Turkish TV dramas, also known as Turkish TV series, have taken the world by storm and conquered audiences all around the world from Vietnam to Mexico. Only in 2018, Turkish dramas were exported to about 150 countries generating a total revenue of USD 500 million, which is expected to double by 2023. Hence, Turkey is now second only to the U.S. globally as a television drama exporter overtaking both Brazil and Mexico.
Several factors that make Turkish dramas distinct include high-quality productions, good looking and talented actors and actresses, and strong family-centered storylines with overflowing emotions – they are filled with romance, intrigue, and gangsters and viewers love the actor performances. Each episode usually runs for about two hours and they are mostly filmed in historical mansions in beautiful neighborhoods of Istanbul.
The Turkish TV drama industry had its first major international success stories in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and the Balkans in 2005. Gümüş (Silver), a passionate love story, was the first major international hit for the Turkish television series industry. Shortly after MBC, a Dubai-based satellite network, started airing it in the greater Middle East and North Africa region, it became a huge success in the Arab world. Not surprisingly, its final episode in 2007 set a new record by attracting 85 million viewers and its unprecedented success resulted in a new boom of Turkish dramas in the region.
Turkish drama craze in the Balkans also started within the same year hitting Greece first. Yabancı Damat (Foreign Groom), a love story between a Turkish girl and a Greek guy, glued Greek viewers to the TV screen from the first episode on.
Following the footsteps of Yabancı Damat, Binbir Gece was the second Turkish drama aired in Greece and broke the record in the country by drawing 1.1 million Greek viewers each time. Even during the opening game of the World Cup in 2010, Binbir Gece captured 30.5 percent of the viewers, overshadowing the game between France and Uruguay – this was the first time that a TV drama beat the ratings of a soccer game in Greece. The success stories of Yabancı Damat and Binbir Gece inevitably paved the way for two new Turkish dramas, namely Aşk-ı Memnu (Forbidden Love) and Gümüş (Silver) to enter the Greek market soon after.
Binbir Gece later became the Turkish TV drama industry’s first global hit and was aired in 80 countries. It took especially Latin America by storm to such an extent that many newborns were named after the Binbir Gece characters in the continent.
After Greece, the Turkish TV drama craze further spread into the Balkans and the rest of Europe enjoying popularity in Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweeden, Romania, Italy, France, and Spain – Spain still remains one of the strongest markets for Turkish dramas in the world today.
Turkish dramas became a phenomenon in Latin America in a short time. Mega TV of Chile was the first TV channel airing Turkish dramas in Latin America in March 2014 and Binbir Gece became the most-watched TV program in prime time in the country within the same year. Consequently, the strong interest for Binbir Gece paved the road for more Turkish dramas airing in Chile. It also resulted in the spread of the Turkish drama craze to the rest of Latin America starting from Argentina and Peru. Despite Turkish dramas’ relatively late entry to Latin America, almost the whole continent continues to be one of the strongest markets in the world for Turkish dramas today – Chile, Mexico, and Argentina taking the lead.
In 2017, Kara Sevda (Eternal Love) won the International Emmy Award for Best Telenovela at the 45th International Emmy Awards in New York and became the first-ever Turkish drama series to win this prestigious award. As a result, the largest American Spanish-speaking TV network, Univision, added Kara Sevda to its weeknight programming lineup in 2019, as its first Turkish drama series ever. Kara Sevda became a ratings hit for Univision in no time and drew in more than three million viewers in its Finale in 2020.
Indeed, Turkish drama fever first reached the United States before Kara Sevda, when Netflix and Telemundo aired Hakan: Muhafız (The Protector) and Gönül respectively in 2018. Same as in Latin America, Turkish dramas have conquered the Hispanic audience across the United States in no time and both Univision and Telemundo currently have several more Turkish drama series in the pipeline for their audiences.
Turkish dramas have helped introduce Turkish culture to all corners of the world and have improved Turkey’s global image as a country. Consequently, the improved image and the better visibility on the world stage have inevitably increased Turkey’s soft power, which has resulted in a stronger demand for the Turkish language as well as a boom in international tourist arrivals from all around the world. Not surprisingly, the movie sets where Turkish dramas were being filmed, are now among the must-see tourist attractions in the country for Turkish drama aficionados.