September/October 2011
Volume 31 No. 5

September/October 2011
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The International Scene Hit By Unexpected Powerhouses

At a recent Parliamentary meeting in Athens, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou asked legislators, "Why can't Greece be more like Turkey?"
Earlier, in Budapest, during DISCOP, European and Latin American distributors wondered, "What's going on with those young Turks?"


Hidayet Karaca, president of Samanyolu Broadcasting Group

While Papandreou was referring to Turkey's success in recovering from a financial crisis in 2001, the distributors at DISCOP were commenting on the surprising popularity of Turkish programming in the international market, particularly in Greece (see story on pg. 14).

Commented John M. Triantafyllis of Athens-based JT TV Film International: "During 2010 we saw the onset of several Turkish language soaps as part of the programming profile of the major privately owned television stations, which continue to show increasing popularity and will continue to be part of the programming for the upcoming season."

With 20 producers (12 of which are key, have very experienced in-house teams and work with professional freelancers) and seven major distribution companies, the small Turkish television industry now seems to be set to take over the world, territory by territory. The conquest has begun with the Middle East and Central Asian states and expansion into the Balkan Peninsula (South East Europe). It will continue with Eastern Europe and the Baltic states (North East Europe), and little by little will reach into Central Europe, before taking on the big guys in the Western areas.

The key to achieving this world programming conquest is high-quality long series of 90-minute duration that run for 60 or more episodes on Turkish television, but become 120 45-minute episodes for the international market. The Turkish TV market has already become highly competitive, with dramas being the dominant genre.

Izzet Ressam Pinto, managing director of Global Agency, explained that the standard per episode is 90 to 100 minutes, and usually 60 to 120 90-minute episodes are produced.

Özlem Özsümbül, head of Acquisitions and Sales at Kanal D and Star TV, specified that, "the duration of each episode is anywhere between 75 and 120 minutes. [But] for the most part, the episode duration is approximately 90 minutes." She confirmed that, "for the main TV stations, 60 is the average number of episodes, and each is aired weekly." Özsümbül then explained, "Normally in Turkey the high season starts in September and ends in June. So the total number per season is 38-39 episodes. Depending on their successes, there can be some additional midseason serials as well."

Can Okan, CEO of ITV Inter Medya, pointed out that, "The primetime series in Turkey are being broadcast once a week and the durations are usually 80 to 120 minutes per episode." Okan added, "Nowadays, daily access primetime and daytime series, which are 42 to 52 minutes long, are also becoming very popular." He also explained that, "As 80-120 minute episodes are not accepted in the international market, our company has a team that re-edits the long episodes into 42-45 minutes each for the international market."

As for the number of series in the Turkish TV market, Okan reported: "There are 80-85 series produced every year. While some of these series are unsuccessful and cancelled after eight or 10 episodes, some of them can go on for three or four seasons. Successful ones continue after a short summer break into the following season."

In an interview with Dislink, DISCOP's house magazine, Hidayet Karaca, president of Samanyolu Broadcasting Group, one of Turkey's largest media companies, said that there can be up to 60 drama series a week on the air in Turkey, but many fail after just a few episodes. To stress how competitive the market in Turkey has become, Karaca estimated that up to 100 drama series fail each year.

Possibly taking this into account, Pinto specified that the annual output is 20 series, and yet "only six of these are premium series." Budgets vary from U.S.$400,000 per episode for a premium series to just $150,000 for a "B-grade" series. Mostly, the production costs are borne by producers but, emphasized Pinto, "90 percent of the series are controlled by the channels nowadays. [However], some producers do not give away the rights. The channel always has a big share [of the international revenue], whether it takes on the distribution or whether the producers distribute for themselves."

ITV's Okan pointed out that, "Due to the strong competition in the Turkish TV market, the budgets increase every day. An episode of a series for primetime nowadays costs between $200,000 and $350,000. If it's a period drama the budgets can go up to $500,000 to $600,000. On most series productions the broadcaster carries costs, but in some cases the production house can pre-finance the costs and the broadcasters pay the producers later."

Özsümbül added some perspective from the channel side: "Production companies are responsible for their own expenses. The channels pay a license fee per episode. Depending on the rating results of each episode, there can be some additional payments."

The international revenue is split three ways: Producer-network-distributor, but there is no standard for revenue splitting. It changes by project and varies from producer to producer as well.

"A couple of years ago, the broadcasters didn't take any share of the international rights," Okan recalled. "As Turkish series' popularity increased, the broadcasters prefered to keep the international rights and give a certain percentage to the producer from the international sales. [Usually], the broadcaster and the producers share the revenues 50-50 after deducting the distributor's share. The percentage that each distributor takes varies from company to company."

According to Pinto, who credited his Global Agency for opening the door to Central and Eastern Europe with the popular 1001 Nights, Turkish dramas have become so popular in the territories because, "they have great stories and work with high budgets. They are especially popular in the Balkan territories and in the Middle East where audiences find many similarities to their own cultures and feel connected with the series."

Okan further explained: "Due to strong competition in the local market, Turkish producers raise high budgets for their projects to obtain higher ratings, therefore the production values are very high. Additionally, while an episode of a Latin American telenovela is filmed in a day or two, the same process [in Turkey] takes a week or even longer, since the Turkish series are broadcast on a weekly basis, which increases the quality of the final product. Furthermore, Turkey is located between Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and our country reflects bits and pieces of the Western and Eastern cultures, which also attracts the international audience."

Added Özsümbül, "Especially [popular are] dramas that target female audiences — family dramas, 'Cinderella' stories because of the production quality, locations, good cast, acting and stories. We are all human and feelings are the same: love, revenge, and passion. [And] we use real locations, not studios."

Internationally, said Pinto, "the most popular Turkish TV products are the high-end drama series, those that do well in the ratings and have high production values."

To Okan, "Drama series and telenovelas are becoming more and more popular every day. Besides drama, some action series have also been successful in certain territories."

According to Global Agency's Pinto, "Rates for a 45-minute episode in various territories differ with every project and there is no standard. Prices can start from U.S.$500 per hour to more than $10,000."