An unlikely story: Why do South Americans love Turkish TV?

  • Published
A billboard in the Chilean capital Santiago for Turkish soap opera El SultanImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Turkish TV shows are advertised on giant billboards in Chile

As the two Turkish TV characters sat on a beach at night and looked into each other's eyes, millions of viewers in South America held their breath.

"I'm afraid of losing you," said Kerim, gently embracing Fatmagul and stroking her hair.

"You don't have a reason to be afraid," Fatmagul answered, looking at him with poignant eyes before they kissed.

The above scene is from What is Fatmagul's Fault? - a Turkish drama.

Dubbed into Spanish and Portuguese, it has been a big hit across South America over the past year. In Argentina alone, episodes are viewed by more than 12 million people.

And the show is far from a one-off, with a growing number of Turkish TV dramas among the most watched programmes across the continent.

In Chile for example, a Turkish series called 1,001 Nights was the most viewed programme in 2014.

But why are television programmes from Turkey so popular thousands of miles away in South America?

Image source, MUSTAFA OZER
Image caption,
The typical Turkish TV drama focuses on old-fashioned romance

'Turkish TV nights'

Marcela Mera, a 42-year-old Chilean who lives in the capital Santiago, is a dedicated viewer of Turkish dramas.

She says that they are easier for her to connect to than US television series and that she likes the way Turkish shows focus more on old fashioned romance instead of what she sees as Hollywood's over-sexualisation.

"Although Turkey is quite far away, I found our cultures to be quite similar," says Marcela.

"And the Turkish productions are very high quality and don't have the Hollywood cliches and stereotypes.

"When I started to watch these dramas, I realised how tired I was with all the violence and sex of American TV."

Image source, Didem Tali
Image caption,
Viewers in South America are said to easily associate with Turkish TV characters

In the Peruvian capital of Lima, Ivette Sanchez, a 23-year-old university student, is another big fan of Turkish TV shows.

She says: "I regularly get together with my friends and host Turkish TV nights, watching these dramas and chatting. The plots are clever and productions are excellent.

"Also, the actors are very handsome. We all have different favourites."

Migration stories

The popularity of Turkish TV shows in South America comes as Turkey's television industry is continuing to enjoy a growing export boom.

Last year Turkey earned $250m (£187m) from overseas sales of TV shows, according to the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TEA) trade organisation. This compares with only $10,000 (£7,475) back in 2004.

Turkish TV dramas are now watched by more than 400 million people in more than 140 countries.

Image source, Didem Tali
Image caption,
Overseas fans of Turkish TV dramas praise the quality of the productions

And while Turkey's current TV export earnings are dwarfed by the likes of the UK, which enjoyed overseas TV sales of $1.6bn (£1.2bn) in the 2014-2015 financial year, the country hopes to catch up.

Bader Arslan, the secretary-general of the TEA, expects Turkish TV exports to top $1bn (£748m) by 2023.

With most current overseas earnings coming from South America, Burhan Gun, president of the Turkish TV and Cinema Producers Guild, says there are a number of key reasons why that continent has so warmly embraced his country's television dramas.

Image source, BULENT KILIC
Image caption,
Turkish TV stars are now well known across South America

Firstly, he says that Turkish people can look very similar to many South Americans.

Mr Gun, whose organisation represents Turkey's more than 80 privately-owned TV production companies, adds: "As Turkey is a very multicultural country, there are actors that represent a lot of different ethnic backgrounds."

He also says that Turkish dramas explore societal changes that resonate in South America and other parts of the world.

"For instance, a lot of the Turkish TV shows explore the topic of migration from rural villages to cities and the challenges of urbanisation," says Mr Gun.

Image source, OZAN KOSE
Image caption,
Experts say that Turkish drams explore issues that resonate across the developing world

"This is an important topic in a lot of other developing countries, but it is underexplored by Western productions."

Omar Al-Ghazzi, a lecturer in journalism at the UK's University of Sheffield, who has written a number of academic papers about Turkish popular culture, adds that Turkish TV dramas "offer a seductive modernity".

He explains: "They showcase very saleable ideas about a comfortable middle class life that is accessible and culturally relevant for many people."

'Family values'

While the continuing overseas success of Turkish TV shows is undoubtedly welcomed by the country's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, because it boosts the country's international image and reputation, the industry stresses that it is completely independent and free of any government support.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Turkish president occasionally criticises Turkish TV shows

Turkey's TV production companies are also occasionally criticised by the president (who recently survived an attempted army coup), such as back in 2012 when he complained about a show called The Magnificent Century.

President Erdogan was unhappy that the series portrayed a 16th century Ottoman sultan as both a drinker and womaniser.

Back in South America, Alper Akosman, a 28-year-old Turkish businessman who lives in Chile, says that thanks to the popularity of Turkish TV shows, many Chileans are now interested in his home country.

He adds that he recently went to a charity fundraising event where the theme was Turkish TV dramas.

"There were Turkish flags, food and music everywhere," he says. "People kept asking me if there was any way I could reach out to the actors and send them a message.

"These TV series have achieved something that most diplomacy tactics wouldn't have. It's unbelievable."

Meanwhile, Mr Arslan says that when he joined President Erdogan's visit to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador back in February, Turkish TV shows were great conversation starters.

"In Peru a person told me how similar our two countries' family values are, despite the different religions and cultures."