Can Netflix Turkey change the habits of Turkish filmgoers?

KAYA GENÇ
ISTANBUL
Published 28.02.2016 21:23
Updated 28.02.2016 21:40
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings delivers a keynote address at CES 2016 at The Venetian Las Vegas on January 6, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (AFP Photo)
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings delivers a keynote address at CES 2016 at The Venetian Las Vegas on January 6, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (AFP Photo)

In January 2016, Netflix's video-streaming service went live in more than 130 countries, including Turkey. Turkish film critics talked to Daily Sabah about whether Netflix's entry into the country can change the habits of Turkey's film lovers

In the first five weeks of 2016, two big companies made massive announcements relevant to those living in Turkey. On Jan. 6, Netflix announced that its video-streaming service was now live in Turkey. Less than a month later, on Feb. 4, the world's most valuable company, Apple, announced that its music streaming service, Apple Music - which made its international debut in June 2015 - was now available to customers in Turkey. In the following days, many felt that something had drastically changed in Turkey and that it was time for people to make up their minds about the future of their entertainment consumption habits.

The music-streaming service Spotify has more than 20 million paid users worldwide. Last year, the company pushed its premium service in Turkey through a partnership with Vodafone. A Spotify Premium membership costs TL 9.99 ($3.40); through Vodafone's FreeZone scheme, customers who paid the monthly TL 29.90 fee for their Vodafone monthly plan receive the service for free. Spotify Turkey is a very effective and popular service with massive market penetration.

Apple Music, which finally solved copyright issues in Turkey last month - it was rumored that Turkish artists had found the company's royalty payments too low - costs TL 9.99 and offers a three-month free trial period to all users. Apple Turkey has strong and effective customer service in the country thanks to the restructuring of Apple's Turkey operations in 2000.

As a result of low costs and effective customer service offerings, Spotify and Apple Music have quickly built their user bases over the past few weeks. But when it comes to streaming video, things get a bit complicated for Turkish users.

In Turkey, Netflix's monthly subscription fee begins at TL 26.99. The standard package, which offers high-definition (HD) video quality, costs TL 33.99. This "Standard Package" can be shared by two users, allowing video streaming on two different devices under the same subscription.

Once the company announced its expansion into more than 60 countries in January, Netflix shares jumped 9.3 percent. There was great excitement among Turkish viewers on social media as well. After all, the company who produces such television series as "House of Cards," "Lilyhammer," "Hemlock Grove," "Orange is the New Black," "Narcos" and "Daredevil" was finally available in Turkey. Only last week, Judd Apatow's new comedy series "Love" premiered on Netflix Turkey.

"I have been a Netflix member since August 2014," Turkish film critic Selin Gürel told Daily Sabah. Gürel, whose film reviews appear in Milliyet Sanat magazine, is among the Turks who have used the service through virtual private network (VPN) technology that allows users to appear as if they are browsing from a distant location.

"Netflix's wide-range of alternatives first blew my mind, and I spent the first months just looking through genres and making a big playlist for myself," Gürel said. "Then I calmed down and started to 'actually' watch ... I am more into movies than series, so I really like Netflix offering me both the indies [independent films], which I have to skip during some film festivals that I attend, or mainstream movies that I did not care to see until I am reminded of them one more time. Otherwise, I lose myself on the Netflix homepage. Whenever I am bored or feel like watching a film, I try to discover new titles that fell off the radar and add them to my list. It is like a hobby now."

When asked about Netflix's entry into the Turkish market, Gürel said: "It is about time. But since Turkey is just now a part of global market, Netflix will need more time to offer new and more alternatives for Turks. As of now, it has a very small and limited program."

For film buffs like Gürel, certain video-streaming alternatives to Netflix have been available in the past few years. "MUBI, for instance, is more focused on arthouse movies, and offers 30 movies a month," Gürel said. "So, if you are a MUBI member, you have to be content with what you have. On the other hand, Netflix is trying to be everyone's favorite. The service addresses viewers who always ask for more. I think Netflix's type of viewer very much reflects modern people's habits. People are more into having something to watch than actually watching it. The same goes for reading. I think I fit into their target audience because I like to discover when it comes to movies. And I am a list person; I make lists for everything. Netflix is very neat in that sense."

Sabah daily's film critic, Olkan Özyurt, has not yet signed up for the service. "My friends use Netflix and I am aware of its significance," he said. "The problem with Netflix is that it made a very silent entry into the Turkish market. Their muted approach may have excited those already acquainted with the service's offerings. But if Netflix really wants to make a difference in the Turkish market, it will need to communicate its message much more strongly. Unless it becomes popular, I don't think Netflix will change people's viewing habits."

"In Turkey, there are numerous online film and TV series platforms," Özyurt added. "Those sites are being shut down every other month and are reappearing under different names. The only legal online film platform we had was MUBI, which had a great year and became the address for film buffs. The service had a Turkish interface and supported Turkish films; all MUBI films are offered with Turkish subtitles, and the service had an interactive, excellent relationship with its users. Despite these strong points, it failed because at the end of the day, MUBI wasn't a popular service. Turks have still not warmed up to the idea of paying for films they watch."

Recent developments like MUBI's shutdown of its Turkish service - MUBI users are no longer offered Turkish subtitles - could help platforms like Netflix if the company did offer Turkish subtitles or dubbing options to users.

Özyurt hopes that Netflix will lead people in Turkey to watch films legally. "It is difficult to convince people who are used to watching films for free to pay for the film experience," he said. "According to a study conducted by the Culture and Tourism Ministry, Turkish viewers don't check whether the film they are watching is pirated or not. According to the study, only 11 percent of Turks adamantly refuse to watch pirated films."

Gürel agreed with Özyurt on the possible effects of film platforms like Netflix. When asked about whether platforms like Netflix can harm Turkey's independent film festivals like the !F Istanbul Independent Film Festival, which ended last week, Gürel said: "What really hurts film festivals in Turkey is piracy. It is a very common and easy thing to do here. Netflix is just a nice, legal way to watch movies. People who like film festivals are already the ones who prefer to watch alternative movies on screen. But, I hope it hurts piracy badly." "Netflix seems to be addressing middle- and upper-middle-class Turkish youth who speak foreign languages," Özyurt said. "It is doubtful they will get a proper share of the market without taking into consideration Turkish cinema and the general habits of Turkish viewers."

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