Digital Streaming Services in Turkey

Curator's Note

The global expansion of online subscription streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Amazon Prime generated grounds for a new media culture in Turkey. Following suit, two of the biggest conglomerates of Turkey, Doğuş Holding and Doğan Holding, constructed their own global streaming services, respectively, PuhuTV and BluTV. A brief analysis of the Turkish streaming platforms highlights that original shows by these digital services (i) developed a new media culture as a result of a lack of government regulation, and (ii) created a potential to change a highly criticized production culture in the Turkish television industry. 

Original shows in PuhuTV and BluTV are examples of short-term freedom in Turkish media; they are less regulated and uncensored compared to the stringent regulations on traditional Turkish broadcasting imposed by the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK). This digital freedom introduced Netflix-like approaches in episode-making to attract global subscribers while guaranteeing sponsorship from big corporations and using product replacement extensively to offer content, respectively for free and for a monthly-fee. However, RTÜK will be soon regulating these online streaming platforms including Netflix Turkey. This means the burden of censorship will soon weight on the freedom of Turkish media culture in digital platforms.

The online streaming platforms also established at least two new viewing practices. First, they shortened the duration of episodes compared to shows broadcast on Turkish television channels. These shorter running times promote worker-friendly practices and address some of the concerns raised during media industry protests. Second, they reinforced the binge-watching culture to audiences. This accommodates their desire for extended entertainment.

Similar to all other streaming services, Turkish platforms also have to resolve issues of internet access, slow internet speed and internet piracy. Turkish streaming gives exposure to a way of life and imagination in Turkey that propels the country into the digital inequality of the new globally connected world of internet-based entertainment.

Comments

Censorship, Geoblocking, and Original shows

Jülide, thanks for this engaging post. I was actually surprised that the platforms were not all ready being regulated given Erdogan’s government’s strict policing of media and the Internet.

I have many questions: Could you say more about the ways in which these original shows have introduced content that they would not have been able to on television channels? How does RTÜK plan to regulate these streaming platforms? Will they be introducing new rules tailored to the digital platforms? Would the the burden of censorship would be placed on the platform and viewers given that it would be difficult for censorship committees to view all the content?

I also wanted to know more about overlaps in the practices of geoblocking as instituted by the streaming corporations like Netflix and state censorship. For example, they both seek to manage who has access to what content.

Jülide Etem's picture

Content of the original shows

These are great questions, thank you very much for engaging with my post!

The original shows from the streaming platforms differ from the television channels in several ways.

Firstly, the original shows explicitly exhibit sexual and violent content that is censored in Turkish television episodes.

Secondly, the original shows highlight the brands that sponsor them while the TV episodes blur the images of brands (if they are not there for product placement).

Blurring in TV shows also occur for drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking while this is not the case for the original shows from PuhuTV and BluTV.

Thirdly, original shows’ cinematography is much more calculated and mysterious and resembles attributes of European cinema.

Fourthly, the characters are primarily alternative people of Turkey that resembles the European way of living, dressing and talking, while the traditional television shows focus more on family.

The original shows explore themes (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, drug abuse), that are not typically covered in Turkish TV.

Lastly, the original shows also go beyond the genre conventions that Turkish television shows often adapt, mixing mystery, drama and comedy.

Jülide Etem's picture

RTÜK regulating streaming platforms

RTÜK plans to regulate media service providers by requiring them to get broadcast rights, licenses and authorization from the Supreme Council, which works with the National Intelligence Agency. These institutions plan to review the content of online media in relation to national security, prevention of crime, protection of public order, public health and public interest.

The new law would require alternative news providers such as Medyascope TV and Evrensel WebTV, foreign media service provider with a Turkish service such as BBC, Voice of America, DW, CNN International, streaming platforms such as Netflix, PuhuTV, BluTV, and probably YouTube and Vimeo to be subject to new licensing.

A report analyzing the Turkish law about online media services prepared by Professor Yaman Akdeniz highlights that while this new licensing model grants further powers to RTÜK, it endangers pluralism, tolerance and democracy.

Turkish originals outside Turkey?

Thanks so much for this interesting post, Julide. How global has the circulation of the originals produced by PuhuTv and BluTv been? I’m wondering how the new regulation of streaming services will impact not only the production and circulation of their original content within Turkey but also the circulation of those originals beyond Turkey.

Jülide Etem's picture

Global audiences & Impact of regulations

Thank you very much for these great questions, Lisa!

Both BluTV and PuhuTV are in the process of developing international corporate strategies to reach global audiences.

These streaming platforms attract Turkish language audiences both inside and outside of Turkey. For example, BluTV has been used by Turks in Europe, particularly in Germany.

Moreover, BluTV offers its content in Arabic language targeting Middle Eastern and Arab viewers.

Once BluTV develops a system for dubbing and/or subbing, the next target group will be the Latin America.

PuhuTV recently made its original shows accessible in the U.S. However, this platform does not stream some of the Turkish TV shows because of the broadcasting rights.

When these Turkish TV shows are unavailable on PuhuTV for free, viewers access them using Youtube. Additionally, live streaming on YouTube offers immediate access to watch Turkish TV episodes. Thus, YouTube becomes an other digital platforms to serve to diasporic communities who gain access to Turkish programming.

In terms of the impact of new regulations, I have two points:

First, Dogan Media Company, which owned BluTV, was recently sold to a pro-government Turkish conglomerate Demiroren Holding. So, this will impact the content of the shows that they produce. For more, please see: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/21/world/europe/turkey-media-erdogan-dogan.html

Second, PuhuTV has already started making changes to its hit original show, Phi by cutting or blurring “inappropriate” content. For Turkish coverage with pictures, please see: http://www.diken.com.tr/puhu-tvden-sansur-yasasina-hazirlik-finin-gecmis-bolumleri-buzlandi/

Fan Yang's picture

New viewing practices

Thanks so much for providing this great opportunity to learn about the recent shifts in Turkey’s new media culture!

I’m really interested in the new viewing practices that you mentioned, i.e. “shorter running times” that “promote worker-friendly practices” and “binge-watching culture.” What are “some of the concerns raised during media industry protests” that the former addresses? As for the latter, how has “the desire for extended entertainment” been cultivated by Netflix, Amazon Prime, and/or other entities? And last but not least, how are these new viewing practices shaping/shaped by broader societal changes in work and leisure?

Jülide Etem's picture

new viewing and production practices

Thank you so much for these wonderful questions, Fan!

The length of a Turkish TV episode is often between 120 and 150 minutes. Since Turkish viewers are mostly used to watching these long episodes, producing 120-150-minute-long episodes has become a norm in the industry. Since this situation has dramatically extended the working hours of the creative workers, there has been several protests to criticize, and change the television production culture in Turkey.

For the last couple of years industry workers have been protesting the length of their working hours to complete an episode per week. Some of the screenwriters complained about how writing long episodes hurts their creativity and damages the quality of storytelling. In fact, the requirement to produce long episodes causes repetitive story lines and extensive use of flashbacks. 

According to an article in a Turkish platform, repetitiveness in episode making is necessary because producers take into account surveys about the understanding capacity of the average viewer in a Turkish household. However, many viewers who are aware of the repetitiveness and the quality problem in story lines, now prefer original shows in digital streaming services. 

When we take into account the TV commercials, the 120-150-minute-long episodes actually end up taking up to four hours. On contrary to this lengthy TV watching activity, digital platforms have introduced new viewing practices for Turkish audiences at least in two ways. First, the episodes of originals in the digital platforms are often not longer than 60 minutes. If the episode is on BluTV, there are no commercials. On the other hand, if the episode is viewed on PuhuTV, the advertisements take just a couple of minutes. So, the new viewing practice in digital platforms takes less time than it does in television. Second, if viewers desire to watch multiple episodes for an extensive amount of time, it is possible to do binge-watching via digital platforms.  Binge-watching culture offers viewers prolonged entertainment to satisfy their urge for episodes. To a certain extent, this culture has the potential to solve the problem of producing weekly and lengthy episodes. 

The new production culture introduced by the digital streaming services can transform the situation of the overworked media workers. If the shorter episodes in digital platforms continue to succeed, it is possible that television industry can adopt new methods to address industry workers’ concerns.   

Jasmine Mitchell's picture

Thank you for this post. Like

Thank you for this post. Like Monika, I was surprised that the Turkish government did not regulate these streaming platforms early on. I am curious as to how the shows were branded and marketed to capture audiences in this interim period. Like Lisa, I would also love to know more about where the viewership has been concentrated. Turkish tv programs are becoming increasingly popular in Brazil for the telenovela-like themes and formats. What kind of genres do these streaming platforms offer? Can you also say more about digital inequality in Turkey? What is the infrastructure like for viewers and does this influence the type of content that is produced?

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