Turkey’s TV drama industry deserves more attention

Turkey’s TV drama industry deserves more attention

TV dramas have emerged as Turkey’s most popular cultural export in the past decade. The export revenues for broadcast rights of TV dramas increased from 1 million dollars in 2007 to $130 million in 2012. International interest in Turkish TV dramas started in the Middle East nearly a decade ago when millions of Arab TV viewers were captivated by “Gümüş” (Noor in Arabic). Now the geographic reach of Turkish TV dramas has expanded from Pakistan to Eastern Europe, with market expansion continuing.

The $130 million TV drama export revenues might seem very small when compared to Turkey’s total export revenues of $100 billion per year. The contribution of TV dramas to Turkey’s economy, however, goes far beyond its direct sale revenues. TV dramas have emerged as valuable instruments for the promotion of tourism and the popularity of many Turkish products in other countries. The TV dramas also spread Turkish cultural influence in neighboring countries and enhance the soft power of the Turkish government.

In light of these valuable contribution the Turkish government must develop a plan to support the TV drama industry. Such a government support is also important because Turkish TV dramas are likely to face strong competition from some countries in the coming years. The strongest competition is likely to come from Dubai, which is investing heavily in its film and TV industry.

South Korea and Japan are two Asian countries with significant cultural exports where the governments actively support their cultural export industries. The experience of South Korea is particularly relevant for Turkey because, similar to Turkey, its primary cultural export is TV drama series. In 1998 President Kim Dae-Jung introduced a Cultural Industry Policy with a special focus on TV drama.

This policy included financial support for drama producers and an active government support for the promotion and distribution of Korean TV dramas in international markets. Several European countries have also active support policies for promotion of cultural exports.

As of now, Turkey lacks a comprehensive cultural export policy or even an overall government policy in support of the “culture industry” which includes books, music, theater, cinema and television programs.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is the first Turkish government to have noticed the export value of TV dramas. In 2010 TV producers were offered a seat on the Council of Exporters, which includes the representatives of 23 other export-oriented industries. The AKP also paid attention to TV dramas in the 2011-2013 Social Development Plan, albeit in a selective manner. The government is offering financial assistance to TV series that promote family values.
While membership in the Council of Exporters is a positive step, it is not sufficient and Turkish policy makers must recognize the significance of TV drama exports as was described above. This recognition will justify a larger amount of government support for this industry.

Here are five specific policy recommendations for promotion of the TV drama industry:

1) Establish a council of experts in the TV drama industry with members from well-respected directors, screenplay writers, producers, and actors. The council will review applications from TV drama producers for government financial support. High-quality TV series such as the “Magnificent Century” are expensive, and independent producers face a considerable financial risk when they invest in such projects. Unfortunately, Turkish TV stations don’t accept a share of this burden and pay for a TV drama only after a few episodes are ready to be broadcast. This initial high risk can deter independent producers from high-quality expensive projects that have the best export potential. For the council to be successful it must operate as an independent and impartial council that focuses only on the quality of the projects and operates without any ideological or political bias.

2) Use the diplomatic resources of the Turkish government for active promotion and distribution of TV drama programs in important export markets.

3) Support research and development activities to improve the quality of screenplays and production activities. For example, Turkish embassies can help conduct surveys in some target countries to study the attitudes of viewers toward a specific TV drama.

4) Development of laws and regulations that help support the industry by assuring a fair and productive relationship between independent TV drama producers and TV broadcasters.

5) Financial support for subtitle creation and dubbing of TV dramas into English and other foreign languages. 

Overall, an efficient and dynamic public-private partnership is required to expand the reach of Turkish TV dramas in the global market. The global value of cultural exports worldwide was approximately $600 billion in 2012, and it is likely to grow even larger in the future. Turkish TV dramas deserve a share of this huge market that is larger than just $130 million.

Nader Habibi is an economist with concentration on Middle Eastern countries. In 1997 he served as assistant professor of economics at Bilkent University.