With higher production values than their regional counterparts, Turkish TV series are growing in popularity abroad and continuing to post significant viewing figures at home.
As the curtain fell on the final episode of Muhteşem Yüzyıl (The Magnificent Century), both the story of Sultan Suleiman, one of the Ottoman Empire’s most prolific rulers, and the story of an international television sensation, came to an end. The series, which ran for four seasons, ended in June, having been broadcast in over 40 countries to an audience of 200 million people. The Turkish television season kicks off in September, and in the previous season Muhteşem Yüzyıl brought in TRY36.7 million, or $14.73 million. That gave it the highest revenues of the season, followed by the long-running Kurtlar Vadisi (Valley of the Wolves), on TRY34.8 million and Karadayı, on TRY33.2 million. For the current season, the country’s 45producers are targeting revenues of TRY850, or $340.9 million, overall.
In terms of exports, in 2014 alone Turkish TV series targeted $200 million in revenues, and were watched in 80 countries. This is up on the $150 million in revenues wrought from exports in 2013, $100 million in 2012, and just $10 million back in 2008. The industry is also a significant employer, providing work to 15,000 people. Of the shows currently airing, 33% were romance, followed by comedy (31%), action (15%), family shows (13%), youth shows (5%), and fantasy (3%). Turkish audiences are, however, notoriously hard to please, with 67% of series lasting just one season, and just 10% going the distance and rolling for more than three seasons. Turkey also sits just below Spain, Poland, and the UK (4 hours each) in terms of daily average TV viewing per capita on 3.9 hours, while the US sits the highest on 8.5 hours.
But while the international success of Turkish TV series is indisputable, it is the Arab world that represents the most attention. According to a survey carried out by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, three of four of those surveyed across 16 Middle Eastern countries said they had watched a Turkish TV series. Considering that the average production cost of an hour of television in Turkey stands at $100,000, compared to just $40,000 in Arab countries, it’s easy to see why, especially when coupled with the cultural affinities the cultures share. And for Turkey’s television stars themselves, this means instant fame. Particularly popular stars in Arab world include Beren Saat, who rose to fame in Aşk-ı Memnu (Forbidden Love), a love story that was sold to 46 countries, alongside her male co-star Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, who went on to star in Kurt Seyit ve Åžura (Kurt Seyit and Shura), where he played a rich lieutenant and the son of a Crimean landowner of Turkish origin in the 1920s. The show was picked up by broadcasters across the world, from Iran and Afghanistan to Georgia and Pakistan. Another star popular across Arab countries is Tuba Büyüküstün, who rose to prominence with the airing of shows including Asi (Rebel) and Ihlamurlar Altında (Under the Linden Trees). She is currently staring in Kara Para Aşk (Black Money Love), which has quickly gained a following in Greece, where its first episode became the second most watched program of the evening. It is now also not uncommon for incoming tourists to seek out the locations used for their favorite shows. Indeed, a spike in visitors from Croatia was recorded following the airing of Binbir Gece (One Thousand and One Nights), which became a hit with viewers across the Balkans.