moral and ethic issues (1001 Nights, Fatmagul, Kanal D), instead of the social (rich/poor) controversy’. ’Characters are dichotomic: the bad one is good and vice versa. Finally, what we call the “dramatic earthquake” happen in every episode, not every eight to ten, as we are accustomed to see in Latin America’.

Prensario International conducted last week a Latin America-wide online survey among hundreds of Latin American Kara Para Ask (Inter Medya) fans asking why they prefer Turkish drama. The results show a general negative reaction to the U.S. “complex television” concept, underscoring the fact that Turkish drama main characters are ‘impulsive, stubborn, passionate, incorruptible’ and ‘loyal to whom they love’. Plots are described as ‘clockwork-like, with pieces that fall sooner or later into place’ and, interestingly, ‘there’s no harsh language, couples are loyal, act like accomplices’. In the particular case of Kara Para Ask, the ‘chemistry’ between the two main characters was insistently praised. Other comments were ‘this content is for the viewer to be entertained, the earlier newscasts are stressful enough’ and ‘there are unexpected twists in the plot that make you say WTF from start to finish’. Another both frequent and significant quote: ‘’they carry values, tradition and many things that are not respected nowadays in the world’. The comparison with Latin American telenovelas is: ‘Brazilian drama is now too violent; Argentine plots are mostly predictive’.

A closer interpretation of these quotes would render the conclusion that there are huge audiences around the world that crave for spending time in a context not constantly disrupted as it happens with their real world experiences, reflected by “complex television” or ignored by decades-old poor girl/rich boy situations. They aspire to send some time in a context were rules should be obeyed and a legacy of tradition that somehow, albeit in fiction, should guide their decisions.

Of course, Turkey is not alone in providing content closer to these parameters than the current Hollywood “complex television” trend, followed by some European players and also Netflix and, to a certain degree, Amazon. The difference with other producing countries, such as Israel, India, South Korea, Japan and China is that in Turkey there is a group of companies competing among themselves but working in the same direction, more than a couple of players or some Government institution promoting its local content as a cultural goal. Or, producers like many of those in Western Europe that are so assured about their corporate or institutional culture that they feel no need to modify its produce to adapt it to foreign tastes, unless forced by local content restrictions.

Interestingly, the momentum deployed by the Turkish companies has been strong enough to attract the attention of distributors from other countries, that have joined them in this endeavor. We’ll examine this in the following piece on this issue: “How?”

See the first installment of this series: The Turkish TV industry is giving Hollywood a run for its money. How and why?

See our first piece on the evolution of the way video content is being accessed by worldwide customers and how a change in its behavior may propel a company to stardom or cause it a lot of trouble: The Technological Generations Theory. And How the Medium affects the Message.