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The Magnificent Century of Turkish TV Shows

by - 20 February

Magnificent Century, based on the life of Suleiman the Magnificent, the 10th Ottoman Sultan. 

How Turkey has become the second biggest TV exporter in the world? Interview with Timur Savci, founder of  TIMS Produktion, the company behind "Magnificent Century" - the most watched Turkish show in the world. 

Turkey is globally the second biggest exporter of TV series abroad after the United States. The export of Turkish dramas reached $500 million in 2018. Turkish shows have been screened in many continents from the Middle East to the Balkans, from Africa to Central Asia, the Far East, and South America, reaching some 700 million people in nearly 146 countries. 
Magnificent Century, based on the life of Suleiman the Magnificent, the 10th Ottoman Sultan. 

The "Magnificent Century" was the most watched Turkish show in the world. It has been seen by more than 500 million people in 100 countries worldwide. It was the first dizi bought by Japan.

The company behind "Magnificent Century" is Tims Productions.  I asked to the founder of Tims Productions Timur Savci what is the receipt for a successful dizi, how Turkey become the second biggest TV exporter in the world, how could the country become №1, which are the biggest markets for Turkish dizi, how the success of Turkish TV shows impacts the tourism sector in the country, and what will be the impact of Netflix entering the market? 

Timur, how did you enter the TV series industry?
Actually, about 25 years ago, I started out working at a commercial film production company. So first I was in the advertising industry. But then when private television started blooming in Turkey with the establishment of new privately owned networks, there were new investments, ventures and demands for television series. Being aware of those demands in advance, I decided to take that path. The opportunities I encountered helped me with that endeavor, and that’s how I entered the TV series industry. But my previous experience in commercial film production was a big help because I had worked with many world-renowned directors and DOPs which endowed me with valuable know how. And after I entered the TV series industry, I made use of this know how in order to make a difference in the industry.

How many series have you sold till now?
I haven’t calculated this in exact numbers of course. But since I founded my own company almost 15 years ago, we have produced an average of three series per year. And I believe we have sold more than 60% of those series worldwide.

Which is your most successful dizi?
Surely it is Magnificent Century (Muhteşem Yüzyıl). We can easily name Magnificent Century as our most successful dizi in terms of its economic and cultural impact and export volume. However, we have a few other dizi’s which I don’t want to be unfair to, that have become true champions in our heart which also have success in export. I can name Game of Silence (Suskunlar), Lovebird (Çalıkuşu) and Eternal(Ölene Kadar) among them.

Which are your biggest markets?
Once upon a time the MENA region was our biggest market. But now I think most important markets for us are Latin America and Eastern Europe given the volume in those territories.

Where is Bulgaria as a market for Turkish series?
We consider Bulgaria to be very important because if a Turkish series reaches success in Bulgaria, its positive side effect on the rest of Eastern Europe is massive. That’s why it is of utmost importance for us. In a way, we could say Bulgaria is a solution partner in terms of the broadcast of our series in the region.

Could a Bulgarian actor/actress take part in any Turkish dizi?
Why not? I think it’s time for such things as the world globalizes even more. In fact, entertainment content can travel not only via actor/actress exchanges but also with co-productions projects. We can consider that.
Still from Lovebird (Çalıkuşu) 

How Turkey has become the second biggest TV exporter in the world?
Turkish producers sowed the seeds of the Turkish television industry entirely with their individual endeavors and hard work. Turkey has the advantage of its geological position between East and West which enhances our culture. The fact that so many cultures have inhabited these lands have made us open minded adopting a broad vision. That’s why we have never been a Middle Eastern country nor an entirely Western one. The content we have planned and invested in has been based on a synergy of the best parts of each side and an expectancy that many people in the world would have similar habits or behavior to ours. And naturally since the Turkish TV industry has reached a certain point now, the governmental institutions and ministries have been working to provide their support and input.

What could make Turkey №1 exporter? How could you win the English-speaking world?
I think the state and private sector have to cooperate on this. When you think about the US today, what they have contributed to Hollywood and entertainment products in terms of subsidies and incentives is evident. For example, when there is a need to surpass the quota imposed by China on films, the American president can have a conversation with the Chinese leader and unclog the situation. So what we must do is focus on creating good, authentic and more innovative content and keep imagining as such, but the state should also be acting in synch with us.

What’s so special about Turkish series? How did you master the universal language to touch people around the world?
What’s special about Turkish series is fundamentally this: it is all structured on a universal sentiment. The products are not created on one emotion that only has a local sensibility. For example, our comedy series are not exported so much. That’s because comedy can be a very local concept. Secondly, we don’t produce very fast-paced or compact series nor do we make shows that are as slow or immobile as in a soap opera taking place in one location. We present content with tempo that takes place in a number of fresh locations edited with a high sense of wonder but is longer in duration than an American show. Another aspect is surely Turkey’s high potential in terms of its infrastructure and natural beauties. And the coexistence of many different religions, languages, races and cultures on these lands over the course of history. And sometimes the series are quite authentic which is another reason.

Which are the most common narrative themes that you cover?
As you know, the most commonly explored themes are love, impossible love and differences in characters’ socioeconomic status.

The new military dizi Söz (The Oath)
Some analysts say that the Turkish dizi is used by the state to project Turkish soft power to the world, especially with the recent historical serials.  What’s your comment?
I can answer only for myself on this one. We cannot cite Magnificent Century as an example of this because that was a series that we made with our own free will and means, without any input from the state. We carried out its international distribution in the same way. But after its huge success, its similar versions may have been made with that intent, I don’t know. That’s why such a statement is not true for our series.

What’s the influence of Turkish dizi on the tourism sector in the country?
I think its influence is so much that it would transcend the scope of this interview J The impact is so powerful because the significance of the Turkish dizi export is not the economic volume but its reach to so many people in the world and its ability to intrigue them about or introduce them to Turkish culture. During the last ten years, Turkish series have turned Istanbul into a brand name city that is a place of high interest for those who like to travel.

On what new projects are your working now?
We have three projects in the works at the moment; two of them are almost ready, the third one is still in development. The story is completed but pre-production hasn’t started yet. One of the projects will be on ATV, while the other one will be on Blu TV. We haven’t yet determined the network of our third project. In addition to these locally produced projects, we are in talks with many international platforms; namely we are working on a project for Netflix and the Hollywood remake of Magnificent Century. We are also currently developing a co-production project with our Spanish partners.

How do you see the future of Turkish dizi in terms of content, markets? And what would be the impact of Netflix?
I’m hopeful about the future of Turkish dizi because content is crucial. All platforms and broadcast media can change but the need for content will never end. Turkey is a society which still has a plethora of rich stories, tales and legends that are yet to be explored. That’s why I think Turkish series will improve in quality and volume and continue full throttle on their path. As for the impact of Netflix entering the market, Netflix is a global powerhouse and naturally they aim to use that power in order to carry themselves to a higher level. This is a handicap in countries like ours where local production is rigorous because their strategy imposes a framework that leaves no room for the producers and creators in terms of IP rights in the content they commission. And that poses a threat. But I’m guessing a consensus will be reached in this matter in the near future.

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