February 2014
Volume 34 No. 2

February 2014
View complete issue as a PDF»

Middle East’s Viewers Reject Boycott of Turkish TV Series

By Dom Serafini

The controversial politics of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are stodgy to some Middle Eastern countries, like Egypt. So, in retaliation they boycott…Turkish TV drama series. Apparently, this tactic is considered more of a punishment than the traditional move of recalling each other’s ambassadors.

However, Arab audiences are not taking restrictions on their favorite TV shows lightly, and so only a few Egyptian TV channels have completely pulled Turkish soaps off the air, such as Al-Hayat, Al-Nahar, Al-Kahera Wal Nas and the UAE-based Dubai-TV and Abu Dhabi TV, after Egyptian Radio and Television Union spearheaded the boycott last summer.

In addition, Egypt’s Cinema Syndicate and the Egyptian Creativity Front, a group of writers, poets, artists, filmmakers, journalists and scientists, all urged their country’s broadcasters to stop airing Turkish TV series.

But the threat of a region-wide boycott is still real since countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been displeased with Erdogan’s support of Egypt’s former Islamist Government of Mohammed Morsi.

According to Turkish-American TV veteran Deniz Ziya Temeltas, Erdogan’s policies have antagonized not only Egypt but almost the entire MENA region, including Israel, Gaza and Lebanon.

Another country threatening to boycott Turkish companies is Iraq, but that’s over oil exports from its Kurdish region and it is all-encompassing, not affecting TV companies alone.
Even though the Turkish TV series are produced independently without the involvement of the Turkish government, Egypt hopes that such a boycott could put some pressure on Ankara.

Reportedly, Turkish soaps have brought more Egyptian tourists to the country and the boycott could result in the loss of some tourism business.

Recently, Syrian actor Abed Fahd went public about his rejection of Turkish dramas and expressed regret that Syrian actors dubbed those dramas into Arabic. Conversely, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has been vociferous against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Deniz Ziya Temeltas reported that so far the boycott has not resulted in canceled sales contracts, but it has created delayed payments. However, he added, “even though the boycott is bound to hurt Turkish producers in the short run, in the long run it will sharpen the appetite of Arab viewers for Turkish drama,” considering that people tend to crave desirable product in short supply.

One issue that remains unclear is the definition of what constitutes a “Turkish production.” Content distributors that VideoAge contacted in Istanbul have not yet received any official note or a description of what is subject to embargo. In addition, not all Turkish series are affected, rendering the embargo more of a case-by-case situation, rather than a blanket requirement.

In effect, if a Turkish distributor sold to a MENA territory a series that was dubbed in Spanish with some post-production done in Lebanon and re-edited by a person in Germany who takes the producer’s credit, technically it might not constitute a Turkish TV show.

In a sense this loose description of what constitutes Turkish content could represent an opening to quickly resolve the issue, and it is considered one of the loopholes utilized by such organizations as the Dubai-based free-to-air satellite service Middle Eastern Broadcasting Company (MBC), to continue showing Turkish drama.

MBC first introduced Turkish TV shows to the Arab world, and for many years now Turkish dramas have been among the most-watched and popular TV hits in the region.

A MBC spokesperson was quoted in Today’s Zaman, one of three English-language dailies based in Turkey, as saying, “We have not felt the need to make any change in our broadcasting strategy for Turkish drama because Arab audiences still want to watch them.”

One aspect that particularly troubles Turkish content distributors is the sublicensing issue, since in some cases, Middle Eastern broadcasters who licensed Turkish TV series retained the right to sell them to other territories. However, because of the embargo, these sublicensing sales have now stopped, further depriving Turkish producers of additional shared revenues.
However, one distributor in Istanbul who is preparing to attend DISCOP predicted that this situation will force them to develop their own local sales structure that will cover every MENA territory.

Many of the Turkish content distributors VideoAge contacted for this story were freely willing to provide information, but asked not to be quoted by name for fear of potential retaliation or simply to avoid creating further tension for an issue that is considered temporary.