Netflix Applies for Turkish License Under New Restrictive Law

Istanbul Skyline

The U.S. online streaming giant sees Turkey as a potential growth market.

Netflix has applied for a license to continue servicing its 1.5 million subscribers in Turkey under new, more restrictive online broadcasting rules.

The new rules, which were granted last month by the Turkish government, give sweeping powers to Turkish broadcast regulator RTUK to oversee all online content and have raised fears of censorship. Critics have said the move will allow the government to tighten its grip on Turkish media, which is largely owned or controlled by supporters of President Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party.

The new licenses are obligatory and Ebubekir Sahin, president of RTUK, said on Twitter on Tuesday that more than 600 institutions, including Netflix and local streaming platforms Puhu TV and Blu TV, have already applied. There is a three-month period of grace for those services that have not yet applied for a new license.

“We’re applying for a local license — a requirement for streaming services in Turkey," a Netflix spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter. "Our loyal Turkish fan base — 1.5 million members and growing — values both the diversity of titles on Netflix and local storytelling. It’s why we’re investing more in Turkish programs and also discussing with the regulator how to further strengthen our parental controls. Our goal is to protect children from content that may be inappropriate for their age, while ensuring our members can continue to watch the shows and films of their choice."

It was unclear Tuesday whether Amazon and other big U.S. streaming services operating in Turkey had also applied for a new license.

The new oversight rules have prompted fears that Turkey could use them to censor online content, particularly of news outlets. Netflix, however, said it has not been asked to block or remove any content on its Turkish service.

"While there have been concerns about some titles in the past, we have not been asked in Turkey to remove any content to date, nor have we agreed to do so as part of our license application," a Netflix spokesperson said. "We’ve had lengthy discussions with the regulator about the difference between broadcast television — where viewers have no choice over what’s on screen — and Netflix, where our members decide what they watch."

Turkish shows that have faced censorship in the past, on other channels, have included those with explicit sexual content and news coverage deemed critical of President Erdogan.

Netflix sees Turkey as a potential growth market where it currently reaches only an estimated 10 percent of the country's roughly 75 million broadband homes. Turkey has a population of 80 million people, many of whom do not currently consume streaming services.

The new license conditions include paying the Turkish government 0.5 percent of revenue generated in the country, a figure not dissimilar to amounts levied in Spain and Italy.

The streaming giant plans to continue its global formula of combing international and local content. In Turkey, it has invested in local programming, including The Protector, a show about an Istanbul shopkeeper who combats immortal enemies, that has attracted some international attention too. Netflix has also ordered two seasons of The Gift , another Turkish supernatural drama, and commissioned Turkish series Love 101.