Local Productions, Transnational Aspirations: Case of Turkish Television

By Yesim Kaptan, Ece Algan,
Submitted to Session P6176 (Ottoman Revival and Return in Turkey, 2020 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Historically, Turkey has been financially and culturally integrated with the West rather than the East. Following the conservative and Islamist Justice and Development Party's (AKP) coming to power in 2002, Turkey emerged as a greater economic and political power not only in Europe, but also in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Central Asia. Along with the rapid growth and globalization of its media industry, the geopolitical and economic interests of Turkey in these regions significantly increased. In the last three decades, the television industry in Turkey and its audiences have undergone dramatic transformations. In the meantime, Turkish media products have become more transnational, and also controversial, over a vast geography from the Middle East, Eastern Europe to North Africa. Even today, despite the recent crisis in the Turkish economy, the Turkish TV industry is still a pioneer in the global media market as the second highest exporter of scripted TV series in the world (Turkey world’s second, 2014; Vivarelli, 2018) and the 5th largest TV program exporter worldwide in 2016 (France and Turkey, 2016). The global success of the Turkish TV industry created enormous excitement in the country’s popular public discourse with the hope that television exports would play an important role in promoting Turkey’s image in the world and thus, further strengthen its soft power by attracting tourists, developing diplomatic relations, and expanding business opportunities. However, the industry’s competitive struggle to create cutting edge and high quality content also necessitated engagement with culturally and politically sensitive topics, causing unease among certain factions of society, including government officials. In the international popular discourse, the success of Turkish TV content was welcomed with much surprise but without much explanation for its popularity other than its production quality. Therefore, our presentation treats Turkish television’s recent transnational expansion as a consequence of a number of shifts in both global and local markets. The paper aims to explore Turkey’s complex and rich socio-cultural and political landscape that shapes its television production, distribution and reception while critically scrutinizing various concepts and conceptual perspectives that have been previously used to explain the global popularity of Turkish TV, such as neo-Ottoman cool, public diplomacy, contraflow of global media, Turkey’s soft power, and cultural proximity. The authors reconsider these concepts by exploring the dissemination and popularity of Turkish TV products, the content of popular TV series, and the reception of these exports by Turkish audiences.