North America TEN Feature Article
Netflix is a success story along multiple dimensions. From innovation in its delivery model to the depth and breadth of its content library, including original content from around the world, Netflix has brought the world into our living rooms in unprecedented ways. What started as a video rental program by mail in 1997 has turned into the world’s largest subscription based streaming service with more than 180 million subscribers worldwide, across more than 190 countries.
With obvious behavioral changes in media consumption along with the advent of digital streaming comes a new appetite for international content as people look to grow beyond their ethnocentric existence. With a mix of Netflix original and licensed content, Netflix has brought to the forefront entertainment industries from many lesser known countries. One such discovery for the North American audience is the thriving Turkish entertainment industry.
With most of our audience having discovered Turkish drama through Netflix, our readers are curious about how Netflix is shaping its content strategy with regards to its Turkish content and what are possible future directions in the mix for original versus licensed content?
HISTORY OF NETFLIX IN TURKEY
Netflix entered Turkey in September 2016 and announced a truly Turkish subscription service that uses local language and currency, adding dozens of Turkish TV shows and movies in addition to Netflix’s acclaimed original programming. Even though Netflix Turkey library is extensive, many of these local titles were also made available in other global markets where Netflix had presence, including in the United States.
Turkish drama has enjoyed great success in markets such as Latin America, Middle East and South Asia, but its penetration in English speaking markets had been low. North America TEN (“NA TEN”), which formed soon after Turkish drama started streaming on Netflix, aims to bring information and perspective about Turkish entertainment, culture, and art to English-speaking audiences. NA TEN now boasts more than 125,000 followers across its 30+ social media platforms and its network of websites.
This rapid growth illustrates a desire for Turkish productions in industrialized markets that might not have been part of Netflix’s initial strategy when it started promoting the Turkish drama industry. This growth trend might also suggest new opportunities for content mix, distribution and strategy.
NETFLIX’S CURRENT CONTENT STRATEGY
Netflix has proven to be a thought-leader in connecting its audiences with diversity in content. In the North American market of Turkish drama enthusiasts, there seems to be stronger resonance with the licensed, more traditional dizi stories but Netflix is not focused on growing their subscriber base in North America, where the company already enjoys greater than 75% penetration in available market. As such, the library of licensed content from Turkey has remained fairly static in the last few months.
In a highly competitive streaming marketplace, Netflix is betting on faster subscriber growth in international markets, and their Turkish content strategy is driven by local preferences in Turkey, where younger groups seek content that is more edgy and modern than what they have ready access to on local television. From that perspective, the modernity in the storytelling of the Netflix originals makes sense, creating pressures on local production houses to produce competitive programming so that they can also have a piece of the pie with the younger demographic. We already observe subtle shifts in local programming with new remakes or shows such as Mucize Doktor, Ogretmen, Alef, that are created to appeal to a younger demographic.
While arrival of the streaming services pushes to expand the diversity of content, the trend also harbors the danger of Turkish storytelling losing the authenticity of what made their productions popular in the first place. It seems that the new age stories are yet to take a major bite out of the traditional dizi following though, for now, Netflix’s strategy seems to be paying off for the company as they have added more than 1.5 million monthly subscribers in the Turkish market since their entry.
NETFLIX & THE PROTECTOR
In 2017, Netflix announced its intentions to produce the first Netflix original in Turkey and acquired the rights to the book Karakalem by N. Ipek Gokdel, which in turn led to the highly successful franchise, The Protector. NA TEN readers are already familiar with the history of The Protector, through the coverage provided through its Cagatay Ulusoy North America platforms.
Confirmed by Netflix, the first season of the series, released in December 2018, was seen by 10 million member households globally in its first month, with the highest viewing figures captured in Turkey, followed by Latin American countries. Members in several other regions from Europe to the Middle East, and countries from Canada to Australia also loved to view Hakan’s story.
Some of these new markets came as a surprise for the production team and, based on fan feedback, subsequent seasons of the show were made on a more comprehensive budget, incorporating higher levels of plot complexity, technology and special effects in its filmmaking. The franchise recently concluded on its fourth and final season, with glowing fan response. The success of The Protector gives Netflix confidence to expand their repertoire of original content along similar variables.
THE PROTECTOR & BEYOND
Since The Protector, Netflix has invested heavily to expand the diversity of content to help bring the best in class across a variety of genres. They have already released two additional original series (The Gift, Love 101), one original feature film (One Way to Tomorrow) and one original docu-series (Rise of Empires: Ottoman), with more coming down the pipeline.
When asked about Netflix’s mindful strategy about growth in Turkey, where the productions need to walk the fine line between bringing localized content to a global audience, this is what a Netflix spokesperson had to say, “Turkey, with its rich history and cultural heritage, is home to many untold stories. We also know that the country has great writers, great actors, great directors and great crews. We believe that these authentic stories, told by these amazing talents, would be a joy to watch for our members all around the world. This is why we continue to invest in more Netflix originals in Turkey. For us, great entertainment is not just about exporting US content internationally. It’s about sharing stories from the world with the world.”
For their part, Netflix has also played an important role in the local industry, in enabling new kinds of storytelling in innovative ways. Alex Sutherland, producer of The Protector and Atiye says, “Whenever you’re dealing with a studio or finances then you need to have a healthy dialogue. Netflix has always been very supportive throughout the last three years that I’ve been working on these productions.”
The following list provided by Netflix contains shows that have already been announced as being in the works. The varied plot lines show a risk-taking attitude from Netflix and local producers alike. They are willing to explore brand-new genres and artistic expressions for the Turkish storytellers, and offer it to new and old viewers, many of whom are more familiar with the traditional dizi format of the Turkish storytelling.
Fatma – Produced by Basak Abacigil, created and directed by an up-and-coming writer Ozgur Onurme, the series follows the story of Fatma (35), an ordinary cleaning lady who commits an unexpected murder while searching for her missing husband, Zafer, who was just released from jail. Zafer’s dodgy underground associates soon find out what she did, and the only way for her to survive in this man’s world is to continue killing. She gets away with it too – since no one takes her to be more than an ordinary cleaner, she becomes an invisible killer. In the end, murder becomes a release for the years of struggle and grief that she had repressed, and a new part of her identity she must confront.
Hot Skull – In a world shaken by an epidemic of madness that spreads through language and speech, a former linguist Murat Siyavus who has been at a longlasting hideout, is the only person mysteriously unaffected by this disease. Hunted by the ruthless Anti-Epidemic Institution, Murat is forced to leave the safe zone and flee within the flames and ruins of the mysterious streets of Istanbul, where he searches for the secret of his “hot skull” – a lasting mark of the disease.
Exatlon Challenge – Exatlon is an international sports reality competition format owned by Acun Medya. Exatlon Challenge is a brand-new version of Exatlon, with a modern twist which features Turkey’s favorite influencers from digital media. Hosted by Orkun Isitmak as well as a special reality face-off segment on each episode by Oguzhan Ugur, Exatlon Challenge is an epic sports reality show that is not only not seeking the best player of the influencers, but also the one that has the most ‘gut’. The show premiered on Netflix Turkey on July 3rd, and not available in North America.
The Gift S3 Renewal – Following the success of the first season, Netflix announced that The Gift is picked up for a third and final season which will launch in 2021. The principal photography commenced in July. As previously announced, the second season of the series had been shot alongside the first season and it is set to be launched in September 2020, with exact date to be shared later.
50 Metre Kare – this is a dark comedy series that Netflix is producing in partnership with BKM. 50m2 will be an eight-part series that stars Engin Ozturk and Aybuke Pusat, among a talented ensemble cast. It tells the story of a mysterious hitman named Golge (Engin Ozturk) who tries to find himself while on the run for his life. While escaping from his wealthy and dark like followed by a betrayal, he suddenly finds himself living in a 50 meter square tailor shop in a foreign neighborhood. While in hiding, the neighborhood mistakes him as the son of the deceased store-owner and he realizes that maintaining this identity won’t be as easy as he thinks. The more he lives in this new neighborhood, the more he will discover the secrets about his past and his real identity; the more he helps those around him, the more he will become someone else. The series is now in post-production, and will get a second season.
Earlier in July, there was a sudden media storm about Netflix pulling the plug on their scheduled filming for If Only, a series created by Ece Yorenc (of Aski-I-Memnu, Kuzey Guney fame). It was in response to the Culture Ministry asking for modifications to the script to remove a gay character. Even though Netflix had already made significant investments in the series, they chose to abandon the project. There had been similar rumors about a possible gay character in Love 101 as well but a Netflix spokesperson has confirmed that no such negotiations transpired for Love 101.
The actions led to several unconfirmed rumors that Netflix would close down operations in Turkey, but the company has provided this official statement, that puts any such concerns to rest. “Netflix remains deeply committed to our Turkish members and the creative community in Turkey. We are proud of the incredible talent we work with. We currently have several Turkish originals in production – with more to come – and look forward to sharing these stories with our members all around the world”.
NETFLIX ORIGINALS VS DIZIS
Netflix productions differ from dizis in format (each episode is ~40 min as opposed to ~ 2.5 hours), content (majority of traditional dizis are romance dramas or comedies) and the pace of storytelling (successful dizis can have more than 80, 2.5 hour episodes across 2 or more seasons, as opposed to ~30 episodes across 4 seasons in the case of The Protector).
In North America, traditional consumers of the dizis have had a mixed response to the Netflix productions, but the shows’ successes illustrate that there is also an appetite for the new format and kinds of stories, especially in markets that are just discovering Turkish drama or in markets where Netflix wishes to grow.
The Protector is the most successful of the Netflix originals so far, but the lineup remains an experiential road. Netflix’s willingness to try new kinds of teams, stories and genres is a clever and thoughtful approach designed to allow the local industry to grow beyond their known infrastructure, and for the subscriber demographics to expand into a younger and longer-lasting audience.
NETFLIX & THE NORTH AMERICAN AUDIENCE
The company has fundamentally changed access to global entertainment and North American viewers of Turkish drama are grateful to Netflix for introducing us to this world of stories that have helped to bring people together all over the world. We laugh and cry over the thought-provoking themes of human flaws, good versus evil, loyalty versus passion, duty versus desires, and so many more arcs that touch on something in our own lives.
As some of our readers from various parts of North America fall in love with Turkish drama, they make the choice to remain with Netflix or not based on its comparative library of content against competitive streaming services. As such, as much as we look forward to creative growth in the content library from Turkey, we also see the value of greater access to traditional shows.
At the time of publishing, there is no doubt that Netflix has a significant lead in its strategy with Turkish content, for English speakers and beyond, but as others such as Amazon Prime enter the market, it will be interesting to see how the competing streaming services decide on the content mix based on targeted demographic, its desired content, cost of customer and content acquisition, and more.
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