Welcome to Deadline’s International Disruptors, a feature where we’ll shine a spotlight on key executives and companies outside of the U.S shaking up the offshore marketplace. This week, we’re talking to Turkish TV powerhouse Tims & B. The company is coming off the back of launching new drama Another Love in Mipcom last month and Selin Arat, Director of International Operations at the company reveals what next steps are for the prolific producer and why Turkish TV content will continue to punch above its weight in the international arena.
When rival producers Timur Savcı and Burak Sağyaşar decided to join their two production outfits – Savcı’s Tims Productions and Sağyaşar’s Bi Yapım – in 2017, it marked a union of two of Turkey’s most prominent creators of television content. Savcı had been the producer behind Ottoman period drama Magnificent Century, a worldwide phenomenon that is largely considered as the catalyst for the country’s television boom, while producer-actor Sağyaşar had made the hugely popular comedy-drama Hayat, which aired in more than 30 countries worldwide.
In the last five years, the company has carved itself into one of the most successful production banners in Turkey, producing a raft of genres from drama, fantasy, dystopia and melodrama for linear broadcasters and global platforms. Last month at Mipcom, the company launched its most recent local success Another Love, which premiered on Fox Turkey in September to rave reviews. The show, which reunites Hayat stars Hande Erçel and Burak Deniz and is being sold by Global Agency, tells the story of an anchorman with dissociative identity disorder and a prosecutor who are drawn into an affair fueled with passion and tension as they both seek to reveal the dark truth about a mysterious serial killer.
“Their chemistry on screen is almost tangible,” says Selin Arat, Director of International Operations at Tims & B, of the leading actors. “Turkish dramas can sometimes get repetitive in terms of their subject matter or their way of dealing with a particular product or subject, but as a company that tries to innovate itself and innovate the genres that it creates, we wanted to bring this darker side into the game because our writer [Ethem Özışık] is so good at such subject matters.”
While mental health issues have been touched on in the last few years in Turkey, Arat says Another Love is the “first Turkish series to feature a protagonist with a split personality disorder.”
“Turkish dramas are tackling these subjects more and more, but split personality is a very difficult thing to work with and it will be a challenge for us but that’s why it’s so exciting and stimulating,” says Arat. “It’s a Turkish drama at its core but without losing the love element. It’s looking at more Western-style dramas in that sense. There are more criminal thriller elements to this that we wanted to try and work with.”
And it’s worked. The first and second episodes of Another Love were the most watched series in the commercial demographic group on the day they aired, generating close to 300,000 tweets. (Read more about Another Love, which was selected for Deadline’s Global Breakout this week, here).
Additionally, the company’s acclaimed drama series Bitter Lands, which follows a legendary love that begins in Istanbul during the 1970s and continues in southern Turkey through trials of evil, ambition and tyranny, captivated audiences for four seasons. It was distributed to more than 55 countries worldwide and was a hit not only in countries that have long acquired Turkish content such as Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, but also more Western European countries such as Spain and Italy. For the latter, the series broadcast on Mediaset reached an average share of 2.7 million viewers, with an audience share of 24%.
Further projects such as fantasy-drama Shahmaran and dystopian drama Hot Skull became big hits for Netflix when they aired on the streamer this year and last year respectively. Both projects entered Netflix’s top 10 list for Non-English TV series.
A Magnificent History
Indeed, there have been a raft of modern-day successes for Tims & B since Savcı and Sağyaşar merged their companies six years ago, but the company has been building upon some very solid foundations.
“I first came to Tims because of my background in cinema,” says Arat, who started at Tims in 2009. “I was supposed to set up a film department within the company but at the time my boss said to me, ‘Selin, we’re working on this project called Magnificent Century and it’s huge and we cannot deal with film right now.’ The rest is television history.”
The epic series based on the life and the court of Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, shattered Turkish television records when it began airing in 2011, with more than a third of primetime viewers watching the 90-minute episodes each week.
It aired in more than 140 countries and was watched by more than 500 million people worldwide. Arat recalls when they got first got a request from Russia “who hadn’t licensed something from Turkey for years” that they were “very, very excited.”
“They wanted to try it out with a few episodes, so we gave it to them, and it became such a huge hit that it caused an outcry from the public when they had to stop airing it because they had to wait for the rest of the episodes from our company,” she says.
Today, Magnificent Century continues to be recognized as one of the most influential and loved Turkish television shows in this century thanks to its popular cast, which includes Halit Ergenç and Meryem Uzerli and its high-production value. And while Arat won’t reveal specific numbers, she does note that it’s the most expensive Turkish series ever made.
Wanting to continue to exploit this IP whilst also furthering its mission to be a pioneer in the local and global entertainment business, Tims & B partnered with metaverse platform The Sandbox earlier this year to launch Magnificent Century into the virtual gaming sphere. It’s the second series to enter Sandbox’s metaverse after The Walking Dead. Launched in Paris this summer, game players can now create their own experiences using both original and established characters and worlds.
Reflecting on the power of this IP today, Arat says, “I understand now that all the work that we have put into it is paying back. It’s one of our evergreen projects and it’s still being licensed and re-licensed. It’s just really a phenomenon. In terms of visual quality, given its production year, it may not be as high as other period dramas that are circling around the world, but it has such a powerful story and such a potent way of conveying the story that it’s rewarding to see that it still reaches out to people.”
Turkey has long been one of the world’s biggest exporters of television content, with markets like Latin America, South America, the Middle East and Balkan countries historically being some of the biggest consumers of series from the nation. Turkish series, which are often referred to as telenovelas due to their dramatic style and length, have long been attractive to Spanish-speaking markets as their novelas, which often are centered on family and dramatic characters, resonate with Spanish-speaking audiences. But, says Arat, it’s important that the Turkish industry doesn’t rest on its laurels.
“Turkish series are still number two in the world,” she says. “But we have a very strong competition coming up from Spain actually and from Latin America coming back to creating premium top tier shows. So, we are under competition. Also, I must say the entry of digital platforms into the Turkish market has juggled things around a bit.”
She’s referring to the deep pockets of streamers which enables them to, at times, pay bigger salaries to cast and crew. In Turkey, notes Arat, shows are typically shot for a whole week right before the next week’s broadcast.
“Nobody does this in the rest of the world, everyone shoots back-to-back episodes and put them aside and do their editing and then they start airing it after everything’s ready – but we run a weekly marathon,” she says.
But she has a hunch that the move to linear TV might be returning. “The boom might be coming back because people are embracing linear television more strongly and this is where we get to actually reflect the Turkish DNA of TV dramas that are working so well all around the world,” she says. “When you go into the digital platform sphere, it kind of changes the game a little bit because episode duration is shorter and since you’re on a global platform and you have all of these different ideas that you want to play with but that takes you away from your actual core and your innate values. Sometimes, it can kind of kill the magic.”
Up next, Tims & B is developing a new period drama adapted from a best-selling novel. This, says the company, is planned to be the highest-budgeted Turkish series ever, surpassing even Magnificent Century.
While Arat can’t reveal much yet, she does say that the scope of its budget means it will have to be a multi-national co-production.
“There isn’t one streamer that’s able to finance this project on its own so it will have to be a co-production because the scope of the project is so big,” she says of the new project. “But if we can manage it, it is sure to be our next hit after Magnificent Century.”