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MIPCOM: Turkey Struts Its Stuff on World Stage

A group of panelists explain why the country, which greenlit commercial stations just 20 years ago, enjoyed $150 million from foreign sales last year.

The stats are stunning. In this energetic country of 76 million, practically everyone is glued to the TV set four hours a day -- and largely they're watching long-running 90-minute per episode tear-jerkers -- increasingly well-made and star-driven -- rather than flashy American series or drab Arabic imports.

Moreover, the high-end lavish soap operas like The End and Nour and the period extravaganza The Magnificent Century are traveling abroad as never before.

In 2012 the Turkish TV business raked in $150 million from foreign sales -- not bad for a developing industry that only greenlit commercial stations 20 years ago.

"People in Turkey are devoted to these serials," explained producer Mehmet Altioklar, speaking on a panel Tuesday at MIPCOM focusing on broadcast hotspots around the world.

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"Typically, folks follow three or four serials a week -- and the industry churns out about 50 a season. Melodramas predominate: Turks love to cry," the chairman-CEO of M6 Film explained.

Apparently, they do elsewhere too, as a chart he presented suggested that an entire swathe of the globe, from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, from Kenya to Korea, has developed a decided taste for Turkish drama.

"The per episode price paid for a Turkish drama has hit $150,000 an episode," Altioklar said, "but down here in Cannes now I hear it may in certain cases be higher."

One of the latest hits, Song Bird, is being screened here this week with stars in tow.

Judging strictly by the level of activity observed at booths of distributors who handle Turkish properties, Global Agency and Eccho Rights among them, there's interest in both format and finished product rights to these titles.

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One of the reasons behind the flowering of Turkish drama is, not surprisingly, more money flowing into the system.

"Enormous recent advertising revenues have spurred all this production," said panelist Meltem Akyol, the head of international sales for the country's pubcaster TRT.

Altioklar pointed out that overall Turkish ad revenues in 2012 hit a record $1.3 billion, and the small screen was the beneficiary of the majority.

Another panelist, Akin Garagulle, digital director of the Samanyolu Group in Ankara, concurred that tremendous growth has taken place industry-wide of late.

The new vigor has also translated into practical curiosity about how things are done abroad.

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Garakulle said his company fields a research and development unit, which sifts production practices and content offerings from other territories, even as far away as Nigeria.

And in addition to drama, new emphasis is being put on animation -- probably not a bad idea since the Turkish population is young, the average age being 29.

Asked by moderator and media consultant Chris Forrester what's next, Altioklar responded for the group: "We need to think about reaching out to co-producers, which should increase the quality of what we are doing even more."