‘Turkish content is contagious’
Increasing appetite for Turkish TV series abroad
Photo: Slawomira Kozieniec
in: Disbook #4 March 2014
President and CEO of ITV Inter Medya, Can Okan, influences producers in the early stages of project development to make sure that it becomes a mix of Turkish tatse and what is popular in the international market.
Motion pictures are in his genes. As a young kid Can Okan was already fascinated by everything that had to do with the process of filmmaking, both as an art and an industry. That’s not surprising. His uncle Tuncan was a film critic from the 1950s to the late ‘70s. Can’s office in the posh neighborhood Nişantaşı of Istanbul is testimony to his uncle’s legacy. Most of the walls are decorated with dozens of original pictures of Turkish and international movie stars from the 50’s and 60’s.
Can Okan, President and CEO of ITV Inter Medya, has been running the business from an early age. It started as a Turkey-only content distributor in 1992. Now it is one of the most successful companies selling telenovelas ‘Made in Turkey’ abroad. “Turkish content is contagious”, he says, explaining the increasing appetite for Turkish TV series internationally. “Where ever we go and enter, it jumps to the neighbors. It is a kind of domino effect. When a Turkish series becomes a hit in one country then a neighboring country becomes interested too”.
Fono Film, the sister company of ITV Inter Medya, is successful as well. It is one of the most modern film labs in Turkey, doing post production work. Fono Film became one of the most important film producers as well. Lately they produced six titles. Very popular at the box office was the historical movie of the famous battle during the First World War trying in vain to capture Constantinople: ‘Gallipoli, end of the road’. And just released is ‘Kadın İşi: Banka Soygunu’, a comedy movie about four young women robbing a bank.
“As a kid I went to the lab every day after school to help my father and my uncle together with my elder brother. He is now taking care of Fono Film. In 1992 I decided to quit my job at Fono Film and build my own company, ITV Inter Medya. We started to import foreign products for the Turkish TV channels and some theatrical feature films and DVD distribution. We expanded our markets to Bulgaria, Romania, and the former Soviet republics, so we became an international distributor. We had to do this because the economic situation in Turkey was not stable. To find our way out of the crises in the late 90’s we had to expand. Five years ago we saw the success of the Turkish TV series in the international market, especially in the Middle East and the Balkan region. We said okay since we do international distribution of American products why not sell Turkish content abroad? As we have very close relations with the producers because of the film lab, I approached a couple of producer friends of mine and got their representation and we started distributing Turkish feature films and TV series as well.”
The main market of ITV Inter Medya is the Balkan region, the Middle East and Central Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan). Quite soon they hope to become one of the important players in the Russian Federation as well. “We are in contact with TV channels in China and India too”, Okan says. “These are huge markets with billions of people, but difficult to penetrate because of the different cultures and dialects. We try to enter the market there by making deals with smaller, regional channels and hoping for the same domino effect to expand in those markets. We started to sell in Latin America too; formats and finished products. We have a multi language team. And we sell in Europe too: Italy, Spain. We are negotiating with UK and in USA.”
ITV Inter Medya is working with several Turkish producers. Okan: “When they are still in the developing stages of a project we give them advice for the international market; which actors or which actresses would have added value. Yes, we influence producers to film for the international market. We make a kind of sauce: a mix of Turkish taste and what is popular in the international market. On average we add six to a dozen new titles every year to our catalogue.”
The two main trends are: dramas about the Istanbul upper class, and historical dramas. “But definitely dramas, not comedies or action”, Okan adds. Very popular at the moment is the new drama series ‘The Black Rose’ (Karagül). “The first season started in March 2013. We sold the drama already to more than ten countries!”
Can Okan sees himself as a businessman. “I work seven days a week, but I don’t see this as work, it’s my passion. In the summer – end of June and the month of July –I enjoy my vacation with my fiancée and my kids on my boat to the Greek islands. I love the sea”.